BRUSSELS — The debate over what Greece must do to get more rescue loans has sparked a war of words between Athens and other eurozone countries, with top politicians trading barbs over Greece's position in the 17-nation euro currency and its trustworthiness as a borrower.
In recent days, politicians from Germany and the Netherlands lashed out at policymakers in Athens, questioning their promises to implement far-reaching cuts and reforms in return for a second, €130 billion ($169 billion) bailout. The comments illustrated increasing distrust and uncertainty over the bailout, unnerving markets as investors worried Greece may not get the expected bailout and could default next month.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, struck a conciliatory tone on Thursday in a bid to mend fences.
"I would like to salute the courage of the Greek government and the Greek people in these very challenging times, and I would hope that the members of the European Union will accept the commitments given by Greece."
The comments are sure to strike a chord in Greece, where resentment has been mounting over what many see as the humiliation of the country and the hardship brought on by increasing demands from the country's creditors that have left the country in the fifth year of recession.
Eurozone nations want assurances that Greece will repay its bailout loans if it is extended another €130 billion rescue package. After the Greek government faced down violent riots on Sunday and voted through a contentious austerity plan, eurozone ministers imposed further conditions, such as written commitments from politicians and more savings cuts.
The delay to the bailout agreement even after Athens has fulfilled these demands have frayed nerves.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble further rankled Greeks when he urged the country to postpone its general elections, tentatively set for April, to make sure the current government has time to implement reforms.
"We are very much aware of our responsibility for Greece and the Greek people. But, as I have also said, we can help, but we can't pour into a bottomless pit," Schaeuble said Wednesday in an interview.
The comments caused outrage in Greece, where President Karolos Papoulias lashed back.
"I will not accept my country to be disparaged by Mr. Schaeuble," he said Wednesday during an event at the defense ministry. "Who is Mr. Schaeuble to disparage Greece? Who are the Dutch? Who are the Finns? We always had the pride to defend not just our freedom, not just our country, but the freedom of Europe," he said.
That in turn annoyed politicians in Berlin.
"We cannot accept such criticism of Germany and the German negotiators," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, without explicitly mentioning Papoulias' comments. He added that a "sensible" tone was needed — "that goes for us, but it emphatically also goes for the Greek leadership against the background of the latest comments."
Rainer Bruederle, the parliamentary leader of the Free Democrats, the junior partner in Germany's governing coalition, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper that "the Greek president does his country no favors with such comments against friendly countries."
Eurozone ministers are due to meet on Monday to decide on the bailout, but the uncertainty over the bailout and tension between officials who should be cooperating to defuse Europe's biggest financial threat caused markets to drop.
Other officials in Athens also voiced indignation over the blunt approach taken by Germany and other European nations.
"What is happening today with Greece is unprecedented," said Greek Citizens' Protection Minister Christos Papoutsis, who is a former European Commissioner. "The sacrifices of the Greek people are unbearable."
"Any other new demands from our partners make a mockery of our country," he said in a statement Thursday. "It is raw blackmail of the Greek government and of the political system in Greece. It is a direct insult of Parliament, the basic pillar of Greek democracy. It is a direct insult to the dignity and the pride of the Greek people. Some in Europe forget that behind the numerical targets there are people."
Becatoros contributed from Athens, Greece. Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin.