Eurozone leaders call off Greece talks as crisis deepens


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The Independent Online

The meeting of eurozone finance ministers that was meant to approve the bailout that Greece needs to avoid defaulting on its debts was called off last night.

The Athens government had failed to provide enough detail on its new austerity measures, said the president of the eurogroup, Jean-Claude Juncker, despite the Greek parliament's vote for €3.3bn of further cuts on Sunday.

Mr Juncker said: "I did not yet receive the required political assurances from the leaders of the Greek coalition parties on the implementation of the programme." A meeting has been scheduled for next week.

China left Europe's top officials empty-handed yesterday as it refused to pledge more funds to help resolve the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Speaking at a joint China-EU summit in Beijing, Premier Wen Jiabao promised to co-operate with Europe to improve the situation, but failed to make a specific commitment to invest further in the various pan-European bailout funds.

"China is ready to increase its participation in resolving the European debt problems. We are willing to conduct close communication and co-operation with the EU side," Mr Wen said. But he made no direct pledge to step up China's purchases of the bonds issued by the European bailout funds.

The European Council President, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso, had both travelled to Beijing in the hope of unlocking more Chinese investment for these funds.

On Monday, Lou Jiwei, the head of China's $410bn sovereign wealth fund, the China Investment Corporation, said that the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, had requested further Chinese investment in European sovereign debt. Mr Lou said China wanted to invest in Europe by acquiring European companies, not government bonds.

Mr Van Rompuy told his hosts in Beijing that the European crisis was finally coming to an end. "Investors in Europe can be reassured that we have not just navigated a difficult bend, we have turned a corner," he claimed.

However, the Chinese premier said that European nations still needed to do more to solve their own problems before China would make a move.

"We expect those highly indebted countries to strengthen fiscal consolidation, cut deficits and reduce debt risks in light of their national conditions," Mr Wen said. "We hope the EU will soon reach internal consensus, make the political decision and send to the international community a clearer and a stronger message of policy responses."

Mr Rompuy's confident message was contradicted by dire economic data from the eurozone's most troubled state. The Greek statistics office reported yesterday that its economy contracted at an annual rate of 7 per cent in the final quarter of 2011, and shrank by 6 per cent last year, even more than earlier estimates. Official statistics released yesterday also showed that Portugal saw its economy shrink by 2.7 per cent annualised in the fourth quarter of last year.

Italy scraps bid to host 2020 Olympic Games

Rome's bid to host the 2020 Olympic Games became the latest victim of the economic storm sweeping across Europe's southern periphery last night.

The Italian government said it could not support the plans because of the country's dire financial straits.

Prime Minister Mario Monti confirmed: "We arrived at the unanimous conclusion that in Italy's current condition the government does not feel able to take on the commitment to offer the [financial] guarantee needed to host the Olympics."

Rome hosted the Olympics in 1960 and planned to use many of the same venues if it was awarded the 2020 Games. Doha, Madrid, Istanbul, Tokyo and Baku have said they will put in a bid. Reuters