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20/03 – Greece rises to the top of the European Council’s agenda

Greece rose to the top of the European Council’s political agenda yesterday, at the Greek PM Alexis Tsipras’ request. In Brussels, he discussed about Greece’s economic difficulties with German Chancellor Merkel, French President Hollande, EC President Juncker, European Council President Tusk, ECB President Draghi and Eurogroup Chairman Dijsselbloem. Alexis Tsipras wishes to reach a “political agreement” in order to speed-up processes to be granted a new financial aid, Le Monde writes.

Greek media unveil that following yesterday’s mini-summit, Greece was given one week deadline to table a specific plan of reforms. In an interview with L’Humanité Dimanche, Greek Minister for Administrative Reform George Katrougalos states that the confrontation with European partners was “logical” and “predictable,” but at the end of the day “the agreement with the Eurogroup is a lesser evil which allows us to continue the fight.” In media comments, Arte in France reports that right before the summit, Mr Tsipras called for “bold political initiatives that respect both democracy and the treaties,” EP President Martin Schulz expressed optimism about the chances of finding a solution “today or tomorrow.”

But Angela Merkel dampened expectations, stating that “no solution will be found today, […] decisions are taken within the Eurogroup.” European Council President Donald Tusk also stated that the meeting would not be defining, as no decisions would be taken, while he underlined that this is not Greece’s last chance and added that no-one wants a Grexit or Grexcident, media in Cyprus write.

Ahead of the mini-summit, EC President Juncker gave interviews to the French radio stations Europe 1 and RTL. He recognised that Greece already made some progresses, but it “must initiate the necessary reforms and make sure that the commitments agreed upon with the Eurogroup in 2012 and more recently are implemented.” Several media comment on some EU leaders and some of Greece’s creditors’ reaction. The Guardian reports that the decision to interrupt the European Council enable a “smaller-format negotiation” with the Greek Prime Minister has “ruffled feathers” among euro area creditors not taking part in the talks. Several media quote the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel, stating “I am angry. We did not give a mandate to either France or Germany to negotiate.”

El País quotes European sources stating that “Mr Tsipras is calling on a gesture, but he does not understand that time and his partners’ patience are running out. And, at the same time, euro countries are not helping by making strongly-worded comments. No one is playing well in this negotiation – the climate for a deal is everything but favourable.” Finally, several media continue to discuss the possibility of a “Grexit.” According to Salzburger Nachrichten in Austria, Athens has never been closer to exiting the euro area. refers to President of the European Council Donald Tusk warning that a Greek exit from the euro zone will be a “catastrophe” for the EU and the euro, saying that “such an idiotic scenario” must be avoided.

Der Tagesspiegel’s Antje Sirleschtov claims that a Grexit would be “the end of Europe,” adding that Europe is a project of “democracy and freedom,” which should grant Athens more time and more trust. In an op-ed piece in Le Monde, Professor of European law Petros Stangos argues that the EU should stop considering that its legal rules must be abided by at any cost, and that the aspirations of people are worth nothing. In FAZ, Heike Göbel quotes Angela Merkel stating that “if the euro fails, Europe fails” and draws a parallel with Greece: she doubts that Greece could recover while being in the euro area and maintains that the single currency is a heavy burden for the Greeks and for Europe.

While German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble said that “time is running out for Greece,” Eurogroup President Dijsselbloem commented that “all sorts of scenarios are conceivable,” but that “a country experiencing difficulties does not necessarily have to leave to euro area,” Le Monde reports. Greece’s economic situation is already “dangerous,” the European Parliament President Martin Schulz claimed, as “in the short term, two to three billion euros are necessary to meet its current commitments” and avoid bankruptcy, Le Monde and Croatian media report. ©europeanunion2015

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