Germany, France take calculated risk with Grexit talk

Tue Jan 6, 2015 3:15pm EST
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By Madeline Chambers and Elizabeth Pineau

BERLIN/PARIS (Reuters) - Evoking a possible Greek exit from the euro zone, Germany and France are taking a coordinated and calculated risk in the hope of averting a leftist victory in Greece's general election on Jan. 25.

The intention, according to Michael Huether, head of Germany's IW economic institute, is to make clear that other euro area countries "can get on well without Greece, but Greece cannot get on without Europe", and to warn that the left-wing Syriza party would bring disaster on the country.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, whose party leads in opinion polls, insists he wants to keep Greece in the euro. However, he has promised to end austerity imposed by foreign creditors under the country's bailout deal if he wins power, and wants part of the 240 billion euros lent by the EU and IMF written off.

The risk is that the European Union's two main powers are seen by Greeks as interfering and threatening them, provoking a backlash after a six-year recession that shrunk their economy by 20 percent and put one in four workers out of a job.

French President Francois Hollande said on Monday it was up to the Greek people to decide whether they wanted to stay in the single currency, while a German magazine reported that Berlin no longer feared a "Grexit" would endanger the entire euro area.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman did not explicitly deny the weekend "Der Spiegel" report but said: "The aim has been to stabilise the euro zone with all its members, including Greece. There has been no change in our stance."

Merkel and Hollande conferred by telephone during the winter holidays and will meet in Strasbourg on Sunday with European Parliament President Martin Schulz for what a French diplomatic source insisted were not crisis talks on Greece.

Should centre-right Prime Minister Antonis Samaras lose power in the election, the real issue was how a Syriza-led government might seek to reschedule Greece's debt, not its place in the euro, the French source said.   Continued...

A Greek (L) and an EU flag flutter as a pigeon flies past in Athens January 6, 2015.  REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis