Finland blokkeert schuldkwijtschelding Griekenland

Finland has emerged as the biggest stumbling block to negotiating a new bailout deal with an incoming Greek government, telling its eurozone partners that it will not support debt forgiveness and is reluctant to back another extension of the €172bn rescue.

In an interview, Finland’s prime minister said he would give a “resounding no” to any move to forgive Greece’s debts and warned that a new government in Athens would have to stick to the terms of the existing bailout.

The comments by Alex Stubb represent a blunt intervention in Greece’s upcoming election where Syriza, the radical left party that is currently leading the polls, has put debt relief at the core of its programme.

“We will remain tough. It is clear that we would say a resounding no to forgiving the loans,” Mr Stubb said. “We naturally do not want to influence the Greek elections, but I think it’s fair to Greeks and Finns to say out loud that some of the statements by Greek parties, and their presentations and ideas about the current programmes are simply unacceptable for Finland.”

If the Greek bailout is allowed to expire at the end of next month, Athens would be left without a financial backstop from the EU at a time of mounting market jitters about the eurozone. Although Greece would still have access to an International Monetary Fund programme, tensions between Athens and the fund have also grown.

Asked whether he could back an extension of the EU bailout, which is due to expire next month, Mr Stubb said he could not “exclude the possibility”. But eurozone officials said Helsinki has taken an even harder line in closed-door talks, telling counterparts that a longer extension of the Greek programme could inflame anti-euro populists in Finland’s upcoming parliamentary elections.

One senior eurozone official involved in the talks said that without Finnish objections, a deal with moderate figures within Syriza to extend the bailout and begin discussions could be possible, especially given mounting realisation in eurozone capitals that Syriza is likely to win the January 25 vote.

“Without the Finnish problem, I’d be very confident we could negotiate a reasonable compromise,” said the official. “The real problem doesn’t always live in Athens.”

Mr Stubb’s National Coalition party is trailing the opposition Centre party by almost 10 percentage points in recent polls ahead of Finland’s April parliamentary elections. Asked if his tough stance was designed to curry favour with the Finnish electorate, Mr Stubb answered: “As Finland’s prime minister, I have only one thing in mind: that is the interests of Finland.”

He said that over the past four years, Finland had showed “far-reaching solidarity in a difficult situation” — solidarity that could only continue if a Greek government continued down the current path. “No one should have any skewed kind of ideas that we could, for instance, forgive loans or stop the current programmes,” he said. “That is both economically and politically simply impossible for a country like Finland, which is itself struggling at the moment.”

Finland itself is in deep economic trouble with its economy expected to have contracted in 2014 for the third year in a row and some economists forecasting what they see as a depression continuing this year too.

Mr Stubb urged Greece not to give up. “The Greek elections will not change economic reality. Greece has done a lot to save its economy and get growth going. But, just like with all of us, the process is only halfway there. Greece will have to continue economic reform to get growth going again,” he added.

Mr Stubb said he wanted to avoid Greece making a “dirty exit” from the bailout, adding: “We cannot, for political and economic reasons, exclude the possibility of continuing the programme, if it is necessary in order to conclude it successfully.”

He warned: “We will be tough if whichever new government emerges would request changes to the conditions that have been set. We believe there is no going back on the loans or any of the other programmes. We should keep crystal clear in mind that the loans have already been eased many different times.”

Lees het hele artikel op de Financial Times