Westerwelle: Time for European ratings agencies

Associated Press
Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, pauses during his meeting with  German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at his office in Athens on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Westerwelle arrived in Athens Sunday afternoon to meet PM Papademos, Foreign Minister Dimas and Antonis Samaras, the head of the New Democracy party. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)
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Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos, pauses during his meeting with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle …

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, on a visit to Greece, said Sunday it is now time for Europe to create independent credit ratings agencies and calm down markets jittery from constant speculation.

"It is time for Europe to prove capable of facing up to the credit ratings agencies," Westerwelle told reporters during a break from talks with his Greek counterpart, Stavros Dimas. "The markets are barely given time to breathe," before the ratings agencies' decisions plunge them back into uncertainty, he added.

"I want to make this statement in English ... it is very important we give the agreements and pacts (reached by EU member states) a realistic chance (to work). It does not make any sense to speculate. This is the only way we can bring trust back into the markets," said Westerwelle, who, up to then, had been speaking in German.

Earlier, Westerwelle had met with Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and conservative leader Antonis Samaras, who is heavily favored to win the next election in opinion polls. Samaras' New Democracy party is one of the three parties taking part in the coalition government under Papademos, but has taken an ambivalent stance on reforms, with Samaras insisting some of the policies advocated by Greece's lenders, primarily Germany, have deepened the country's recession.

Westerwelle said he was glad to see all Greek government partners agreed on the need to pursue reforms in Greece and made some indirect, but pointed, rebuttals to criticisms against his country. He also, indirectly again, criticized those of his compatriots who have said aiding spendthrift Greece is a waste of money

"We (EU members) must show solidarity and mutual confidence. In this fight, in these precarious times, we should not let cliches about each other pull us apart...Germany may be the biggest economy in the EU, but it is too small to face the processes of globalization by itself." He also pointed out that, so far, Germany has provided euro22 billion in bailout funds to Greece "showing its solidarity not only in words but in deeds."

Westerwelle refused when asked to make a comment about Greece's stalled talks with private creditors about a haircut, saying merely that "by showing goodwill, we will reach a result." Germany has been the most vocal proponent of private investors' taking a loss on their Greek bond holdings.

The deal with private investors, known as the Private Sector Involvement, or PSI, aims to reduce Greece's debt by euro100 billion ($127.8 billion) by swapping private creditors' bonds with new ones with a lower value, and is a key part of a euro130 billion ($166 billion) international bailout, the second one for Greece, which tops a first, euro110 billion program agreed in May 2010, when the country's borrowing costs soared to untenable heights.

It is expected that talks on the PSI will resume this coming week. On Tuesday, representatives of Greece's creditors — the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — will visit Greece for yet another round of inspections of its efforts at fiscal and structural reform and negotiations for the next tranche, the seventh, from the first bailout. Negotiations over the second bailout will start after the PSI deal is clinched.

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