EU, ECB working on Greece exit contingency: trade commissioner

Fri May 18, 2012 8:38am EDT
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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission and the European Central Bank are working on scenarios in case Greece has to leave the euro zone, EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht has said.

Speculation about such planning has been rife, but the comments in a newspaper interview, confirmed by a person close to De Gucht, appear to be the first time an EU official has acknowledged the existence of contingency plans being drawn up in case Greece has to drop out of the currency bloc.

"A year and a half ago there maybe was a risk of a domino effect," De Gucht told Belgium's Dutch-language newspaper De Standaard, referring to the threat of Greece leaving the euro.

"But today there are in the European Central Bank, as well as in the Commission, services working on emergency scenarios if Greece shouldn't make it."

He added: "A Greek exit does not mean the end of the euro, as some claim."

The source close to De Gucht said the commissioner was explaining that EU institutions had not been sitting on their hands for the past two years, and that they were now better prepared than they had been.

Concern has grown that Greece may decide to leave or be forced out of the 17-country currency bloc after a rise in popular opposition to an EU-IMF program of fiscal austerity and structural reforms undermined attempts to form a government after May 6 elections.

Greeks are scheduled to go the polls again on June 17. A victory by the far-left, anti-bailout coalition SYRIZA - which some opinion polls suggest is likely - would increase the possibility of the country leaving the euro.

However, one opinion poll on Thursday showed the pro-bailout New Democracy party in first place, several points ahead of the SYRIZA, which has pledged to tear up the bailout agreement.   Continued...

European Union trade commissioner Karel de Gucht talks with a Reuters reporter in Phnom Penh March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Siv Channa