NPR Story
3:00 am
Thu February 16, 2012

Frustrations Mount As Greece Waits For Economic Lifeline

Originally published on Thu February 16, 2012 9:53 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Greece has pushed itself to the edge of chaos with austerity measures. And now, European officials are saying that's still not enough. The Greeks need more European help - $170 billion - to avoid default next month. Finance ministers from countries that use the euro held a long conference call yesterday. They concluded that Greece has made progress, but they want much greater oversight over Greece's economy.

NPR's Philip Reeves is covering this story from Athens. Hi, Philip.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: How are the Greeks taking the news they still can't have the money?

REEVES: Well, there's frustration. There's indignation. There's a feeling among some that the European finance ministers keep moving the goalposts. The Greek Parliament endorsed another package of tough austerity measures on Sunday, and that led to riots that damaged and destroyed dozens of buildings in Athens.

And since then, the leaders of the two main Greek political parties have signed letters committing to the package, one of the key things that the eurozone leaders were demanding. And the Greek government and the eurozone ministers have found more than 300 billion more to slice out of the budget. But there's a huge trust deficit here, Steve, which is why the eurozone finance ministers now want a better way of tracking Greek spending.

INSKEEP: They had demanded those letters from party leaders so that no matter who wins the next election, somebody would be committed to the austerity measures. And now this raises a question, though, Philip. Is it possible that the Europeans, as they get a closer and closer look at this, have decided they really don't care if Greece collapses or not?

REEVES: Well, there are signs that some of the northern Europeans are beginning to feel just that; that Europe can now weather a Greek default without suffering too much damage. They're fed up with throwing money at Greece, and they want Greece out of the euro.

But opinions are divided about this. Some observers think this is a rather dangerous game of bluff, to pressure the Greeks to get serious and provide really concrete guarantees and measures in return for the bailout. They say that a default would, in fact, have a disastrous knock-on effect in Europe. But this issue has certainly stoked up tensions between the Greeks and the rest of the Europeans.

INSKEEP: So when you say tensions, what does that look like and feel like in Athens and elsewhere?

REEVES: Well, there's been a fair amount of ill-tempered verbal skirmishing coming out of Athens. Greece's finance minister said that some European powers are now playing with fire. He says that those eurozone nations don't want Greece in the eurozone anymore, which is why they keep coming up with new terms and conditions.

And the Greek president's gone even further by denouncing the Germans, the Dutch and the Fins, and complaining that Greece is being taunted by Berlin. Those last remarks were in response to the German finance minister, who said that Europe doesn't want Greece to become a bottomless pit for bailout funds. So you can see, Steve, that tempers are certainly fraying.

And there are also rumors that Greece won't get its bailout unless there's a senior presence in Athens from the troika - that's the E.U., IMF and the ECB - who provide the bailout money. Now, that could be a big issue, of course, because it means a further loss of Greek sovereignty.

INSKEEP: So what happens now?

REEVES: Well, you know, the twists and turns of this eurozone crisis are pretty impossible to predict. There have been so many endless delays, broken deadlines, squabbles and squalls. But the Eurogroup - that's the eurozone finance ministers - are now saying that they'll decide whether Greece has actually met the terms of the bailout, on Monday.

INSKEEP: Well, Philip, as you move around the city where buildings were burned just days ago in the protests against the austerity measures that were passed, what kinds of things are people saying - and what does it look like?

REEVES: Well, you know, it's fascinating because people here really are very emotionally engaged in this crisis. You see people having arguments on street corners. There's a great deal of anger. And there's a sense that history is a sort of seamless tapestry. History is present. You hear people talking about the Second World War. You hear them talking about Churchill. They even go back to the ancient Greeks.

So this is an issue that's giving rise to strong emotions - which, of course, is to be expected in a place where there've been so many job losses, so many people have seen their incomes cut. And there's been such a severe recession.

INSKEEP: Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Philip Reeves in Athens, reporting on Greece's debt crisis. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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