Greek govt wins Finnish praise for start of reform

Greece's new government has made a positive first impression but now must push through difficult decisions to get its reform programme back on track, a Finnish minister said after talks with government officials in Athens on Wednesday.

Finland's European Affairs minister, whose government has been among Greece's strongest critics, offered a show of support to the new conservative-led coalition that has sought to mollify its European partners by pledging to carry out long-discussed reforms.

"My first impressions are very positive. This is a serious government which has a lot of political pressure coming from both the extreme right and the extreme left and is trying to do the best in a very difficult situation,» Alexander Stubb told Reuters.

"Now of course everything will depend on whether we get the programme back on track,» said Stubb, making the first visit to Athens by a euro zone minister since last month's rerun Greek election.

Finland, one of the few remaining euro zone members to retain a AAA credit rating, has been wary of taking on more liabilities for weaker euro zone states like Greece. Finland last year negotiated collateral in return for aid to Greece, and it is demanding that similar strings be attached to its portion of aid to Spanish banks as well.

In Athens, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's government initially outlined an ambitious wishlist of changes to modify the country's latest bailout programme when it took power but has struck a more conciliatory tone in recent days as it faces the prospect of running out of money without more aid.

At the euro zone finance ministers' meeting on Monday, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras did not present his government's request for another two years to meet deficit targets, saying that would be done only when reform plans are back on track.

Instead, the government plans to implement 3 billion euros worth of previously-agreed measures to reduce its deficit this year, since European partners had insisted Greece carry out its promises despite a deeper-than-expected recession and delays due to repeat elections, a finance ministry official said.

Euro zone ministers agreed at their meeting to keep near-bankrupt Greece afloat until September, but have warned they want the country to prove it deserves further aid.

"The next three to four months are crucial,» Stubb said.

"To me it seems like all the difficult decisisons will have to be taken during these months. It's going be very difficult, very tough, it's going to be as hot as the weather here in Athens but I'm confident that this time the government can find a solution."


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