The simmering crisis in the euro zone is on the verge of heating up again — and could send stock markets boiling over — this week.
Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras will travel from Athens to Berlin to Paris, meeting with German chancellor Angela Merkel and other euro zone leaders this week to plead his case for easier bail out terms.
But economists worry those pleas could be met with opposition, roiling investor confidence and stock markets.
Greece’s economy looks to be on a path similar to that of the U.S. during the Great Depression, said National Bank economist Stéfane Marion.
“Under these circumstances, we would think that it is in Germany’s interest to be conciliatory with Greece and modify the terms of austerity. Se non, the country will not be able to withstand the current economic pounding for much longer without leaving the monetary union.”
Stock markets in North America held steady Tuesday, and even got a boost as investors were optimistic that political leaders would take steps to address the sovereign debt crisis, now more than two years old.
Samaras, who leads a fragile coalition, is under intense political pressure at home to provide relief from the austerity measures that have crippled Greece.
Its citizens have taken to the street in violent protest to the sky-high unemployment, cuts to government support and the higher taxes that have accompanied the belt-tightening.
With the country’s economy now mired in recession, the government cannot hope to meet the budget targets set out by the European Central Bank, il Fondo monetario internazionale, e la Commissione europea, the so-called Troika.
Greece’s coffers are approaching empty, Scotiabank economist Derek Holt noted in a research note.
“The trouble is that Greece’s negotiating stance, at least during the election period, had been that of the restructuring terms of its bailout were too onerous and required amendment — not exactly the type of negotiating position likely to warm the hearts of German politicians,” Holt wrote.
Samaras is expected to ask for a two-year extension for Greece to meet its budgetary and reform targets.
He is slated to meet with the head of the Eurogroup of 17 eurozone finance ministers in Athens on Wednesday.
Da lì, he travels to Berlin for a meeting with Merkel on Friday, and then to Paris to meet with France’s president, Francois Hollande, il Sabato.
Germany has been steadfast in its public opposition to concessions. As the euro zone’s largest and most robust economy, it bears the brunt of the region’s bailout programs.
The worry is that if concessions are allowed for Greece, other troubled euro zone countries such as Ireland, Italia, Spain and Portugal will soon come looking for more help for themselves, exhausting the region’s bailout capacity.
Wolfgang Schauble, il ministro delle finanze tedesco, expressed reluctance to grant more aid to Greece.
“It is not responsible to throw money into a bottomless pit,” Schauble recently said. “We cannot create yet another new program.”
Tuttavia, a senior lawmaker with Merkel’s party said Tuesday that concessions are possible for Greece as long as Samaras is willing to meet the main targets.
With files from Star wire services