World Economy

German FinMin: We never wanted Greece out of the euro

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Fabrizio Bensch | Reuters

Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, seen as Greece's harshest critic during recent debt talks, has reaffirmed his commitment to a third bailout deal and fervently rejected accusations that Germany wanted Athens out of the euro zone.

"In July, it was not a question of us throwing Greece out - that is a distortion, which was completely false," Wolfgang Schaeuble told German broadcaster ZDF, referring to July's initial agreement on a debt deal. "We did not lead Europe to a precipice."

The interview came ahead of a closely-watched vote on Wednesday by German lawmakers to approve Greece's bailout. German officials have previously voiced skepticism over the troubled nation's ability to implement controversial health, pensions and tax reforms required by a $95.5 billion deal agreed between Athens and its creditors at a meeting on Friday.

The rescue package—the third in five years— capped six months of acrimonious negotiations that almost saw Greece exit the euro currency bloc.

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But Schaeuble said that he was now more optimistic about Greece's hope of exiting its debt mire.

"In the last weeks, things have moved much more quickly than most of my colleagues would have thought possible. Let's hope that this surge forward continues then Greece really has a chance and we have every interest in it succeeding," the 72-year old politician told ZDF.

A poll by German newspaper Handelsblatt last week found 47 percent of Germans preferred Schaeuble's "hard line" tactics when it came to Greece, compared to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's "ready to compromise" strategy.

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Merkel has been trying to soothe her country's concerns over Greece, telling ZDF on Sunday that she expected the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to be involved in the bailout amid fears the organization wouldn't participate unless Greece was granted debt relief.

Schaeuble echoed Merkel's points in Monday's interview: "If the conditions are satisfied, [IMF chief] Mrs Lagarde will recommend, as she has said on previous occasions, to the board of the International Monetary Fund financial participation in a further IMF program. For our Eurogroup, that will be indispensable, a necessary condition."

The Eurogroup is the club of euro zone finance ministers, which has played a key role in the bailout negotiations.

While Germany's finance minister has been a vocal critic of the Syriza government led by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, he was restrained at last Friday's creditors meeting in order to get the long-awaited bailout signed off.

"I haven't made it easy for myself. I have taken a great deal of trouble. I have struggled over this and I think weighing up all the points of view it is the right decision," Schaeuble said.

Referring to his tense relationship with Tsipras, Schaeuble said: "The problem for the government of Mr. Tsipras is that he led an election campaign with the promise 'we are going to stay in the euro but we do not accept any program.' I always said [that] will not work. Greece must make a choice."