Greece must remain in eurozone: finance minister
(ATHENS) - Greece must remain in the eurozone, Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said in an interview published Sunday ahead of a week of crucial meetings between the prime minister and EU officials.
"We have to stay alive and remain under the umbrella of the euro, because that is the only choice that can protect us from a poverty that we have not experienced," Stournaras told the Vima tis Kyriakis weekly.
The Greek government needs to cut spending by about 11.5 billion euros ($14.2 billion) in 2013-14 to qualify for the next installment of its EU-IMF bailout package.
"If we don't take the measures ... then our stay in the euro is threatened," Stournaras said.
The unpopular cuts, expected to come mostly from salaries, pensions and benefits, are the source of friction within the country's new coalition government, but Stournaras described it as a difficult but necessary choice.
"We have the most expensive welfare state in the eurozone," he told the newspaper. "We can no longer maintain it with borrowed money."
The auditors of the so-called troika of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank, who visited Athens in July, are set to return to the Greek capital in September.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras will meet in Athens with Eurogroup chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who told Austrian daily Tiroler Tageszeitung on Saturday that he does not believe Greece will leave the eurozone.
Samaras will then travel to Berlin to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, the eve of his meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.
The Greek premier intends to discuss with them the possibility of being accorded two more years to complete the austerity cuts.
But Germany so far has maintained that Greece must stick to the agreed timeline if it wants to continue to qualify for European aid.
Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert said Wednesday that for the German government "the agreed memorandum of understanding which states what the Greek obligations are remains the basis of all aid decisions."
The German weekly Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that Greece's expected budget cuts for the next two years have been revised upward, from 11.5 billion euros to 14 billion euros.
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