European finance ministers stepped up the pressure on Greece to sell assets and deepen spending cuts to win an increase of its 110 billion-euro ($156 billion) aid package and more time to repay the loans.
In deliberations clouded by the absence of International Monetary Fund Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Europe’s rich countries tied extra money to pledges by Greece to reap more revenue at home and weighed whether to make bondholders share the pain.
“Greece also has a huge privatization potential and the Greeks should help themselves before calling for more money,” Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter told reporters before a euro crisis meeting in Brussels today.
Greek bonds fell after the euro area’s economic powerhouses put up hurdles to an expanded aid package, with public discontent simmering in northern Europe over the costs of propping up high-deficit countries on the continent’s periphery.
Finance ministers said the IMF’s role as the contributor of a third of the bailout money for Greece, Ireland and Portugal won’t be hampered by Strauss-Kahn’s May 14 arrest on sexual- assault charges in New York.
Strauss-Kahn, 62, denied the charges and will plead not guilty at an arraignment scheduled for 11 a.m. today in Manhattan Criminal Court. The Washington-based IMF is represented in Brussels by Nemat Shafik, a deputy managing director.
The European finance chiefs were also set to approve 78 billion euros in aid for Portugal and the nomination of Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi to be the next president of the European Central Bank.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said there “certainly” won’t be a decision on Greece today, since European and IMF experts have yet to complete an updated assessment of the Greek economy.
Greek 10-year bond yields added 17 basis points to 15.61 percent as of 3:30 p.m. in London. The extra yield that investors demand to hold 10-year Greek debt instead of benchmark German bunds rose 13 basis points to 12.49 percentage points.
Greece is preparing a new economic-recovery program, including 76 billion euros of asset sales and spending cuts, to persuade European governments and the IMF to release the next 12 billion-euro loan in June.
Official creditors in March granted the Athens government more time to repay its current loans, and are considering another extension in order to save Greece from becoming the first euro country to default.
“We are in favor of extending the time period, of giving the Greeks more time, but the tranche can only be paid out if structural reforms are put on track,” Austria’s Fekter said, referring to next month’s disbursement.
Greece needs to slice more out of the budget, the European Commission said on May 13 after forecasting a deficit of 9.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2011, above the 7.4 percent target set when Greece was bailed out last year.
Greece’s debt will balloon to 157.7 percent of GDP in 2011 while the economy slumps for the third year, the forecasts showed, fueling doubts whether the country will generate enough growth to pay its bills.
Plans to offload 50 billion euros of state assets “have top spot on the agenda,” Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou told Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera on May 14. “We will show that we’re in a position to keep our obligations on the debt.”
Eighty-five percent of international investors surveyed by Bloomberg last week said Greece will probably default on its debt, with majorities predicting the same fate for Ireland and Portugal.
While a debt restructuring -- with options ranging from an extension of maturities to a write-off of principal -- remains officially taboo, it has seeped into the public discourse.
European finance officials “discuss all kinds of topics, including restructuring, but in public we are very reluctant about discussing restructuring and debating restructuring,” Dutch Finance Minister Jan Kees de Jager said.
Central bankers are putting up the most vocal opposition. Bending its mandate to focus on fighting inflation, the Frankfurt-based ECB has bought 76 billion euros of bonds of fiscally struggling countries in the past year and would suffer along with private investors in a restructuring.
‘Just a Nightmare’
Default is “just a nightmare,” ECB council member Christian Noyer said in Tokyo today. “It’s the absolutely wrong solution. It would be a catastrophe.”
Greece’s chances of escaping a restructuring hinge on the public mood in Germany, which crafted the euro’s low-deficit rules and, as Europe’s largest economy, is the biggest guarantor of the unprecedented loan packages.
Forty-one percent of Germans oppose further financial aid for Greece, with 48 percent in favor, according to an Emnid survey published in Bild am Sonntag yesterday. Some 58 percent voiced “very low” or “quite low” trust in the 12-year-old euro, up from 54 percent in December.
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