Finance ministers seek deeper spending cuts
BRUSSELS – Just hours after Greece gave in to painful new job and spending cuts, European ministers declared Thursday that Athens didn’t go far enough and demanded more within a week in exchange for a $170 billion bailout to stave off bankruptcy.
The ministers gave the debt-ridden country until the middle of next week to find an extra $430 million in savings, pass the cuts through a divided parliament, and get written guarantees that they will be implemented even after the elections of a new government in April, said Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who chaired Thursday’s meeting of finance chiefs of the 17 euro countries.
The new austerity plan, which makes sharp cuts to the minimum wage and thousands of public-sector jobs, ignited fresh criticism from unions and the country’s deputy labor minister, who resigned in protest after Greece agreed to the deal. Even debt inspectors conceded that the new measures would keep the country in a recession for a fifth straight year.
But Greece’s finance minister warned that the alternative will likely be worse.
“Unfortunately the choice we face is one of sacrifice or even greater sacrifice – on a scale that cannot be compared,” Evangelos Venizelos told reporters.
Other European officials warned that more severe steps still might be necessary.
“Greece still has its homework cut out,” Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch finance minister, said after the meeting. “A lot of measures need to be clarified and taken.”