ATHENS (Reuters) - Germany, France and the Netherlands plan to buy Greek bonds to help Athens cope with a severe debt crisis, a German member of the European Parliament said on Saturday.
The comments by MEP Jorgo Chatzimarkakis on Greek television echoed details of an aid plan that were reported by a leading Greek newspaper on Saturday. That report was dismissed by a senior German government official as “nonsense.”
“The plan is that Germany, France and the Netherlands will buy Greek bonds,” Chatzimarkakis, a German of Greek heritage, told Mega TV in an interview aired on Saturday evening.
“Germany is planning to buy immediately 5-7 billion euros (of bonds),” he said, adding that Germany’s state-owned development bank KfW and France’s state-owned bank Caisse des Depots were part of the deal and would buy Greek bonds.
It was unclear how Chatzimarkakis, who is not a high-profile politician in Germany, knew of the plan he described.
Earlier, Greek newspaper Ta Nea reported, citing unnamed banking and official sources, that Germany and France -- it did not mention the Netherlands -- planned to help Greece with its debt problems by buying bonds or providing guarantees via the same state banks mentioned by Chatzimarkakis.
The report said French President Nicolas Sarkozy had discussed the plan by telephone with Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.
In return for the aid, the newspaper said the Greek government had agreed to introduce additional austerity measures worth some 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) to reach its target of cutting the budget deficit by 4 percentage points this year.
The Greek finance ministry and the European Commission declined to comment on the report, which came after signs of a diplomatic push to resolve Greece’s debt crisis. There was no immediate comment from France’s government.
But the senior German official, who declined to be named, said there was no such agreement. “No, this report is nonsense,” the official said.
Nevertheless, a German parliamentary source told Reuters that the government was quietly preparing emergency budget provisions for possible aid to Greece. The finance ministry denied this.
With German public opinion strongly against aiding Greece, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has been reluctant to offer any concrete monetary assistance, beyond a vague pledge that it will take action “if needed” to protect financial stability in the euro zone.
In private, however, senior German financial officials admit contingency plans have been drawn up in case Berlin needs to intervene in Greece’s debt crisis, which has caused turmoil in European markets and hurt confidence in the euro currency.
Sources in Germany’s ruling coalition told Reuters earlier this month that the coalition was considering having KfW buy Greek bonds.
European Union inspectors visited Athens this week to discuss the crisis. EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn plans to visit Athens next week, and Ta Nea said Rehn would announce the aid plan for Greece during his visit.
Papandreou said on Friday that he would visit Berlin for talks with Merkel on March 5, while Deutsche Bank Chief Executive Josef Ackermann met Papandreou in Athens on Friday.
Media reports in Germany and France have suggested governments in the 16-country euro zone might offer aid worth a total of 20 to 25 billion euros to Greece. Officials have declined to comment on the size of any aid plan.
Greece, which is preparing to tap the euro debt market with its second bond issue this year, has said its funding needs are met until mid-March, and it will need to refinance about 20 billion euros of debt maturing in April and May. Markets worry that Greece may not be able to borrow at affordable rates.
(1 euro = $1.36)
Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Athens, Matthias Sobolewski in Berlin, Astrid Wendlandt in Paris and Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Andrew Torchia and Noah Barkin