World Bulletin / News Desk
The European Union's biggest countries may be prepared to see Greece leave the euro zone due to growing impatience with its new government's debt demands, Maltese Finance Minister Edward Scicluna told the weekly Malta Today.
"I think they've now reached a point where they will tell Greece 'If you really want to leave, leave'," Scicluna told the newspaper.
"And I think they mean it because Germany, the Netherlands and others will be hard and they will insist that Greece repays back the solidarity shown by the member states by respecting the conditions," Scicluna said.
Greece needs financial support to remain solvent beyond late March. Its new left-wing government has proposed extending its loan agreement but it has rejected extending any bailout that would maintain previously agreed austerity measures.
Scicluna's comments, apparently made on Thursday, came ahead of a euro zone finance ministers meeting in Brussels to decide on Greece's request for a loan extension which has drawn a sceptical response from Germany.
"I think tomorrow's meeting will be very difficult," Scicluna told the paper.
"There is always that possibility - not 1 percent but a high probability - that if things finally get really hot and they don't agree, they could (leave)," he was quoted as saying.
"Extension is a good word, but an extension of what? An extension of its programme is fine but an extension of something that does not exist is not," Scicluna said.
It quoted him as saying it was still possible for the Eurogroup to change direction towards a more growth-oriented agenda in six months' time, a move that would not be restricted to Greece but also to other countries like Italy or Portugal.
"The question at this stage is how to find a way for Greece to exit 'nicely' with its electorate accepting the programme, while showing that they are going to change something," he said.