ATHENS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European finance ministers triggered a record 110 billion euro ($147 billion) bailout for debt-stricken Greece yesterday after Athens committed itself to years of painful austerity.
After weeks of tough talk and procrastination due to fierce public opposition to handouts for the Greeks, German Chancellor Angela Merkel finally threw her full support behind the EU/IMF package, vowing to fight for parliamentary approval by Friday.
Euro zone ministers, meeting in emergency session, approved the three-year package of emergency loans and agreed the first funds would be released in time for Athens to make a big debt repayment to creditors on May 19.
In exchange for by far the largest bailout ever assembled for a country, Prime Minister George Papandreou announced further spending cuts and tax increases totalling 30 billion euros over three years on top of tough measures already taken.
“It is an unprecedented support package for an unprecedented effort by the Greek people,” a sombre Papandreou, wearing a dark purple tie, the colour used for funerals in Greece, told a televised cabinet meeting.
Merkel called the programme very ambitious and said she would work to achieve swift parliamentary approval of Berlin’s share — the biggest of any EU state at about 22 billion euros out of 80 billion — of the rescue loans.
“I’m going to work for the Greece programme and its passage,” she told reporters in Bonn, adding it was essential for the stability of the euro single currency.
US President Barack Obama told Papandreou yesterday he welcomes Greece’s “ambitious” reform programme, the White House said. He also praised the “significant support” from the IMF and Eurozone members.
Euro zone leaders will hold a special summit on Friday to formally launch the rescue after obtaining parliamentary approval where necessary. International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn forecast the IMF board would approve its 30 billion euro contribution to the package this week.