BERLIN — With Greece and its continuing debt crisis an issue ahead of Germany’s national election next month, the highest-ranking German in the European Central Bank said Monday that Athens could be eligible for additional aid and debt relief next year if it continued to fulfill promises made for assistance it is already receiving.
“The Eurogroup will support Greece for the lifetime of the current program, and beyond”, said Jörg Asmussen, a member of the central bank’s policymaking executive board, referring to the group of eurozone finance ministers.
Asmussen took care to note in an interview here that he was not signaling a new attitude toward Greece by its eurozone benefactors. “There is no change of policy,” he said, explaining that eurozone leaders already decided in November they would re-examine Greece’s needs early in 2014.
But his comments fed into a debate set off last week when Asmussen’s former boss, Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, put Greece back on the public agenda, saying that more aid was certain, rather than merely very likely. Asmussen was a top aide to Schäuble before joining the European Central Bank in 2011.
Asmussen declined to comment on whether Schäuble had discussed his remarks ahead of time with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, has made what many Germans see as her deft management of the euro crisis a focus of her push for re-election.
Hermann Gröhe, general secretary of the party and a main architect of Merkel’s campaign, tried to suggest Monday that the chancellor and her finance minister, who have a reasonably close if sometimes contrary partnership, had discussed the issue before Schäuble spoke out. Gröhe indicated that the purpose was to acknowledge that Greece might need more money, but to make clear that investors holding Greek debt would not be asked to take losses as a way to ease the burden carried by Athens.
“It was necessary to show a clear ‘No’ to a haircut,” Gröhe told reporters, referring to a partial write-off of Greek debt.
Political commentators have asserted that Schäuble, who is 70 and the longest-serving political veteran in Merkel’s Cabinet, acted on his own last week — partly to avoid exposing the party to accusations after the elections that it had somehow deceived voters about the need for more aid for Greece.