News / Europe

Greeks Protest Austerity Measures While EU Stands Firm

A protester holds a hammer during clashes with riot police in Athens, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.
A protester holds a hammer during clashes with riot police in Athens, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.
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Lisa Bryant

Greece was hit by a fresh bout of violence and protests Friday over austerity measures demanded by the European Union in exchange for more bailout funds.  The EU may decide next week whether to finally release billions of dollars that Athens desperately needs.

Clashes broke out in Athens Friday, as Greeks went on strike for a second time this week against tough new austerity measures.  Greece's shaky coalition government finally agreed to the measures the day before, so it can receive more international bailout money.  They include cutting private-sector wages by one-fifth and laying off thousands of civil servants.

But the European Union wants more from Athens.  That was made clear late Thursday, when EU finance ministers failed to agree on a releasing more aid to Greece - at least for the time being.  

"Despite the important progress achieved over the last days, we did not yet have all necessary elements on the table to take elisions today," said Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the euro group of finance ministers and spoke to reporters after the meeting in Brussels. "Firstly, the Greek parliament should approve on Sunday the policy package agreed between Greece and the troika [European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF]."

Related report by VOA's Jeff Seldin

Greek leaders must also agree to stick to the reforms after April elections.  AndGreece must further slash spending by hundreds of billions of dollars.

"In short, no disbursement before implementation," Juncker said.

Greece desperately needs the bailout funds by March.  Otherwise, it risks defaulting on its debt, which would further undermine the crisis-hit eurozone.

But Jean Pisani-Ferry, director of the Brussels-based economic think-tank Bruegel, says the EU finance ministers are right to stand firm.

"Because there is a record of failed implementation of things that were agreed," Pisani-Ferry said.  "And there's clearly a loss of patience and trust in what is going to be delivered.  Commitments are one thing and delivery is another."

There are fears that Greece may ultimately default on its massive debt and leave the eurozone, although analysts like Pisani-Ferry note that domestic support for remaining in the currency area remains high.  EU finance ministers are expected to finally agree on disbursing more bailout money to Greece next week - if Athens meets their stipulations.

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