BRUSSELS — Top leaders of the European Union emerged from a meeting with the Greek Prime Minister early March 20 telling him much what they have for weeks: come up with a reform plan if you want more money to stay solvent. And do it fast.
The EU leaders said Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras committed to providing a list of specific reforms in the coming days that would improve his country’s balance sheet. Tsipras, however, said he had not committed to “recessionary measures” that would worsen the plight of his people.
Hanging over the summit of 28 heads of state and government are fears that the hard line of the Greek government formed in January could cause the country to drop out of the euro, something that would trigger a crisis for the currency shared by 19 nations.
Tsipras made a last-minute request for a mini-summit March 19 night with half a dozen top EU officials. Those officials agreed to the meeting — over the objections from some of the other leaders, who complained they were being left out. Among those at the three-hour meeting were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and EU President Donald Tusk.
The leaders emerged more optimistic than when they went in, but gave little evidence of why, other than the timetable of “the next days” for Tsipras to present them with his intended reforms.
“The Greek government will take full responsibility for the reforms and submit a list of these reforms … in the coming days,” Merkel said.
Tsipras was upbeat as well. “We are more optimist after this deliberation,” he said. “All the sides confirmed their intention to try their best to overcome the difficulties of the Greek economy as soon as possible.”
European leaders have become increasingly exasperated by what many see as foot-dragging on the part of Tsipras’ government. Greece agreed a month ago to push through reforms in exchange for EU help in keeping it solvent, but has delayed submitting the measures.
“A deal is a deal,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said ahead of the meeting.
Adding to the European frustration, the Greek Parliament approved an anti-poverty bill on March 18. It was the first piece of legislation that the government has put through — and it did so without full consultation from its creditor partners.
Greece’s economic policies drew criticism even from nations outside the Eurozone. British Prime Minister David Cameron marveled at how poorly the Greek economy has fared compared to his own.
“When I first came here as Prime Minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat. We had similar-sized budget deficits,” he said. “The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term, difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people.”
Greece is banking on the fact that its European partners all want to keep the Eurozone intact, fearing that if Greece pulls out others might as well.
“Nobody wants a so-called Grexit and everybody wants to avoid this risk,” Tusk said.
By Raf Casert and Frank Jordans. Lorne Cook in Brussels and Derek Gatopoulos in Athens contributedSource: The National Herald