Greek debt relief talks to be delayed until after Portugal’s elections

It is another potentially-embarrassing revelation which Portugal’s prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho has deftly swatted to one side, blaming everything on “confusion” suffered by EC Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The latter was widely reported telling Belgium’s Le Soir newspaper that he had hoped to start talks on Greek debt relief in October “but this date was rejected because some countries – like Ireland, Portugal and Spain – did not want it before their elections”.

National tabloid Correio da Manhã explained that Passos Coelho’s “fear would be that any lifting of Greek debt (by prolonging maturities or reducing interest payments) could have electoral effects in Portugal”.

Worse still, “it could add weight to the arguments of those who defend debt renegotiation for the country where public debt represents 129.6% of GDP and is the third highest in the European Union”.

But Portugal’s PM has been quick to refute such speculation, saying “there must be some confusion by the President of the European Commission”.

Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem was among many high-flyers in Brussels who told UK journalists back in 2014 that Juncker was a “stubborn drinker and smoker” so perhaps confusion could be the answer.

One who would know is Portugal’s own President Cavaco Silva – increasingly in the news for lapses from official protocol.

In this case, however, Cavaco has had no confusion. He has come out firmly in support of his prime minister telling journalists in Mafra yesterday (Wednesday) that Juncker’s take on the issue “does not correspond with that which the heads of State and government have confirmed. This does not correspond to my information”, he stressed.

Passos’ explanation for Juncker’s “confusion” was off pat. He said: “The fact is that Ireland, Spain and Portugal have requested that the discussion on the conditions to be offered Greece to improve its debt profile should take place after the first successful evaluation of its programme.”

In other words, after the Portuguese elections.

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