February 29, 2024

Finance Ministers Discuss Next Step for Greece

After the private gathering, the prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the group of euro-area finance ministers, said that Greece’s financial assistance program “does need a further adjustment” and that it would be discussed at the group’s next meeting on May 16.

Mr. Juncker told reporters that E.U. officials are “excluding the restructuring option which is discussed heavily in certain quarters of the financial markets,” according to Bloomberg News.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain were represented at the meeting in Luxembourg, which also included the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, and Olli Rehn, the European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, Mr. Juncker said.

A spokesman for the Greek finance ministry did not respond to questions about the nature of the talks.

But after an evening of intense speculation, Athens confirmed in a statement that its finance minister, George Papaconstantinou, attended the meeting and discussed the country’s economic predicament. “The minister was invited to exchange views” including economic developments in Greece, the statement said, denying an online report by Germany’s Spiegel that Greece might leave the euro zone. That report caused a sharp drop in the euro, which fell to $1.4337 in New York from $1.4530 late Thursday.

“It is clear that during this meeting it was never discussed or posed as an issue whether Greece would remain in the euro zone,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

That Mr. Papaconstantinou traveled to Luxembourg for these discussions suggests that Greece may finally be prepared to concede what analysts have been arguing for more than a year: that Greece’s debt, which is expected to exceed 150 percent of gross domestic product in the coming years, is unsustainable.

So far, Greek and European officials have said consistently that a debt restructuring that would cause bondholders to suffer a haircut, or a loss on their holdings, was out of the question. But that stance may not preclude a softer option in which bondholders might be persuaded to exchange their shorter maturity debt for securities with longer maturities and perhaps even a lower interest rate.

The majority of the bondholders are French, German and Greek banks, as well as the European Central Bank.

Referred to as a reprofiling, this softer approach was used successfully in Uruguay in 2003 and for weeks now has been a hot topic for discussion among policy makers in Europe as well as economists and analysts at investment banks.

A reprofiling would allow bondholders to avoid the stark losses they would face under a restructuring and would also give breathing space to Greece to generate enough cash to begin paying its debts.

Detractors say that such a solution, while appropriate for Uruguay, which suffered from a liquidity crisis, does not go far enough in the case of Greece, which is confronting a different problem, namely its huge debt burden.

Top policy makers at the E.C.B. are convinced that a Greek default would quickly undermine confidence elsewhere in the euro area and raise borrowing cost for other countries like Portugal and Ireland. It is also not clear what Greece would gain from such a move because its banks would fail and it would be years before the country could borrow internationally again.

Asked about default speculation at a news conference on Thursday, Mr. Trichet, the E.C.B. president, said, “It is not in the cards.”

The meeting in Luxembourg, made up of just a few ministers and senior officials, prompted some annoyance among the euro zone nations not invited.

Without the status of a formal meeting, the gathering could not make any decisions, but smaller euro zone nations are sensitive about suggestions that the bigger nations are effectively deciding policy.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e440f684bb50f73754536c03ac759bae

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