HIGHLIGHTS-Comments from euro zone finance ministers and officials

BRUSSELS Mon May 14, 2012 5:12pm EDT

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BRUSSELS May 14 (Reuters) - Euro zone finance ministers and officials met in Brussels on Monday for talks on the situation in Greece as well as Spain's banking reforms and budget plans.

Following are comments after the talks:

EUROGROUP PRESIDENT JEAN-CLAUDE JUNCKER

ON ANY POSSIBLE CHANGES TO GREEK BAILOUT PROGRAMME:

"If there were to be dramatic changes in the circumstances, we wouldn't preclude a debate about an extension of the period (for Greece to meet targets). I didn't say there was any intention to extend the periods, we have to do things in the appropriate order.

"We need a Greek government, the Greek government would have to make clear it was fully committed to the programme, and then if there were exceptional circumstances, we wouldn't exclude the possibility of discussing this issue.

"It wasn't discussed today because those two other conditions were not met: we haven't got a Greek government and we haven't got any particular circumstances to warrant this discussion.

"Anyway, there wouldn't be any substantive change involved."

ON POSSIBILITY OF GREECE LEAVING EURO ZONE:

"I made it perfectly clear that nobody was mentioning an exit of Greece from the euro area. I am strongly against. We are 17 member states being co-owners of our common currency.

"I don't envisage, not even for one second, Greece leaving the euro area. This is nonsense, this is propaganda.

"We have to respect Greek democracy. I'm against this way of dealing with Greece consisting in provoking the Greek public opinion and giving advice and indications to the Greek sovereign.

"Greece has voted, we have to take into account the result. We do hope that a government will be formed in the next coming days or weeks and then we have to deal with that government. We don't have to lecture Greece.

"But the Greek public, the Greek citizens, have to know that we agreed on a programme and this programme has to be implemented. But I don't like the way of dealing with Greece, those that are threatening Greece day after day. This is not the way of dealing with partners, colleagues and friends and citizens in the European Union."

ON GREEK PROGRAMME:

"We took note of the results of the Greek elections on May 6. The democratic process in Greece should now run its course. The Eurogroup looks forward to the swift formation of a new Greek government that will take ownership of the programme and that has a sufficient parliamentary majority to implement fully the agreed policy conditionality."

ON GREEK REFORMS:

"The Eurogroup is fully aware of the significant efforts already made by Greek citizens. This is not a time to relax the reform efforts. On the contrary, continued fiscal and structural reforms are Greece's best guarantee for a more prosperous future in the euro area. We therefore encourage Greece to resolutely continue to adjust the structural weakness of its economy."

ON GREECE IN EURO ZONE:

"Our unshakeable desire is to maintain Greece within the euro area. We will do everything possible to that effect. The exit of Greece out of the euro was not the subject of our debate today. Absolutely no one, absolutely no one, argued in that sense."

ON SPAIN'S BANKING SECTOR AND FISCAL CONSOLIDATION:

"It will be no surprise to you that we spent a large amount of time discussing developments in Spain. In particular, we welcome the measures announced on Friday by the Spanish authorities to further reform the banking sector in order to bolster investor confidence and address the remaining vulnerabilities in the Spanish banks. We welcomed and fully supported these measures.

"We call on the Spanish authorities to speed up the external assessment of the situation in the banking sector and to take the necessary steps to put in place credible backstop mechanisms that can be used in case of need. Indeed, in the current circumstances, speed is of the essence.

"Together with determined fiscal consolidation and front-loaded structural reforms, this will support the return of the Spanish economy to sustainable growth and job creation."

ON ECONOMIC GROWTH AND FISCAL CONSOLIDATION:

"We confirm that our current consolidation strategy, in line with the rules of the Stability and Growth pact, remains appropriate and will continue to be the cornerstone of our strategy to correct our fiscal and macroeconomic imbalances, overcome the crisis and return to a sustainable growth path."

"We insisted that there is no contradiction between fiscal consolidation and growth-oriented policies. To the contrary, they are mutually reinforcing and should be pursued entirely.

"We agreed that consolidation efforts should be growth-friendly with a focus on forward-looking expenditure like investment and innovation and pro-growth projects, and should be anchored into a credible multi-annual framework. We'll come back to this at our next meeting on June 21."

ON PORTUGUESE PROGRAMME:

"We had a brief discussion on the progress of the Portuguese programme, which is progressing well. An ambitious fiscal consolidation is taking place and important structural reforms have been undertaken. The rebalancing of the economy towards export-led growth has also started well.

"Portugal is going to implement further structural reforms, notably as regards the services sector and product markets, in line with the agreed policy conditionality and with a view to enhancing the economy's growth perspective, which is a key element of the programme."

EU ECONOMIC AND MONETARY AFFAIRS COMMISSIONER OLLI REHN

ON GREEK COMMITMENTS:

"We have not discussed fiscal targets with the IMF nor in the Eurogroup. We expect that the commitments are respected and the fiscal targets are a core part of the commitments and programme implementation."

ON SITUATION IN GREECE:

"It is clear that we want Greece to stay in the euro and return to sustainable growth and sustainable public finances... The EU/IMF programme is a very substantial expression of solidarity for Greece... It is in fact a solidarity pact between the other 16 (euro zone) member states and Greece.

"Solidarity is a two-way street."

ON IRELAND AND PORTUGAL:

"I reported on progress in the Irish and Portuguese programmes and I'm glad to say both programmes are on track. The rebalancing towards a strengthened export sector growth is going on in both countries."

ON SITUATION IN THE NETHERLANDS:

"Concerning the Netherlands we endorsed the budget deal... achieved last month, which is a very important agreement and a very important signal to keep Dutch public finances on a sustainable footing.

"This budget deal also confirms a long Dutch tradition of strong public finances..."

SPANISH ECONOMY MINISTER LUIS DE GUINDOS

ON DISCUSSIONS:

"We explained Spain's financial reform and got a lot of support."

Following are earlier comments, from ahead of the talks:

DUTCH FINANCE MINISTER JAN KEES DE JAGER

ON GREEK COMMITMENTS:

"Greece has no option but to reform and to repay (its debts) and if it doesn't do that, it will be a very serious problem, not just for Greece, but for everyone."

"There is no room to soften the (second bailout) agreement, or to say 'we're going to reform a bit less or we could repay a bit less'.

"If there are suggestions for an alternative (for Greece), then the (ECB/IMF) Troika must look into them. But the Greek agenda is but one: to reform.

"And if the Greek people choose another agenda then we are going to have a big problem and we don't have the room to say 'well, don't worry'."

ON POSSIBLE CONTAGION FROM A GREEK EXIT:

"We have worked hard over the past half-year on reducing the risk from a possible problem in any one country (with the firewall). But I can say, I hope it is not necessary because (a euro exit) would be very painful for any country."

"For Greece, it is all about meeting its commitments, and if it doesn't then they really have a big problem. I don't want to speculate but we have tried to work to overcome the (contagion) risks if a certain country has problems."

BELGIAN FINANCE MINISTER STEVEN VANACKERE

ON A GREEK EXIT FROM THE EURO:

"There is nothing to be gained from a Greek euro exit.

"There is little sense in speaking about situations that don't offer a solution for the real fundamental problem: that is one of supporting competitiveness and the economy.

"I'm still convinced that the best way to do that is within the euro zone."

AUSTRIAN FINANCE MINISTER MARIA FEKTER

ON A GREEK EXIT FROM THE EURO:

"You can't leave the euro zone. You can leave the leave the European Union, the contract has possibilities there. Once you left the European Union you also left the euro zone.

"Greece would have to reapply and then we would have membership negotiations and look very closely whether Greece would be able to become a member at all."

"We look much more closely than when they joined the euro."

ON GREEK BAILOUT CONDITIONS:

"Those who gave the money want the conditions to be met. You stick to contracts in the European Union."

ON SPANISH REFORMS:

"Spain is finalising a large reform package regarding its banks and we welcome that."

SPANISH ECONOMY MINISTER LUIS DE GUINDOS

ON GREECE'S COMMITMENTS AND PLACE IN THE EURO ZONE:

"Europe is living complicated times."

"Greece must take the decisions it has agreed to take. We need to find solutions and offer support. Greece needs to take a series of measures and the political uncertainty is impeding it from taking those measures and that is weighing on (capital) markets."

"I don't want to talk about a possible exit for Greece. It has commitments and independent of who is in government, the outcome of its elections, it must respond."

"I don't want to talk about a Greek exit or an exit by any other country because that would be a failure for everyone."

ON SPANISH BANKING AND FISCAL MEASURES:

"Spain has taken all the appropriate measures... to do what we have to do and return to stability and growth.

"Spain has taken measures, implemented a very deep banking clean-up, to improve our fiscal situation. What we need now is the cooperation of all the euro zone."

GERMAN FINANCE MINISTER WOLFGANG SCHAEUBLE

ON SITUATION FACING THE GREEK PEOPLE:

"It is undisputed that the Greek people have to suffer from the consequences of decades of neglect. There is no easy path for Greece whatever the result."

"It is not about being generous with regards to Greece, it is about what is defensible and credible from an economic point of view."

LUXEMBOURG'S FINANCE MINISTER LUC FRIEDEN

ON GREEK BAILOUT:

"If Greece needs help from outside, the conditions have to be met. All political parties in Greece know that."

"We have an agreement with the Hellenic Republic, not one political party. And therefore I am confident that also the next government will fully comply with this."

IRISH FINANCE MINISTER MICHAEL NOONAN

ON GREEK POLITICAL SITUATION AND BAILOUT:

"Elections can draw strange results at times, and then the political parties have an obligation to form a government.

"So I'd encourage them to form a government that's pledged and entered into the programme with whatever variations they think are necessary."

ON PROSPECT OF GREECE LEAVING EURO:

"We are not planning a Greek exit, that's not our business. My view is that Greece should continue to stay in the euro, and any support I can give them at the meetings over the next two days to achieve that objective I will do so.

"But they have to set their own house in order. And when you analyse it, their problem is not really economic or fiscal at present. But the immediate problem in Greece, in Athens is a democratic problem...

"...There has been an election and so far they haven't been able to negotiate a government arising from the election.

"I don't think a new election helps... The elements are there now, and what happens in Europe usually, even more so than in Ireland, right across Europe, coalitions are the norm. They are negotiated after elections..." (Reporting by Luke Baker, Annika Breidthardt, Robin Emmott, Robert-Jan Bartunek and Jan Strupczewski, editing by Rex Merrifield)

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