The Greek and German finance ministers got together in Berlin for a meeting on renegotiating Greece’s debt on Thursday, but it seems there was not much of a meeting of minds.
At a news conference in Berlin afterwards Wolfgang Schäuble told reporters that he and Yanis Varoufakis had “agreed to disagree” signalling he was having none of a Greek plea for a compromise deal with its bailout creditors.
Varoufakis outlined his hopes: “What we request at this stage is perhaps the most precious of commodities – time. A short space of time during which our government can present to our partners – to the International Monetary Fund, to the European Central Bank, to the European Commission – comprehensive proposals, as well as a road map, for the very short term – we call this a bridging programme – for the medium term, and indeed for the long term.”
But those remained just hopes, as Varoufakis explained that the process is still at an early stage: “We didn’t reach an agreement, it was never on the cards that we would, we didn’t even agree to disagree from where I am standing. From where I am standing, we agreed to enter into deliberations as partners with a joint orientation towards a European solution for European problems, a solution that is going to put first and foremost the interests of Europe at the helm.”
Schäuble said Greece cannot expect further relief paying back the money it owes, rejecting the idea of a bridging loan until the end of May: “We designed the programmes for Greece, the stabilisation programmes, in the best of faith and we went to the extreme limits of what was justifiable given the experiences of the institutions involved. These programmes were designed with a view to providing help so that Greece could help itself. Of course, we can help to find the necessary time but the problems themselves must be solved where they occurred and that is also the only place where it’s possible to solve them.”
So Schäuble was unmoved by the Varoufakis charm offensive and not swayed by the Greek minister’s argument that it is time to put an end to what he called the “gross indignity” that has been forced on Greece.
Later Varoufakis met Germany’s Economy Minister Sigmund Gabriel. At a joint news conference after that encounter he said Greece had to face up to its commitments without burdening other countries.
“Every country has the right to democratically elect a new government, and of course every government has the right to determine a new policy course, certainly if it has a clear mandate. But it must also be clear that the consequences, particularly the financial consequences, of a new direction in Greek policy cannot be transferred to other countries and financed by the taxpayers in these countries,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel added that Greece had to come with a concrete financial strategy.
“What we want now is for the new government to make clear suggestions to us. I think this will happen next week in the Eurogroup meeting. Then it will be discussed whether we can come together, but for us it is key that the consequences of a change in Greek policy must not fall on other taxpayers,” Gabriel said.