G-20 Set To Meet After Referendum Announcement

NPR's Eric Westervelt is in Cannes, France, where the leaders of the G-20 industrialized nations are due to meet on Thursday. He's watching developments in the eurozone after Monday's surprise announcement of a referendum on the bailout deal in Greece. Robert Siegel talks to Eric for more.

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And I'm Robert Siegel.

We're accustomed to hearing about gatherings in Cannes, in the south of France, of the smiling rich and famous, the Hollywood glitterati posing on the red carpet. Well, tonight in Cannes, frowning European leaders posed tough questions to the Greek prime minister. George Papandreou, threw Europe's bailout plans into turmoil this week when he called for a referendum on the plan and that just before tomorrow's start of the G-20, the gathering of the world's industrialized nations in Cannes.

NPR's Eric Westervelt is there as well, and he joins us now. And, Eric, it seems as though the Greek prime minister was essentially summoned to Cannes by the leaders of France and Germany in advance of the G-20. What did the leasers from Berlin and Paris have to say about their meeting with him tonight?

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: Well, Robert, I think they really want some clarity and a pledge from Prime Minister Papandreou to move forward quickly on any referendum. They got a pledge to move fast. The Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who's also president of the Eurogroup, said the Greek referendum would be held in early December, likely December 4 or 5. He made that comment after meeting with the Greek prime minister. But the wording of the vote is not yet clear. Will this be about the bailout package, or whether to stay in the eurozone? Prime Minster Papandreou in some ways muddied the waters tonight and didn't offer much clarity. He said, this is not a question only of the bailout, this is a question of whether we want to remain in the eurozone, but he nothing on the exact wording.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Nicolas Sarkozy in many ways were exasperated with Greece tonight and expressed that. I mean, Chancellor Merkel weighed in with her own take, and she said, very clearly, this referendum is about nothing else but the question, does Greece want to stay in the eurozone, yes or no? So in many ways, Robert, Merkel and Sarkozy have sort of lost patience with Greece, you know, after months of insisting that an exit from the eurozone is simply out of the question. Tonight, both leaders said clearly it's really time for Greece to make up its mind.

SIEGEL: But as for the problem of this dragging on , it sounds as though a referendum in early December is a lot earlier than what we've been hearing about.

WESTERVELT: It is. They're moving very fast on this, if, in fact, it takes place in early December, Robert. And first, the prime minister has to survive a no-confidence vote later this week parliament; it's not clear he will. It looks like he may have the votes to squeak by, we'll have to see. But again, there's a sense of frustration with Greece. Angela Merkel tonight said this did not happen in a coordinated way, essentially that Berlin and Paris were not kept in the loop and informed about this, after having marathon talks to come to a deal just last week. And President Nicolas Sarkozy, you know, tonight expressed that exasperation, as well. He said we want to continue with the Greeks, but there are rules. And it's unacceptable that these rules are not followed.

SIEGEL: But Eric, doesn't it now seem that the Greek debt story is threatening to dominate the G-20 talks, dominate other more global issues, dominate even the debt crisis in Italy nearby?

WESTERVELT: That's right. Italy is looming large. It's the eurozone's third largest economy. Will that get a focus at this meeting as well? Hard to tell. And they really had big issues to talk about but it looks like the Greek debt crisis is going to dominate. Will they get to talking about the revolutions in North Africa, plans to spur global growth, the Arab Spring? It's unclear. Europe's wobbly plan to save Greece and the eurozone is now likely to be more than a mere distraction.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Eric Westervelt in Cannes, in France. Eric, thanks a lot.

WESTERVELT: You're welcome.

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