ATHENS - Germany’s chancellor apparently waded into Greece’s choppy political waters Friday, when the Greek government said Angela Merkel suggested that the country hold a referendum on the euro with next month’s national elections.
Berlin first refused to comment and then denied that Merkel had floated the idea during a phone conversation with President Karolos Papoulias. The alleged proposal ruffled feathers across Greece’s deeply fragmented political spectrum, with parties saying it was an unwarranted intervention in domestic affairs at a particularly sensitive time.
Merkel’s comments were first referred to by Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tsiodras, who said in a statement: Merkel “also conveyed to the President thoughts on holding a referendum along with the elections, with the question of to what extent Greek citizens wish to remain in the eurozone.’’
Crisis-afflicted Greece is set to hold elections on June 17 to end a political deadlock after a previous vote on May 6 produced a hung Parliament, with the country’s future in the eurozone potentially at stake.
Edgy markets and analysts fear a victory by parties opposed to austerity commitments could spur bailout creditors to stop the flow of rescue loans. Many argue that this would cause such widespread misery that Greece would ultimately have to abandon the 17-member currency union, jolting the global economy.
Tsiodras said a referendum was “obviously’’ out of the question, as it falls outside the jurisdiction of Greece’s newly appointed caretaker government.
But a German government spokeswoman said reports on the alleged referendum proposal “are inaccurate.’’ She said the conversation between Merkel and Papoulias - a fluent German speaker - was confidential.
Relations between the two countries have been turbulent over the 2 1/2 years of Greece’s acute financial crisis, which led to the country being kept solvent by international rescue loans since May 2010.
Germany is a staunch advocate of the hugely unpopular austerity measures Greece adopted to secure the loans - to which Berlin is a major contributor.
Conservative leader Antonis Samaras, whose probailout New Democracy party won a Pyrrhic victory in the May 6 vote, said Merkel’s reported suggestion was “at the very least unfortunate.’’
“Greece doesn’t need a referendum to prove its choice in favor of the euro, a choice that it’s defending with bloody sacrifices,’’ he said. “But the Greek people deserve the respect of their European partners.’’
Syriza Radical Left Coalition leader Alexis Tsipras - who led his antibailout party to a surprise second place in the last election - said Merkel was treating Greece “as a protectorate.’’
A presidential decree is expected Saturday to formally dissolve the short-lived Parliament elected on May 6 - which held its second and last session Friday - and call elections.
Until June 17, senior judge Panayiotis Pikrammenos is heading a caretaker government with no authority to make binding decisions. So, in coming weeks all eyes will be on Germany and other European leaders for signs that they will prove flexible in their demands for austerity measures next month and, more broadly, in Greece’s bailout terms.