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June 26, 2012

Spain bank rescue; Greek PM to miss summit

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. (UPI/Hugo Philpott)

BRUSSELS (UPI) -- Spain's planned request for up to $125 billion for its banks Monday comes as European Union leaders prepared for a crisis summit Greece's new leader won't make.

Minister of Economy and Competitiveness Luis de Guindos said he expected terms of the recapitalization of Spain's banks would be set by a July 9 meeting of eurozone finance ministers.

He said it was "definitely a possibility" countries and international lenders would discuss injecting European aid funds directly into ailing Spanish banks, rather than through governments.

This would seek to break a current link between bank risks and sovereign debt that helped push Spain's borrowing costs to record highs last week, advocates say.

The International Monetary Fund, a European rescue fund contributor providing technical assistance for the Spanish bank support, Thursday came out strongly in favor of letting rescue funds go directly to banks.

As a bailout condition, Spain's eurozone partners may require Spain's domestic banking sector to create one or more "bad banks" to house property assets and the forced liquidation of insolvent institutions, the Financial Times reported Monday.

Officials will consider basing this on restructuring examples from Ireland, where a central "bad bank" was created, and Germany, where "toxic" assets were placed in separate financial corporation alongside individual banks, the newspaper said.

Under current rules, eurozone rescue funds can't lend directly to banks, but some politicians say changing the rules may be relatively easy.

In Greece, unexpected health problems sidelining the country's new prime minister and finance minister put off a planned Monday visit by a delegation of IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank inspectors, known as the troika.

"The troika visit will be put off for a few days, and a final date for their arrival will be decided by Tuesday or Wednesday," government spokesman Simos Kedikoglou said Sunday.

The medical issues also scrapped plans for Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and yet-to-be-sworn-in Finance Minister Vassilis Rapanos to attend a key European Union leaders summit Thursday and Friday, officials said.

Samaras, 61, underwent surgery for a detached retina Saturday, three days after being sworn in as head of a three-party coalition government, ending two months of political paralysis amid two successive national elections.

Samaras is "expressly forbidden" by his doctor from traveling to the Brussels summit following the "difficult surgery," Kedikoglou said.

Rapanos, 64, was hospitalized Friday after complaining of intense abdominal pain, nausea and dizziness.

He was expected to be released Monday or Tuesday, but might not be able to travel, the Greek daily To Vima reported.

In any case, Rapanos won't even be sworn in to his new post until Samaras returns to his duties, which may take several days, Kedikoglou said.

Greece will be represented at the summit by a government delegation led by Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and acting Finance Minister Georgios Zanias.

Zanias -- left over from a two-month caretaker government after the first national election in May failed to produce a government -- was one of the chief negotiators of the original Greek bailout.

The summit had represented Samaras' first opportunity to meet with other European leaders face-to-face since Greece's June 17 elections, which he narrowly won after campaigning on a pledge to renegotiate the bailout austerity imposed by international lenders.

Another key issue to be discussed at the summit is a "banking union," where countries would backstop one another's banks and bonds, while at the same time policing one another's spending.

The Bank for International Settlements, a self-described clearinghouse "bank for central banks" whose board includes Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, came out Sunday in favor of a banking union, including stronger measures to guarantee deposits and prevent bank runs.

The IMF and ECB have made similar pleas.

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