– European leaders prepare for a Greek default (Telegraph, June 27, 2011):
European leaders have admitted they are preparing for a Greek default as the eurozone debt crisis enters a pivotal week.
Greek politicians will vote on a radical €28.4bn (£25.2bn) austerity package in the coming days that they must pass if the country is to receive the vital fifth tranche of a €110bn bail-out agreed last year. The outcome is expected to go down to the wire as the ruling party’s slim majority is pushed to the limit by the opposition’s refusal to support the deal, a wave of national strikes, and another round of public protests.
Werner Faymann, the Austrian Chancellor, said on Sunday he “can’t rule out” a Greek default and Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, revealed that Europe is preparing “for the worst”.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent a perilous escalation for Europe but must at the same time be prepared for the worst,” Mr Schaeuble said. “If things turn out differently than everyone expects that would of course be a major breakdown. But even in 2008, the world was able to take coordinated action agai-nst a global and unpredictable financial market crisis.”
If the austerity package is passed, Greece has been promised a second bail-out of up to €120bn. Private sector creditors are being urged to participate on a voluntary basis but evidence is mounting that their involvement will be less than the €30bn officials at the European Union and International Monetary Fund hope.
German banks were reported over the weekend to be pushing for state guarantees in return for voluntarily “rolling over” the debt, but the demands were rejected by Chancellor Angela Merkel as they would increase the German taxpayers’ exposure. In Britain, the Treasury said there were “no specific proposals” for the UK private sector to be involved.
President Nicolas Sarkozy indicated that French banks were prepared in principle to take part in the programme, but no details have been agreed.
In a show of support for Europe, though, Chinese premier Wen Jiabao yesterday promised that China would continue to buy European sovereign debt. Noting that it had just agreed to buy Hungarian bonds, he said: “That is China lending a helping hand to Hungary at a time when that country is in difficulty. We will do the same thing for other European countries.
“[Since the sovereign debt crisis,] China has actually increased the purchase of
government bonds of some European countries and we have not cut back on our euro holdings.”
Greece’s deputy prime minister, Theodoros Pangalos, sought to shore up support, describing talk of Greece quitting the euro as “immense stupidity”. However, he warned that although he is optimistic about winning the first round of the austerity vote, he is more wary about securing approval for specific laws to enact fiscal reforms and privatise public companies.
“That’s where we may have problems. I don’t know whether some of our members of parliament will vote against it. It’s possible,” he said.
George Soros, the hedge fund manager famous for shorting Sterling in the 1990s, added that it is “probably inevitable” that a country will quit the euro. “There are fundamental flaws that need to be corrected,” he said. What Europe’s leaders are saying about the bail-out.