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EU pushing for unity to end row over Greek PM comments

Published on 02/03/2015

The EU said Monday it is trying to mediate in a simmering row between Greece and its eurozone partners Spain and Portugal after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused them of undermining debt talks with Brussels.

Madrid and Lisbon lodged a formal complaint with the European Commission over the comments by Tsipras, who likened pressure from Spain and Portugal during negotiations over a four-month bailout extension to blackmail.

Germany has also denounced the comments by Tsipras, whose anti-austerity Syria party stormed to victory in elections in January on the back of promises to end austerity and renegotiate its bailout.

“We are speaking to all actors involved in order to ensure there is unity among all EU states and especially all EU states of the eurozone,” Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told a daily briefing.

“We have received the complaints including a request to comment from the Spanish and Portuguese authorities that was communicated to the Commission over the weekend regarding the statements of Prime Minister Tsipras,” she added.

“We are stressing very much the role of the Commission as a mediator in this process, which means we’re building bridges and bringing parties together.”

The row between the so-called Club Med countries that border the Mediterranean Sea comes as governments in Spain and Portugal face the rise of anti-austerity parties buoyed by the rise of Tsipras’s hard-left Syriza party.

Portugal has just completed a painful international bailout, sticking to the harsh austerity terms rejected by Syriza while Spain had to ask Brussels for special help with its banks.

According to Tsipras in a speech to the central committee of Syriza on Saturday, Greece came up against “an axis of powers led by Spain and Portugal” who tried to scupper the negotiations to “avoid internal political risks”.

“Conservative forces (in Europe) tried to set a trap for us, to drive us into financial asphyxia,” the 40-year-old said.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy hit back on Sunday, telling Tsipras to “get serious” about Greece’s debt problems.

On Monday, Germany said the comments were, in football terminology, a “foul”.

“I can only say that according to European standards that was a very unusual foul,” Martin Jaeger, the spokesman for German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, told reporters.

“We don’t do that in the Eurogroup (of eurozone finance ministers). It is not the done thing.”