Greece faces last chance to stay in euro as cash runs out

BRUSSELS: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras launched a desperate bid to win fresh aid from sceptical creditors at an emergency euro zone summit on Tuesday, before his country’s banks run out of money.


But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on arrival there was still no basis for reopening negotiations with Athens. “It is not a matter of weeks but of a few days” to save Greece from collapse, Merkel told reporters.

With Greek banks down to their last few days of cash and the European Central Bank tightening the noose on their funding, Tsipras tried to convince the bloc’s other 18 leaders to authorise a new loan swiftly.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said after conferring on Monday in Paris that the door was still open to a deal to save Greece from plunging into economic turmoil and possibly having to ditch the euro.

But some of Athens’ 18 partners in Europe’s common currency vented exasperation at five years of crisis wrangling with Greece. Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite complained: “With the Greek government it is every time manana.” Merkel, under pressure in Germany to cut Greece loose, made clear it was up to Tsipras to present convincing proposals after Athens spurned tax rises, spending cuts and pension and labour reforms that were on the table before its 240 billion euro ($262.7 billion) bailout expired last week.

Euro zone finance ministers complained that their new Greek colleague Euclid Tsakalotos, while more courteous than his abrasive predecessor Yanis Varoufakis, had brought no new proposals to a preparatory meeting before the summit.

“I have the strong impression there were 18 … ministers of finance who felt the urgency of the situation and there is one … who doesn’t feel the urgency of the situation,” Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said.

Greek officials said the leftist government broadly repeated a reform plan Tsipras sent to the euro zone last week before Greek voters, in a referendum on Sunday, overwhelmingly rejected the austerity terms previously on offer for a bailout.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, chairman of the Eurogroup of currency zone finance ministers, said the ministers would hold a conference call on Wednesday to review a Greek request for a medium-term assistance programme from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund, due to be submitted within hours.

Reflecting the irritation of several ministers, he said the Eurogroup was still awaiting a Greek letter with one clear set of proposals.

A Greek government official retorted: “Some are maintaining ‘we don’t have proposals’… Is it really that ‘we don’t have proposals’ or is it that they don’t like our proposals?” Tsipras met privately with the leaders of Germany and France, the currency area’s main powers, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker just before the summit began.

Euro zone officials said there was no plan to issue any statement at the end of the summit. One official said there could be another emergency summit on Sunday after more work by finance ministers.

Earlier Juncker, who has tried to broker a last-minute deal, told the European Parliament: “There are some in the European Union who openly or secretly are working to exclude Greece from the euro zone.”

He did not name names but may have been referring to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who has made no secret of his scepticism about Greece’s fitness to stay in the euro and last week suggested a possible “temporary” exit.