May 24, 2024

I.M.F. Talks in Greek Crisis at Key Juncture

After last year’s rescue of Greece, I.M.F. and European officials have now, for the most part, accepted that Greece will require another 60 billion euros in aid in order to see it through 2012 and 2013.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the I.M.F. managing director, who was taken off an airplane destined for Paris and charged with attempted rape, had been reportedly due to meet on Sunday with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and to attend meetings in Brussels on Monday with European finance ministers ostensibly to discuss Portugal’s economic crisis.

With the interest rates on Greek bonds continuing to soar, pressure has been building on Europe and Greece to announce a new program within the next week or so.

As of early Sunday, the I.M.F. board had yet to meet, and board members were still digesting the shock of Saturday’s news. One board member who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that it was way too early to consider who might succeed Mr. Strauss-Kahn, if he were to resign. He added that for the time being, the fund’s business would be run as it always is when the managing director is out of town — by its No. 2 executive, John Lipsky, a former U.S. Treasury executive and onetime banker at JP Morgan who has been overseeing the logistics of the Greek program. As first deputy managing director, Mr. Lipsky might assume Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s responsibilities during the criminal investigation.

But the Washington rumor mill has already begun to churn out names of candidates from non-European countries, including Kemal Dervis, a senior official at the Brookings Institute and a former Turkish finance minister, and Mohamed A. El-Erian, the chief executive office of PIMCO, the bond fund giant. 

For the past week, the I.M.F.’s senior executive in charge of Greece, Poul M. Thomsen has been meeting, along with executives from the European Union and the European Central bank, with government officials in Greece. The fund also has two technical experts who have been working for the past year within the Greek finance ministry.

But any cooperation has been spotty at best, say people briefed on the situation, as Greek bureaucrats tend to view the I.M.F. as “spies” working for Brussels and Washington. Some of those briefed on the discussions described them as “tense” and “edgy.”

The Greek public has also been looking with more disdain toward Prime Minister George Papandreou and his association with the I.M.F. Reports in Greek newspapers that Mr. Papandreou and Mr. Strauss-Kahn had engaged in private discussion months before the 110 billion euro rescue last year have just added to the view that I.M.F. technocrats are responsible for Greece’s economic problems.

Fund experts, meanwhile, are frustrated that Greek politicians are delaying key reforms such as more privatization, cuts in public sector employment and more flexibility for private sector employers to hire and fire workers. The Greeks contend that they can do only so much and that to push any faster on austerity measures would make the recession even worse. 

Nevertheless, it is also true that many Greeks also understand that radical changes must be undertaken and that while Europe’s and the I.M.F.’s demands are painful, Greece has little choice.

“This could not come at a worse time,” said Yannis Stournaras, an economist and head of an economic consulting group in Athens. “It affects the image of the I.M.F. — but most Greeks still believe that without the I.M.F. and Europe, Greece would be doomed.”

People familiar with the I.M.F.’s internal workings say that while Mr. Strauss-Kahn has been the public voice from the fund on Greece, internally it has been Mr. Lipsky. But Mr. Lipsky’s term is up in August, and pressure will be on the fund’s board to find a replacement.  Mr. Devis and Mr. El-Erian were again considered possible successors.

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