BRUSSELS (TIP): Exasperated leaders of the European Union pressed the Greek prime minister to speed up plans to improve his country’s balance sheet in a meeting that stretched into the early hours Friday.
”A deal is a deal,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said ahead of the meeting, reflecting frustration among many leaders at an EU summit about the pace at which Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is implementing a Feb. 20 agreement to push through reforms in exchange for their help in keeping Greece solvent.
Tsipras strode into the summit beaming and defiant, saying it is the rest of Europe that needs more ambition.
”The European Union needs bold political initiatives,” he said.
Hanging over the summit of 28 heads of state and government are fears that the hard line of the Greek government formed in January could cause the country to drop out of the euro, something that would trigger a crisis for the currency shared by 19 nations.
Tsipras made a last-minute request for a mini-summit Thursday night with half a dozen top EU officials. Those officials agreed to the meeting _ over the objections from some of the other leaders, who complained they were being left out _ but made it clear they have no intention of re-negotiating the terms of the Greek bailout. ”There can be a solution only on the basis of the agreements reached in the eurogroup,” Merkel said, referring to the meeting last month of the eurozone’s 19 finance ministers.
”Progress,” added the head of the eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. “That is not going to happen tonight.”
In addition to Merkel and Tsipras, the meeting included French President Francois Hollande, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and EU President Donald Tusk. None of the EU leaders gave any indication that they were willing to make concessions.
“We can always have political discussions if that alleviates the pain, but there will be no changes,” Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said.
Tsipras, brushing aside the criticism, insisted his government will end austerity and increase social spending. On Wednesday the Greek parliament approved an anti-poverty bill. It was the first piece of legislation that his government has put through _ and it did so without full consultation from its creditor partners.
Greece’s economic policies drew criticism even from nations outside the eurozone. British Prime Minister David Cameron marveled Thursday at how poorly the Greek economy has fared compared to his own.
”When I first came here as prime minister five years ago, Britain and Greece were virtually in the same boat. We had similar-sized budget deficits,” he said. ”The reason we are in a different position is we took long-term, difficult decisions and we had all of the hard work and effort of the British people.”
French President Francois Hollande said that if Greece wants to spend more it needs to find the money inside its own borders.
”That the Greek government makes an effort for the poor is not shocking to me. What we ask Greece, is that it asks the richest to pay taxes,” he said.
Greece is banking on the fact that its European partners all want to keep the eurozone intact, fearing that if Greece pulls out others might as well.
”Nobody wants a so-called Grexit and everybody wants to avoid this risk,” Tusk said.