Greece seeks debt relief with rare budget surplus, ambassador says

Diplomat also discusses neo-Nazi woes, Cypriot talks

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“One approach would be, instead of 30 years to repay, making it 50 years to repay,” he said, adding that an equally positive development would be for creditors to lower interest rates on the loans. Officials representing Greece’s creditors are expected to visit Athens for a review this week.

Lowering the interest rates — what some bankers call “getting a haircut” — would effectively mean the more wealthy nations that provided loans would have to accept less repayment than promised.

It’s unlikely that such a “haircut” would happen before the European elections in May.

“We are not there yet,” said Mr. Panagopolos. “I think that there will be much discussion about all these things.”

With such uncertainties as a backdrop, Greece is focusing its EU presidency on a variety of themes, he said.

The most important, he said, is to “combat unemployment rates” that have remained dangerously high in several member states despite the wider European emergence from the global economic crisis.

“In some countries, including mine, the youth unemployment is 60 percent,” the ambassador said. “That’s something unimaginable for our American friends.”

Deep public frustration over joblessness, he said, has created fertile ground for extremist political groups.

In Greece, the phenomenon is manifested in the rise of “Golden Dawn,” an extreme-right political party with roots in the 1980s that has gained traction since the economic crisis of 2009.

The party, which has neo-Nazi roots and pushes a message of violent hostility toward immigrants, won nearly 7 percent of the popular vote in the nation’s 2012 parliamentary elections. It’s a situation that Mr. Panagopoulos said Washington should be aware of, but not worried about.

“We keep repeating to our American friends who are worried this is a phenomena connected directly to the economic, social crisis,” he said.

“I’m almost 60 years old,” he said. “I never met a Nazi in my country, a country that fought, with all its soul, fascism and the Nazis. In all societies there is a very insignificant group — let’s say 1 percent — that they adopt the Nazi ideology. In normal times, that would be insignificant, nobody cares about it. But in a period of extreme turmoil, social reaction and economic upheaval, these forces, they gain support. Not because there are more Nazis, but because of the frustration of the people toward the political system.”

“The sooner we go back to economic reconstruction and normalcy,” he said, “they’re going to disappear.”

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About the Author
Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor

Guy Taylor is the National Security Team Leader at The Washington Times, overseeing the paper’s State Department, Pentagon and intelligence community coverage. He’s also a frequent guest on The McLaughlin Group and C-SPAN.

His series on political, economic and security developments in Mexico won a 2012 Virginia Press Association award.

Prior to rejoining The Times in 2011, his work was ...

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