Berlin tones down Greek budget overseer debate
BERLIN / BRUSSELS - Reuters
Workers at a Peugeot car dealer block the entrance of the garage during a strike in Brussels yesterday. This was Belgium’s first general strike in almost two decades. REUTERS photoGermany tried yesterday to tone down reports, sparking indignation in Greece, that it wants a new euro zone “budget commissioner” with the power to veto budget decisions taken by the Greek government.
A German finance ministry spokesman said yesterday the eurozone was discussing several ways to guide the implementation of budget savings programs in countries that have taken up rescue funds.
“There are discussions in the eurozone about what we should do when in certain cases, certain programs go off track over a long period, and time and again,” spokesman Martin Kotthaus told a regular news conference.
“In the euro group there is a discussion, and there are different proposals and papers,” he said.
Greece, which has repeatedly failed to meet the fiscal targets set out by its international lenders, is in talks to finalize a second 130 billion-euro package. Reuters reported on Jan. 27 that Germany wanted Greece to give up control of budget policy to European institutions as part of discussions over the package. The Financial Times wrote it had obtained a copy of the proposal showing Germany wanted a new eurozone budget commissioner.
Officials in Athens dismissed the idea of relinquishing budget control as out of the question.
Both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle criticized the fierce tone of the debate, in a sign the German finance ministry may be sampling reaction to an idea it has concocted but not yet cleared with the cabinet.
“Everything only works if Greece and other states are in talks with one another,” Merkel said on the sidelines of an informal European Union summit in Brussels.
Strike hits Brussels
Meanwhile, Belgium’s first general strike in almost two decades brought parts of the country to a halt yesterday in an anti-austerity protest aimed at the new government and the EU leaders meeting.
The rail network closed, buses and trams sat in depots, schools and shops shut and production stopped at the factories of many companies including carmakers Audi and Volvo, Coca Cola and imaging group Agfa-Gevaert. Charleroi Airport, a hub for Ryanair and other low-cost carriers, was forced to cancel all flights due to union plans to block the access road.