Greek finance minister says European debt deal is 'attainable'

By Derek Gatopoulos and Nicholas Paphitis

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 19 2011 9:07 p.m. MDT

Greek finance minister Evangelos Venizelos speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at his office in Athens, Monday, July 18, 2011. Venizelos says a European debt deal is "attainable" at the European Union summit on Thursday.

Dimitri Messinis, Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece — A European debt deal is "attainable" at an emergency EU summit Thursday, Greece's finance minister claimed, saying he believed European governments and private bond holders would be able to draw up a new rescue deal for his ailing country by then.

Evangelos Venizelos also told The Associated Press in an interview late Monday that Greece remains on course to reach a primary budget surplus next year, despite missing key fiscal targets so far in 2011.

Greece is enacting major economic reforms alongside an austerity program as it grapples with a national debt topping (euro) 340 billion ($477.5 billion) that has brought it to the brink of default.

Leaders of countries that use the euro are to attend the emergency talks in Brussels on Thursday, amid fears the fallout from Greece's woes could spread to larger European countries. Borrowing costs in eurozone members Italy and Spain have risen alarmingly in recent days.

"Reaching a solution is attainable because this solution does not only include Greece," Venizelos said in his central Athens office. "At issue is the euro and the resilience of the eurozone. That is why protection of Greece is a self defense mechanism for the eurozone. That will help us avoid a domino effect."

He said the recent pressure on Italian and Spanish borrowing rates was the result of bets against those countries and the euro by financial speculators.

"(We are witnessing) organized attacks on countries with very good macroecenomic data, such as Italy for example," he said. "There is no panic, this is a very cool-headed and well-organized attack."

Greece is being kept afloat by (euro) 110 billion in emergency loans from other eurozone members and the International Monetary Fund, and will require a second bailout expected to involve a similar amount.

Although locked out of bond markets by high interest rates, Athens is trying to maintain a market presence through regular treasury bill issues and on Tuesday saw its borrowing costs fall slightly in a sale of 13-week bills that raised (euro) 1.62 billion ($2.28 billion).

The auction was three times oversubscribed, carrying an interest rate of 4.58 percent — down from 4.62 percent at a similar auction in June.

"We want a solution that makes our national debt sustainable ... guarantees Greece's borrowing needs until in mid-2014 when we foresee our return to the markets, and guarantees the liquidity of Greek banks," Venizelos said.

A new bailout deal is likely to involve banks and other Greek bondholders making voluntary contributions to deferring Athens' debt payments. But rating agencies have warned private involvement could prompt them to further downgrade Greece credit status to selective default.

Details of that potential arrangement are being negotiated at talks between European Union officials and private investors in Rome.

Venizelos said Greece is hoping to avoid being placed under the selective default rating — an assessment that could plunge Europe's worsening debt crisis into greater turbulence — and indicated progress had been achieved in Rome.

"Our aim is to avoid even a selective default," he said. "There are proposals that provide an answer to what is sought and at the same time do not permit ratings agencies to issue that rating."

He added: "I believe we will be able ... to achieve something which will be secure, positive for the viability of the public debt, and will safeguard Greece as a country and the Greek banking system."

Venizelos said Greece had already taken the toughest measures needed to steer the economy back to fiscal health.

The Socialist government has faced months of anti-austerity protests and has seen a recent slump in popularity. It is struggling with unemployment that topped 16 percent in March — the highest rate since records began in 2004 — before dipping to 15.8 percent in April, according to Greece's statistical authority Tuesday.

Joblessness and recession have weighed on government tax revenues, keeping Greece from meeting its ambitious fiscal targets this year.

In the latest sign of public discontent, taxi drivers launched a two-day strike on Monday — at the heart of the vital tourist season — to protest proposed changes in licensing laws that would make it cheaper for new cabbies to enter the business.

About 1,000 taxi drivers held a peaceful protest march to parliament in central Athens on Tuesday, a day after unionists used hundreds of cabs to block road access for several hours to the country's main airport and harbor.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS