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Venizelos Says Greek Long-Term Debt Sustainability Is Key

Greece's Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos
Evangelos Venizelos, Greece's newly appointed finance minister, speaks to members of the Greek parliament in Athens on June 21, 2011. Photographer: Kostas Tsironis/Bloomberg Venizelos

Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said that reducing the country’s long-term debt is the key issue to be resolved to help bring stability.

“Long-term sustainability of debt is the issue on the table now because if this isn’t resolved everything else is insignificant,” Venizelos said in an interview with Alter television in Athens today. “Markets must be convinced that we have plugged the gaps” and the debt-reduction plan will lead to a sustainable debt load. “Public debt dynamics are the core of the problem,’ he said.

Prime Minister George Papandreou’s government is trying to rally support for a package of austerity measures worth 78 billion euros to go to parliament next week. European Union leaders made passage of the package a prerequisite for a new aid program to avert the euro-area’s first default.

Asked if the EU would really withhold a fifth tranche of aid if the medium-term plan isn’t voted through, Venizelos said that the systemic danger posed to the euro may mean EU leaders “give us the fifth tranche anyway, but that would be it.”

Failure to pass the austerity package would lead the EU to come up with mechanisms to “isolate” Greece, Venizelos said. Rather, Greece has a stronger negotiating position as part of the euro region, he said.

“The national choice is to stay in the euro zone,” he said.

Party Dissent

Venizelos said that he will speak to dissenters from his Pasok party in a bid to persuade them to back the government’s austerity measures in the vote, which is due by June 30.

He plans to talk with Pasok lawmakers Thomas Robopoulos, who has said he hasn’t yet decided how he will his vote, and Alexandros Athanasiadis, who was cited in To Vima newspaper on June 14 as saying he wouldn’t back the measures.

“I believe Pasok and all Greek lawmakers from all parties are responsible and have a sense of national duty,” Venizelos said, adding that he is open to dialogue with all his colleagues.

Planned state spending cuts are a priority, and Greece will need measures to stimulate economic growth, Venizelos said.

“We are fully aware of the situation,” he said. “We must stabilize the situation in order to be able to improve it. We must follow a plan with specific steps to have results.”

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