ATHENS: Greece’s finance minister resigned Monday in what appeared to be a concession by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to international creditors after his resounding victory in a historic bailout referendum.
The shock announcement came as European leaders scrambled for a response after Greek voters said a resounding “No” to further austerity measures in return for bailout funds in a referendum that could see the country crash out of the eurozone.
“Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted ‘partners’, for my… ‘absence’ from its meetings,” Varoufakis, who had often clashed with creditors in negotiations over the past months, said in his blog.
It was “an idea that the Prime Minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the Ministry of Finance today,” he said.
The euro rose after Varoufakis’s announcement, which was expected to renew hopes that the creditors—the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – could be persuaded back to the negotiating table despite the country’s decisive rejection of the reforms they were demanding in return for the release of a final tranche of bailout funds.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was to meet with French leader Francois Hollande in Paris amid a flurry of other meetings to size up the implications of the vote, a victory for Greece’s radical left-wing Tsipras, who insisted it did not mean a “rupture” with Europe.
European Union president Donald Tusk said an emergency eurozone summit would be held on Tuesday.
With the ramifications still unclear and some analysts putting the chances of a “Grexit” at “very high,” European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker was to hold a teleconference on Monday morning with European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi, Tusk and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem.
Meanwhile, German and French finance ministers were set for talks beginning in Warsaw, while the Euro Working Group of top treasury officials will meet in Brussels.
‘Torn down the bridges’
European leaders had reacted with a mix of dismay and caution to the figures released by the Greek interior ministry early on Monday showing the final tally in the referendum at 61.31 percent “No” and 38.69 percent “Yes,” with turnout at 62.5 percent.
Tsipras has “torn down the bridges” between Greece and Europe, Merkel’s deputy chancellor, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, told the Tagesspiegel newspaper.
Despite the Greek premier’s assertions, new bailout negotiations now were “difficult to imagine,” he said.
Dijsselbloem called the Greek “No” result “very regrettable for the future of Greece.”
Britain vowed it would do “whatever is necessary” to protect its own economic security in light of the vote.
In Asian trade, the single currency held up against the dollar, after dropping in the immediate wake of the vote.
Shinya Harui, currency analyst at Nomura Securities in Tokyo, said the common currency was holding up as investors “assess the spill-over risks in case of a Greek exit from the eurozone,” adding: “I personally think the chance [of the Greek exit]is very high, at around 70-80 percent.”
In a televised address after the referendum, Tsipras insisted the vote did not mean a break with Europe. He has emphasized that euro membership is meant to be “irreversible,” with no legal avenue to boot a country out.
“This is not an mandate of rupture with Europe, but a mandate that bolsters our negotiating strength to achieve a viable deal,” he said.
Tsipras said the creditors would now finally have to talk about restructuring the massive, 240-billion-euro ($267 billion) debt Greece owes them.
Thousands of people in Athens gathered to celebrate the “No” vote on Sunday night, punching the air, kissing and cheering.