By Gernot Heller
AHRENSBURG, Germany Aug 20 German Finance
Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said on Tuesday for the first time
that Greece will need another bailout, triggering a storm of
protest from opposition parties five weeks before an election in
Europe's biggest economy.
While analysts have long predicted Greece will require more
aid, albeit on a smaller scale than previous bailouts totalling
about 240 billion euros ($320 billion), Chancellor Angela Merkel
has tried to keep Greece out of her campaign for re-election to
avoid angering German voters who fear they will foot the bill.
Just hours before Schaeuble spoke, Merkel was quoted in a
regional newspaper as saying there was no point in discussing
additional aid to Greece before the end of next year, when its
second rescue package will expire.
But at a campaign event in northern Germany, her outspoken
minister departed from that line, breaking what had been seen as
an election campaign taboo.
"There will have to be another programme in Greece,"
A Greek finance ministry official told Reuters a new bailout
would involve sums far smaller than previous rescues and would
focus on plugging an expected funding shortfall over 2014-2016.
"Greece and its lenders are examining several ways to plug
any funding gap that Greece will face over the next few years,"
the official said on condition of anonymity.
The aid programme announced by Schaeuble will be at least
partly financed via the EU budget, German newspaper Sueddeutsche
Zeitung cited unnamed sources as saying in an advance extract of
an article due to be published on Wednesday.
The newspaper said discussions were underway about making
extra money from the EU's structural funds available to Athens,
which could use it to boost the economy and free up national
budgetary resources to pay off debt.
The newspaper cited government sources in Berlin as saying
that the third aid programme would be much smaller than the
first two and the conditions would also be less strict as Greece
has already set a lot of the necessary changes in motion.
The International Monetary Fund last month estimated
Greece's funding gap for 2014-2015 at 10.9 billion euros.
Athens hopes to cover part of that gap by returning to bond
markets, which it could do as early as 2014 with a "small-size"
bond issue, finance minister Yannis Stournaras told Reuters last
month. But market observers increasingly doubt the situation has
improved enough to allow a bond market return next year.
Schaeuble has said in the past that international lenders
may have to consider a new aid programme for Greece after the
existing one runs out at the end of 2014.
But he has never described this as inevitable, as he
appeared to do on Tuesday.
His comments came shortly after the European Central Bank
said Executive Board member Joerg Asmussen, a German who used to
work for Schaeuble, would be heading to Athens on Wednesday to
discuss progress on reforms needed to ensure the country
receives more bailout money.
Greece received an aid tranche of 5.8 billion euros from its
international lenders in July. It stands to receive another 1
billion euros in October, subject to implementation of further
Inspectors from the "troika" - the European Commission,
European Central Bank and IMF - will return to Athens in the
autumn to find out whether the government needs to find further
savings to meet its 2015-2016 budget targets.
As a prelude, Asmussen will meet Central Bank Governor
George Provopoulos, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras and
George Zanias, chairman of Greece's biggest lender, National
Bank, on his trip this week, Greek sources told
"TELL THE TRUTH"
Schaeuble's comments played into the hands of the
opposition, who throughout the election campaign have accused
Merkel of failing to tell voters the truth about Greece.
"I have made clear that saving Europe and keeping the
continent together comes at a cost, also for us Germans,"
Merkel's Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Peer Steinbrueck said
after Schaeuble spoke. "Now it's time that Frau Merkel tells
people the truth."
Greens leader Juergen Trittin said Schaeuble had exposed
Merkel's "deceit" and criticised the chancellor for advocating
austerity policies in Greece that had failed to reduce its debt
Progress on reform in recession-stricken Greece has been
patchy and there have been several reports that it may need
another aid package or more debt relief.
As Europe's biggest economy, Germany takes the biggest share
of the bailouts, which are unpopular with taxpayers.
Merkel looks on track to win a third term next month, in
part because voters applaud the hard line she has taken with
bailed-out countries like Greece.
But any indication she is covering up the risks of another
rescue could hurt her at a time when she is battling to win the
votes needed to keep her centre-right coalition together.
"Greece is a dangerous subject. It is not clever to bring it
up again just as there was a general feeling of calm," said
Emnid pollster Klaus-Peter Schoeppner.
In the interview with the Ruhr Nachrichten newspaper, Merkel
was asked about additional aid for Athens and responded: "In the
euro zone, we always said that we would evaluate the Greek
situation again at the end of 2014 or in early 2015. It makes
sense to stick to this timeline."