EUROPEAN Commission vice president Neelie Kroes has sparked controversy by insisting the eurozone would not collapse if Greece were forced to withdraw.
It comes as the debt-stricken country battles to avoid economic disaster amid political stalemate over planned spending cuts and nationwide strikes which closed school and banks and stopped trains yesterday.
Greece’s coalition leaders are under mounting pressure to hold a crucial meeting on new spending cutbacks which it delayed yesterday, despite calls for Athens to bite the austerity bullet to avoid bankruptcy.
Mr Kroes raised tensions yesterday by suggesting the eurozone could survive Greece’s departure. He said: “It’s always said that if you let one country get out, or ask it to get out, then the whole structure collapses. But that’s simply not true.”
His comments were welcomed by Yorkshire’s UK Independence Party MEP Godfrey Bloom who said no more British cash should be spent on bail outs.
“Finally reality is beginning to dawn in Brussels and across Europe, one of the most senior European Commissioners has announced that ‘it is simply not true’ that if Greece were to leave the euro there would be disaster across the European financial system. This is what we in UKIP have been saying for months, years even.”
He added: “The best way to help Greece, and by extension ourselves, is if we give them a helping hand down and out from the eurozone, rather than spending billions of pounds of taxpayer’s money building a golden prison.
“Our Government has been playing along to the doomster dialogue in order to justify its throwing money at the lost cause.”
The EU and the International Monetary Fund insist Greece must pass further harsh austerity measures, including private sector salary cuts and civil service sackings, if it is to secure a second bailout to avoid a disastrous default next month and a potential exit from the eurozone.
The impending cutbacks have angered Greek unions, who organised a general nationwide strike yesterday that stopped train and ferry services, while many schools and banks were closed and state hospitals worked on skeleton staff.
Athens must placate its creditors to clinch a bailout deal from the eurozone and the IMF and avoid a March default on its bond repayments.
Greece has been kept solvent since May 2010 by payments from a 110 billion euro (£91.2bn) international rescue loan package.
Prime Minister Lucas Papademos’ office said last night the meeting on new cutbacks between coalition leaders, which was postponed yesterday, would be held today.