Greece Fights for Second Bailout
Greece pledged a last-ditch effort to prevent the collapse of a second rescue package from creditors, aiming to complete talks this week on a financial lifeline that’s been in the works for six months.
Greek Premier Lucas Papademos said he would try to meet German-led demands for a bigger debt writedown by investors and deeper budget cuts by his government. Stocks rose after European Union leaders endorsed key planks of a strategy to fight the financial crisis, agreeing to accelerate the setup this year of a full-time 500 billion-euro ($659 billion) rescue fund and backing a deficit-control treaty.
EU and International Monetary Fund officials are in Athens thrashing out budget measures that would unlock the aid needed to keep the government functioning. Leaders left a Brussels summit late yesterday with no accord over how to plug Greece’s widening budget hole -- and no announcement of how deep the need is. German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced frustration with Greece’s failure to carry out an economic makeover.
“Greece’s debt sustainability is especially bad,” Merkel told reporters. “You have to find a way through more action by the Greek government, more contributions by private creditors, for example, in order to close this gap.”
The summit was the 16th in the two years since the Greek debt emergency provoked a Europe-wide drama, leading to unprecedented aid packages for Greece, Ireland and Portugal and shattering European faith that the common currency was indestructible.
After the gathering of leaders, EU President Herman Van Rompuy convened a smaller group, including Papademos and European Central Bank Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen, to weigh the next steps on Greece.
Van Rompuy spoke of the need “to put the current program back on track” and said finance ministers will try to hammer out the follow-up plan -- introduced in July -- in coming days. Greece is counting on aid to meet a 14.5 billion-euro bond payment on March 20 to escape default.
“The timeline is tight, but we are absolutely focused on the target of bringing the negotiations to a successful conclusion by the end of the week,” Papademos told reporters at 1:30 a.m. today.
The Euro Stoxx 50 Index advanced 0.6 percent and the euro reversed initial gains, losing 0.3 percent to $1.3102 at 5:05 p.m. in Brussels.
Papademos said “some difficulties” beset the debt-swap talks and hinted that donor governments may have to put up more money. Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said today in Athens that a formal debt-swap offer must be made by Feb. 13.
Merkel’s comments indicated that governments are loath to boost an October offer of 130 billion euros of loans in a second package, forcing investors to absorb net-present-value losses on Greek bonds that go beyond the 69 percent now on the table. Greece’s initial rescue of 110 billion euros in 2010 was fully taxpayer-funded.
Creditors are prepared to accept an average coupon of as low as 3.6 percent on new 30-year bonds, said a person familiar with the talks, who declined to be identified because a final deal hasn’t been struck yet. As recently as Jan. 23, creditors wanted an average coupon of about 4.25 percent, two people familiar with the talks said then. That offer equated to a loss of about 69 percent on the net present value of Greek debt.
In turn, Greece’s feuding political parties face pressure to deliver more savings and to verify in writing that the austerity program will be carried out, no matter who wins elections to replace Papademos’s interim Cabinet.
Venizelos said Greece’s political factions must put national interests first to take difficult decisions.
Germany’s proposal for an EU-appointed overseer of the Greek budget prompted consternation in Athens and led to a rejection by other European governments that warned against stigmatizing Greece.
“Greece is a sovereign nation and must enact the promises it’s made,” said French President Nicolas Sarkozy. “Surveillance of Greece’s progress is normal, but there was never any question of putting Greece under guardianship.”
Leaders completed the fiscal-discipline treaty, which speeds sanctions on high-deficit states and requires euro countries to anchor balanced-budget rules in national law. Eight countries outside the euro backed the pact, which was shunned by Britain and the Czech Republic.
ECB President Mario Draghi said the fiscal compact “certainly will strengthen confidence in the euro area,” calling it “the first step toward the fiscal union.”
One potential hiccup emerged when Sarkozy said that ratification of the fiscal treaty in France will likely be delayed until after elections in April and May that polls suggest he will lose. The front-runner, Socialist Francois Hollande, has vowed to renegotiate the treaty, saying it is biased toward austerity.
With an eye toward Ireland, Germany pushed through provisions that only countries ratifying the fiscal compact will be eligible for aid from the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism, now set to go into operation on July 1, a year ahead of schedule.
The permanent fund requires governments to put collective- action clauses into new bond issues as of January 2013, five months later than previously planned. The clauses are common in U.S. and U.K. law, enabling a debt restructuring to go ahead by a vote of a supermajority of bondholders, denying a veto right to solitary investors.
“Collective action clauses shall be included, as of Jan. 1, 2013, in all new euro-area government securities, with maturity above one year, in a way which ensures that their legal impact is identical,” according to the text.
While the clauses leave the door open for restructurings, the fund’s statutes deem write-offs “exceptional” and subject to IMF standards, the text says. It tones down language on “private-sector involvement” -- code for forcing bondholders to take losses on governments that fall too deeply into debt.
Leaders sidestepped mounting pressure to raise the ceiling on rescue lending from 500 billion euros once the permanent fund goes on line, sticking with plans to handle that question at the next summit on March 1-2.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, Europe’s longest-serving leader and the head of the panel of euro finance ministers, summed up two years of crisis-fighting: “If I wasn’t optimistic you could have reported about my suicide months ago.”
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