Restructuring Greek debt 'not on the agenda', van Rompuy stresses

European Council President Herman van Rompuy on Tuesday made it clear that restructuring Greece's debt was "not on the agenda" and emphasised that the proposal would create more problems than it solved.

He was addressing an event organised by Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy in Athens on the theme "Greece and Europe: Building the future in difficult times".

Rompuy praised Prime Minister George Papandreou for his "courageous stance" in dealing with the crisis, noting that "some prime ministers show courage even though they know they might lose the elections". He also pointed out that in Latvia and Belgium, nonwithstanding periods of tough fiscal austerity, the governments in those countries were later re-elected.

If the policy followed brings results and the measures taken are fair, governments win the respect of their citizens, he said.

Referring to the crisis, the European Council president said that everyone needed to adapt to the changes and that the European Union was moving in the direction of "closer political cooperation".

"I avoid using the term unification," he said, while stressing that the changes being made were "the greatest revolution since the Rome Treaty". As an example, he pointed out that the European financial rescue mechanism was originally set up with the proviso that it would be activated "if" it was needed but this very quickly gave way to the term "when" it was needed.

On the issue of tax evasion and corruption, van Rompuy said that fighting these was an issue of integrity and that the burdens must be evenly shared out. Finding ways to do this was the responsibility of individual member-states and even the welfare state needed reforms, he added.

Referring to the European Union, he pointed to the similarities between the two European strategies of a common border and a common currency, saying that if "one fails, then we are all in danger".

Responding to questions, meanwhile, the European Council president admitted that Europe was going through a period of low popularity and attributed this to the tactic adopted by national governments of blaming unpopular policies on the EU, saying that he had himself resorted to doing this as a prime minister.

In an analysis the economic situation and the problems it presented, van Rompuy said that it involved two processes that operated on very different time scales that were hard to reconcile: the execution of an austerity programme that was difficult and needed time, on the one hand, and fast-paced, impatient markets on the other. Managing this mix was the art of politics, because even when there was strong political will, time was needed and it was difficult to convince citizens, he added.

According to Van Rompuy, the concept of the EU was not guided by interests but by values and the common currency was the cornerstone of this idea, because it created a common fate.

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