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|14 Eylül 2012, 13:25||#1 (permalink)|
Spain and Greece Top Agenda of Europe Finance Ministers Meeting
NICOSIA Finance ministers from the euro area and international lenders began a two-day meeting here on Friday focused on how urgently they will need to channel aid to Spain and whether Greece should be granted easier terms to reform its beleaguered economy.
In an unusual moment for the three-year crisis, there is some breathing room at least in the case of Spain and that should also give ministers the opportunity to consider broader policy goals such as plans to integrate the euro area further.
Since the European Central Bank agreed early this month to buy short-term debt of vulnerable countries, there has been a significant easing of market pressures in countries like Spain.
The mood of optimism continued this week after the Dutch voted in larger numbers than expected for pro-E.U. candidates and the German constitutional court gave the green light for a new bailout fund for euro-area countries. Policymakers in Brussels also moved forward with a plan to make bank regulation more robust.
Arriving at the meeting, Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, said Greece could be granted additional time to meet its commitments under the current bailout program. Even so, he insisted that the country should not be given more funds.
If the deficit turns out to be somewhat worse than expected because of a temporary downturn in the economy, there could be some time but not money, not extra money, Mr. De Jager told reporters.
Officials from the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank are currently in Greece to assess the countrys progress. The next installments from the aid packages for Greece, worth about 250 billion or $323 billion, are on hold while the government in Athens tries to find ways of making 11.5 billion in budget savings.
Another element of a packed agenda for the ministers is ensuring that euro-area countries pay in the capital they have pledged to the new E.U. bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, and how that fund, supposed to be worth 500 billion, should be structured.
Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, the head of the group of finance ministers from countries that use the euro, has already said that the fund could be set up as soon as Oct. 8.
But there has been widespread dissent over the proposed scope and reach of the plan for the banks proposed this week by the European Commission. That is significant because European leaders, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have said that infusions E.S.M. into the economies of countries like Spain are contingent on better banking supervision. That, in turn, risks creating uncertainty about how soon countries like Spain asking for help might receive it.
There are also ongoing questions for ministers about what conditions countries like Spain should face if the E.C.B. intervenes to buy up its short-term debt.
Many policymakers have said that the conditions for E.C.B. intervention are likely to be less onerous than those on countries like Greece benefiting from full sovereign bailouts. Yet that could add to the risks that countries eventually lose their resolve to reform their economies, allowing severe imbalances between euro area nations to develop once again.
We will have a lot of interesting discussions, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, told reporters as he arrived on Friday.
We will of course inform about the decision of the constitutional court and how we can fast fulfill and solve conditions that the court set out to allow for the E.S.M. getting into force, he said.
France has been pressing Spain to seek help to contain the euro-area crisis, but Berlin, Europes principal paymaster for bailouts, may see less urgency, given the recent easing of market pressure on Spanish debt.
For Spain, asking for financial help of any kind poses major political challenges for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who fears a backlash if he is forced to implement further, deeply unpopular austerity measures.
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