Greece hopes for boost from EU leaders' summit

Greece’s caretaker Prime Minister Panayiotis Pikrammenos has met European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, during which they are expected to discuss growth, the fiscal pact and the euro crisis.

“The euro area has shown unprecedented solidarity to Greece and its people,” said Barroso after the meeting. “It has made a commitment to maintain financial support for Greece as long as is necessary, assuming Greece maintains its commitment to implement the structural reforms that are essential for a return to growth.

“The Greek people have made huge sacrifices. I wish there were an easier way out of the crisis Greece is facing. The fact is that the least difficult way is the full implementation of the second programme agreed by Greece and its international partners.”

For the first time in more than two years of debt-crisis meetings, the leaders of France and Germany have not held their own mini-summit beforehand to agree positions, marking a significant shift in the traditional Franco-German axis.

Francois Hollande's election victory has significantly changed the terms of the debate in Europe, with his call for greater emphasis on growth now a rallying cry for other leaders.

That has set up a showdown with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who supports growth but whose primary objective is budget austerity and structural reform. While she and former French president Nicolas Sarkozy did not always see eye-to-eye, in Hollande she is faced by someone with a different vision.

In his first EU summit, Hollande has also chosen to make a stand on euro bonds - the idea of mutualising euro zone debt - despite consistent German opposition to an idea that has been hotly debated for more than two years.

He will have support from Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, among other leaders. But Merkel shows no sign of dropping her objections to the proposal, which she has said can only be discussed once there is much closer fiscal union in Europe.

The Netherlands, Finland and some smaller euro zone member states support her in that position, setting the stage for what could be a divisive discussion. Austria's chancellor supports Hollande's line, but the finance minister backs Merkel's.

European Union leaders should discuss using the bloc's structural funds to shore up Greece's struggling economy when the meet later in the day to explore ways of lifting growth, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Wednesday.

He called for new measures to revive the Greek economy and help the debt-laden country avoid a «catastrophic» exit from the euro currency zone, which he said would have a negative impact on the rest of the bloc.

"So there is a possibility, for example, of using (EU) structural funds in a targeted way to help restart the (Greek) economy because we need to give the Greeks some form of perspective,» he told RTL radio.

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras is also in Brussels to speak to fellow conservative chiefs. He also hopes to meet Barroso and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

Samaras described Tsipras as ‘‘naive and dangerous’’ for warning the new French president not to follow the footsteps of former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and become “Holland-reou” but to honor anti-austerity pledges made before his election.

‘‘At a time that Greece is seeking foreign alliances, Mr Tsipras, with unbelievable arrogance, is destroying them and leading our country to the isolation that he and SYRIZA’s constituent parts are dreaming of,’’ Samaras said.
PASOK leader Evangelos Venizelos secured a meeting with Hollande in Paris on Tuesday and said the French president was “genuinely interested” in helping Greece overcome its problems.

[Kathimerini English Edition & Reuters]

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