EU Commission wants Greece to stay in euro zone

BRUSSELS Mon May 14, 2012 9:01am EDT

Related Topics

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission hopes Greece will remain part of the euro zone but Athens must respect its obligations, the European Union's executive Commission said on Monday.

"We don't want Greece to leave the euro, quite the contrary - we are doing our utmost to support Greece," European Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen told a regular news briefing.

Greece is likely to face new elections in June after three failed attempts to form a government that would support the terms of an EU/IMF bailout following a poll earlier this month.

Opinion polls show most Greeks want to stay in the euro zone, but oppose the harsh austerity imposed by the terms of the EU/IMF emergency lending program.

"We wish Greece will remain in the euro and we hope Greece will remain in the euro ... but it must respect its commitments," Ahrenkilde Hansen said.

"The Commission position remains completely unchanged: we want Greece to be able to stay in the euro. This is the best thing for Greece, for the Greek people and for Europe as a whole," she said.

Ahrenkilde Hansen declined to speculate what might happen if Greece were unable to form a government that supported the terms of its 130-billion-euro bailout.

UP TO GREECE

Leftist SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras, whose party came second in the Greek election but is now leading in opinion polls, has said he wants Greece to stick with the single currency but scrap the bailout program.

Euro zone paymaster Germany appealed to Greeks to build a viable government, but acknowledged that the country was in a difficult situation.

Alexander Stubb, European affairs minister for euro zone member Finland, meanwhile said Greece could not stay in the euro zone if it were to tear up its bailout deal. "I think that is an impossible equation," Stubb said.

The Greek political landscape has been in disarray since an inconclusive election on May 6 left parliament divided between supporters and opponents of the program, with neither side able to form a government.

"Greece has its future in its own hands and it is really up to Greece to see what the response should be," Ahrenkilde Hansen said, noting the Commission did not want to interfere with talks on government formation in Athens.

But she said: "The bailout program and the euro are at the heart of these negotiations."

Asked if the euro zone was drawing up contingency plans in case Greece decided to reject the bailout terms and therefore leave the euro zone, Ahrenkilde Hansen did not say 'no'.

"There are many, many questions arising and many questions open about Greece, and most answers have to come from Greece and we have to respect the ongoing political process," she said.

She hoped the conclusions reached by Athens in that process would enable it to remain in the euro zone.

"Clearly, the future of Greece is in the euro zone. We are working on that," she said.

(Reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Catherine Evans)

FILED UNDER: