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Greek report Greek report
by Euro Reporter
2012-09-17 08:12:46
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Greece needs two-year extension on fiscal pledges

Greece needs a two-year extension from its international creditors to meet fiscal pledges, and a liquidity boost from the European Central Bank, said Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. In a Washington Post interview appearing in Greece on Saturday, Samaras said the recession-hit country was determined to adopt a new austerity package worth 11.7 billion Euros ($15 billion) to avoid leaving the eurozone. But he said the programme should apply over four years instead of the currently agreed timeframe of two years -- his most specific extension request in weeks. "Instead of the 11.7-billion-euro package taking place over two years, it would be best if it were to take place over four years," the prime minister said.

"We are talking about an extension to 2016," he said. Samaras had asked for a two-year extension prior to his election in June, but had since made more general requests for "breathing space" in meetings with EU leaders over the last month. Eurozone and IMF leaders meeting in Nicosia on Friday also conceded that Greece needed more time to meet agreed targets under its international bailout. "Clearly timing is an issue worth consideration," IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told a news conference.

With EU decisions on Greece now expected at an October 18-19 summit, Greek Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras said in Nicosia that officials had 10 days to seal the disputed package of cuts pending since June. "The deal will be closed in 10 days," Stournaras told reporters, according to Ta Nea daily. "(Measures worth) four billion Euros have yet to be agreed, but this matter will be settled soon," he said, according to the paper. Greece must agree with its so-called "troika" of creditors -- the EU, IMF and the European Central Bank -- to receive the next slice of 31 billion Euros from its bailout package. In his interview, Samaras said the money was needed to recapitalise Greek banks and pay more than $6 billion that the state owes to the private sector.

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Illegal immigration emerges as new crisis for Greece

It is early in the afternoon at this important port 125 miles from Athens and two Greek navy officers are patrolling the docks, each wielding sticks with mirrors to peek under trucks. They have seen nothing so far. Suddenly, three young men burst from behind a massive container and take off down a dock. The officers begin a chase, but the drama is over before it starts. Within a minute, the three men, faster and more desperate, have escaped into a dilapidated industrial complex. The men, says one officer, are illegal immigrants, who apparently spent the night on the dock hoping to sneak onto a ferry to Italy. They are part of a deluge of undocumented workers trying to reach Europe through Greece, and slipping past authorities is just part of the process. "Day in, day out, the same story," the officer lamented, trying to catch his breath. Greece, of course, is well-known for its role in the euro-zone crisis, with a massive debt load and sclerotic economy that threatens the single currency. But from Brussels to Oslo, government leaders are fretting about another issue that imperils the integrity of free access across an entire continent: porous Greek borders.

The country quietly has become a steppingstone for a wave of Middle East and South Asia workers fleeing job markets ravaged by years of government turmoil. In 2011, an extraordinary year because of the uprisings in North Africa, 140,980 people were detected entering the EU illegally, up 35% from the year before, according to Frontex, the EU's border-control agency. Of those, 40% came through Greece. Through July this year, 23,000 people were apprehended crossing the border illegally, roughly 30% ahead of last's year pace. Border control in Greece isn't a new problem. But the country's economic malaise and budget restrictions are hampering many of its efforts to reduce the flow of illegal immigration. Hoping to come to the rescue, the Europe Commission—the EU's executive branch—began pouring €255 million ($331 million) into border protection for Greece over the past two years. But that is still less than it gives some countries with far smaller border problems. And whatever it gives, years of bloated bureaucracy and now new public hiring restrictions in Greece have stalled some of the best-laid plans. According to one confidential EU report, the country has hired only 11 staffers to help process asylum cases, despite funding last year for 700 positions.  Add deplorable detention conditions at immigration centres, according to EU officials and human-rights groups, and mounting domestic unrest over the influx of foreign arrivals, and Greece finds itself with yet another Olympic-size crisis.

In response, government officials say they are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances. The country's new minister of public order, Nikos Dendias, says Greece takes border protection seriously, but that the influx from abroad is reaching crisis proportions. He calls Greece a "buffer zone of Europe" that carries "a disproportionate burden." Greece is part of Europe's so-called Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel among most EU members, and some neighbouring nations. Its failure to protect its border has only heightened political tensions at countries already resentful about the country's impact on the euro, and worried that their own tight job markets can't handle too many immigrants. Hugo Brady of the Centre for European Reform, a London-based think tank, says it is all just fanning a "poisonous" political atmosphere.

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Greece demands billions for German war crimes

Greece has threatened to hit Germany with a bill for tens of billions of pounds in outstanding reparations for Nazi war crimes during the Second World War. The move is an indication of growing outrage in Athens at the strictures being placed on the Greek economy by EU paymasters led by Germany. The finance ministry said yesterday that four experts would scour archives and determine by the end of the year how much is owed. Economists say that if Germany had paid Greece what it is alleged to owe, it would dramatically improve the country's likelihood of coming through its debt crisis. Greece suffered greatly after being invaded by Hitler's forces but, unlike every other country Germany went to war with, has not been paid compensation. Campaigners say the Paris Reparations Agreement of 1946 obliges Germany to pay Greece around £86 billion.

Deputy finance minister Christos Staikouras said: 'The matter remains pending. Greece has never resigned its rights.' However, he called for a 'realistic and cool-headed' approach to the issue, which seems certain further to sour relations between Germany and Greece. Veteran Left-wing politician Manolis Glezos, a hero of Greece's wartime resistance movement, said: 'The current German government is pursuing a policy of subordination of Greeks, of crushing their freedom and financial independence. 'Germany wants Greece to become little more than a financial protectorate, but the Greek people will not be so easily controlled.' Greek officials have also tabled an official request for the return of archaeological treasures looted by Nazis during the occupation of Crete, Samos and areas in Northern Greece. Germany's foreign minister says Greece's claim is 'non-existent'.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has previously ruled that Germany is exempt from being sued in overseas courts by Greek sufferers of Second World War atrocities.  Greek officials have this week been locked in talks with the country's bailout creditors who are demanding a fresh round of austerity cuts. Prime minister Antonis Samaras met officials from the EU, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank who are examining proposals to ease the conditions of a £9.2 billion austerity package for 2013-14. Greek president Karolos Papoulias warned yesterday that the Greek people had endured enough misery as the price of staying in the euro. But he was optimistic that 'things are moving in the right direction' in negotiations with international creditors and European partners. In Germany, influential magazine Der Spiegel claimed Chancellor Angela Merkel has made a U-turn to stop Athens leaving the euro after concluding that a Greek exit would be more costly to the German economy.



         
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