March 26, 2010 in Nation/World

Eurozone agrees to Greece bailout

‘Safety net’ guarantees should ease borrowing
Aoife White Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A grandfather and his grandson hold Greek flags during a military parade in Athens on Thursday. Greece is celebrating its independence frugally – without tanks and jets – because of its acute financial crisis.
(Full-size photo)

BRUSSELS – Heavily indebted Greece won a major pledge of financial support from the other countries that use the euro and the International Monetary Fund in a deal that aims to halt the government debt crisis undermining Europe’s currency union.

The joint eurozone and IMF bailout program comes with strict conditions, making no money available to Greece right now. It could be tapped only if Greece – or other financially troubled eurozone members – cannot raise funds from financial markets, and would require the unanimous agreement of the 16 eurozone countries to release the loan funds.

The agreement at a Thursday meeting of European Union leaders was a clear victory for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who demanded that a rescue for Greece only come when the country runs out of other options. She also insisted that any backstop must include the IMF.

It was also a comedown for the French and the European Central Bank, which had opposed turning to the IMF out of fear it would damage the euro’s prestige and show that Europe was unable to solve its own financial woes. The eurozone has never turned to the IMF.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said he had wanted a program that emphasized governments’ “maximum responsibility” to limit debt, praising the program as a “workable solution” that would “normally not need to be activated.”

He said Greece should now “progressively regain the confidence of the market” and be able to borrow at lower interest rates. Trichet said that he assumes markets will end recent volatility.

Greece’s financial difficulties have weighed on the shared currency, driving its exchange rate down to $1.33 this week, the lowest level in 10 months.

It has also showed up the eurozone’s inability to keep member economies’ debt and deficits within strict limits – and the lack of a safety net for eurozone countries that risk being unable to pay their debts.

The new plan sets up a possible rescue program for the first time. All eurozone nations are pledging to help – although any contribution would be voluntary.

“We hope that it will not have to be activated,” said the European Union’s president, Herman Van Rompuy. “This would be triggered as a last resort.” He said the program should tell markets to “have confidence that the eurozone will never abandon Greece.”

Greek government officials believe the existence of a safety net will help them borrow at lower costs. “We hope and believe that we won’t ever use it,” a Greek official said under condition of anonymity.

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