ALPBACH, Austria (Reuters) – Any support the European Central Bank provides to struggling euro zone members should not ease the pressure on those countries to get their financial houses in order, Austrian Finance Minister Maria Fekter said on Thursday.
“We have to see what the ECB can do by its statutes but we also have to tighten controls because it cannot be that this leads to moral hazard,” she said in an interview with Reuters.
“We have to check that countries do their homework and based on these control mechanisms we can help,” she added.
Fekter, a hardliner when it comes to fiscal discipline, noted that financial help to struggling euro zone countries has always come with conditions, and this has to apply to the ECB as well.
“If the ECB helps, it can only happen with conditions,” she said.
ECB President Mario Draghi has pledged to do what it takes to protect the euro zone, including launching new systems for buying bonds from the indebted Italy and Spain,
Fekter declined to discuss the situation in Greece before the “troika” of the ECB, European Union and the International Monetary reports back on how the country is fulfilling terms of its bailout.
But Fekter took a dim view of the idea of writing down the value of bilateral loans to Athens.
“I think absolutely nothing of (the idea) that if Greece does not meet the conditions then suddenly Austrian taxpayers are asked for more money,” she said.
Fekter, however, gave an upbeat assessment of chances for Italy and Spain to master their financial woes on their own thanks to the countries’ economic power that far outshone that of Greece.
“Italy is making good progress in its reform efforts,” she said, while Spain was taking a good approach to reforms to get a grip on crises in its banking sectors and regions.
“We have signals from Spain at the moment that they need aid only for banks.”
She noted that financial markets are absorbing the refinancing demand of the two countries over the rest of this year and in 2013.
She expressed confidence that the euro zone would remain intact.
“I am fighting for this. The will of the ministers is very clear for keeping the euro zone together. That is probably the most stable element in all that is being discussed at the moment,” she said.
On a domestic note, she dismissed as “very unlikely” prospects that she could exit her finance minister post as part of a shakeup in her conservative People’s Party, which has been struggling in opinion polls ahead of elections next year.
But she also called herself a “team player” who would do what was needed to help her party, junior partner in a coalition with the centre-left Social Democrats.
(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.)