Eurozone's Juncker reveals 'death threats' from Greece

7th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Luxembourg Prime Minister and top eurozone fixer Jean-Claude Juncker told the European Parliament late Monday he has received "death threats" by mail from Greece.

"What can you say to the Greeks? It's a good question I often ask myself, because I receive lots of letters from Greeks -- including death threats," Juncker told lawmakers during an evening question-and-answer session in Strasbourg, France.

The head of the Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 17-state euro currency area, who is a leading figure in negotiations over a second bailout for Greece in just over a year, revealed the threats three days after talks with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou over new aid for Athens.

Some 50,000 people took over central Syntagma Square outside the Greek parliament on Sunday, with numbers growing day-by-day as ordinary Greeks vent their anger at what they see as politicians bowing down to European demands for austerity.

AFP tried to reach Juncker's spokesman after his remarks, filmed in the parliament, but there was no immediate reply.

The quick-witted Juncker made the comment without a smile or further expansion and there was no reaction either from his trusted sidekick, the EU's economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn.

Papandreou sealed a deal for 110 billion euros ($160 billion) of loans from eurozone partners and the IMF last year, but with borrowing rates double what they were then on commercial markets and Greece's debt mountain hitting 350 billion euros, new loans as part of a 60 billion euro additional rescue are being discussed.

Juncker said Greece was a country that had "all my sympathy."

He said it was "others who put (Greece) into a coma," referring to the socialist Papandreou's predecessors in power in Athens, and reiterated that "Europe needs Greece."

In order to win Friday's pledge of more loans alongside pushed-back redemptions on existing debts, Papandreou had to agree to surrender some of Greece's financial autonomy and accelerate a fire-sale of state assets.

German telecommunications operator Deutsche Telekom said Monday Athens had sold it another 10 percent of the national Greek telecoms company OTE, in a deal expected to have a value of around 400 million euros.

However, in a sign of the difficulties faced by the Greek government, the chairman of the main Greek port of Piraeus publicly opposed the government's plans to privatise the harbour.

International backers want greater control over a radical economic overhaul, ranging from decisions over a privatisation programme aimed at raising 50 billion by 2015 to fixing the country's chaotic tax collection system.

"The more privatisations there are, the less the sacrifices will be that are imposed on the most modest Greek citizens," Juncker had earlier said during the 90-minute session.

With observers asking whether Papandreou could withstand a hot summer of mass demonstrations, Juncker reiterated EU appeals for politicians on all sides in Greece to find a "consensus" to "give the outside world the image of a country which knows where it is heading."

Rehn spoke of "a certain credibility gap still concerning Greece," and asked why political factions could not come together to sell a new package to dispel fears of default and broader eurozone collapse to a Greek public feeling short-changed.

© 2011 AFP

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