Different delivery, one message to Greece's new leaders

Sat Feb 7, 2015 4:43am EST
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By Alessandra Galloni and Ingrid Melander

ROME/PARIS (Reuters) - In Paris and Rome, it was sugar coated; in Berlin and Frankfurt unequivocal. But the message from European capitals to Greece's new leaders was the same at every stop on last week's tour - stick to your commitments.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will head to his first European summit on Thursday duly warned that it will be near impossible, as Athens wants, to rip up pledges made during the country's four-year international bailout. Tsipras and his aides were also advised to learn the ways of diplomatic custom.

"Friendship requires telling things as they are," French Finance Minister Michel ‎Sapin told Reuters after meeting his Greek counterpart Yanis Varoufakis last Sunday. "We must avoid misunderstandings and make sure all, and especially the Greek side, understand how things are."

The positions taken this past week raise pressure on Tsipras to abandon the rhetoric that got him elected. Other European capitals must decide how much they are willing to compromise to keep Greece in the euro. France and Italy, widely perceived as Greece's natural allies, will have to think how far they want to go to facilitate a deal.

“I hope that this European tour has helped them see what others are prepared to do – and not do," said one European official in Brussels.

Tsipras and Varoufakis declined to comment for this article.

There isn't much time. Greece's bailout ends on February 28. Athens says it doesn't want an extension, rather a bridge loan from Europe while it comes up with a new plan for the country. So far, the answer has been no.

Yet without new aid, the Greek state will be starved of funds. Nine billion euros were slated to arrive this year, largely from the International Monetary Fund. Tax revenues are shrinking, and privatizations have been halted. Analysts at Unicredit say the state could run out of money by March.   Continued...

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras speaks during a parliament session of Syriza party lawmakers at the Greek Parliament in Athens February 5, 2015.  REUTERS/Kostas Tsironis