June 13, 2018 / 12:29 PM / a year ago

Greece wants a bold Merkel embrace of Macron's euro zone plans

ATHENS (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel should be bolder in responding to French proposals to strengthen the euro zone, the Greek finance minister said in interview published on Wednesday, adding that concerns over Italy had highlighted the need to act.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gestures before the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, June 13, 2018. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi

The German newspaper Zeit Online asked Euclid Tsakalotos whether Europe needed a vision like that embodied in President Emmanuel Macron’s reform proposals or a more realistic approach favored by Merkel.

“Whether it is realistic or not has to be determined,” Tsakalotos said. “Just continuing as before will not solve the euro zone’s problems. Merkel could be bolder. And that would be good for Germany and for her legacy as a European politician.”

Greece has received about 260 billion euros in emergency loans since 2010 in exchange for unpopular austerity measures and reforms. The money has kept it afloat but has also buried it in a mountain of debt, which now stands at 180 percent of GDP.

Greece will exit its third bailout programme in August.

A meeting of eurozone finance ministers, known as the Eurogroup, on June 21 is expected to offer clarity on further debt relief and on monitoring Greece’s implementation of reforms that were a condition of the bailout.

The Eurogroup was “very clear” from 2017 and made a commitment to debt relief so Greece could access debt markets once the bailout programme ended this year, Tsakolotos said.

“It is extremely important that we don’t end up with newspapers ... writing on June 22 that the Europeans have once again kicked the can down the road and have failed to address the Greek debt problem,” he said. “If that happens, we obviously won’t have access to the markets.”

Greece has repeatedly said that once its bailout programme ends it will not require a precautionary credit line. Tsakalotos said that such an arrangement was essentially a euphemism for a new programme.

“At some point, you have to trust a country to take its responsibilities seriously. We have had a program for eight years and want to leave it now,” Tsakalotos said.

Writing by Joseph Nasr, additional writing by Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Michelle Martin, Larry King

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