Debt relief for Greece will be looked into at the next Eurogroup meeting on 22 May, according to Jeroen Dijsselbloem. The president of the informal body of the eurozone's finance ministers made the announcement during a plenary debate in Parliament on 27 April. He also apologised to MEPs about recent remarks that proved controversial.
Dijsselbloem attended a plenary debate on the second review of the economic adjustment programme for the country. The Eurogroup president said debt relief was a possibility: "Last year we gave that commitment to come back to this issue of [debt] sustainability for Greece because that’s the only way they will come back on a sustainable path and a sustainable economic future."
Economics commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who also took part in the debate, added: “The Commission will continue to support efforts to make Greek debt more sustainable. We believe it’s necessary and possible."
Greece is currently in the middle of its third bailout programme since the financial crisis. On 2 May, Greece reached a preliminary technical agreement with its creditors, which means the country is set to have the next tranche of funding approved in time for its next debt repayments of €6 billion in July.
Greece’s primary budget surplus, an important indicator of the country’s public finances, increased to 3.9% last year, beating all the creditors’ targets, according to data from Elstat, the national statistics service.
During the debate in plenary, Roberto Gualtieri, an Italian member of the S&D group, said the news about the primary surplus for 2016 showed that the Greek economy was at a turning point and urged the next Eurogroup meeting to formally conclude the current review and address debt relief.
Ska Keller, the German chairs of the Greens/EFA group, said that now that Athens had delivered, it was time for the Eurogroup to do its part and give Greece its debt relief.
Two Greek MEPs - ECR member Notis Marias GUE/NGL member Dimitrios Papadimoulis - both highlighted the current devastating state of the Greek economy with Marias calling it a “social cemetery”.
Apart from the economic situation in Greece, MEPs addressed recent controversial statements by Dijsselbloem in an interview with German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, in which he was quoted as saying about southern European countries: “You cannot spend all the money on drinks and women and then ask for help.”
Françoise Grossetête, a French member of the EPP group, said: “I really regret the comments you made recently on southern countries because the social distress that many of our citizens are suffering deserves more than that.”
Dijsselbloem commented: “Many members of the Parliament have been very critical about my remarks, and of course I fully accept that. The choice of words has been unfortunate and people have been offended and I regret that.”