Gripping the Rehn
Just back from a most remarkable exchange with the European Commission Vice President Olli Rehn. Responsible for economic affairs and the euro, his head seems to be in a vice right now - he simply refuses to answer several questions on the grounds he does not want the outcome I am asking him about.
Our first exchange is about whether there is any room for renegotiation of the austerity dependent bailout of the Greek economy – while avoiding a categorical “No” it is clear Mr Rehn believes the only way for Greece to stay in the euro is to stick to the reform plan agreed. He keeps insisting that this was a “compact” between the whole of the rest of Europe and the Greek people and it must be stuck to. “We expect both sides to respect the undertaking and commitment,” he says. “We want Greece to stay in the euro through reforms that will enable Greece to stay within the euro.”
But when I ask him whether it is even possible for Greece to be forced out he again refuses to answer. That is probably because he knows the threats from Angela Merkel about showing Greece the door are empty – without a mechanism to do that. On the news that his colleague, the EU trade commissioner, has admitted emergency contingency planning has begun for a Greek exit, again Mr Rehn refuses to discuss it – and even tries to suggest there is no planning going on – “We are not preparing for any Greek exit,” he claims, but when challenged on why not, says: “I’m not commenting on any scenario planning or anything like that.” Hmmmm.
Mr Rehn says it is easy for Mr Cameron to ”dramatise” with talk of make up or break up in Europe, and he rules out Britain’s preferred solution of eurobonds as a way of solving the current crisis with a carefully dismissive: “I appreciate friendly policy advice from the UK prime minister…. eurobonds are possibly a medium to long-term solution.”
But perhaps the most revealing answer from Mr Rehn is at the end of our exchange when asked if it was his belief that Greece would stay in the euro. He would only say it was his goal and workplan. Belief is some way away from that, it seems.
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