Standard & Poor's, the credit ratings agency, has stripped Brussels' main bailout fund of its AAA status and challenged eurozone countries to increase their financial support for a collective rescue package or risk a further downgrade. The move forced European leaders onto the back foot following the mass downgrade of nine eurozone countries by S&P last week.
S&P said the loss of France's AAA rating had forced it to conclude that the European Financial Stability Facility should be cut to AA+ from AAA, which could increase its borrowing costs. Germany and Finland, the remaining AAA-rated countries in the single currency, are expected to come under pressure to increase their commitments to bolster the EFSF's funds to prevent a further downgrade and the likelihood that lenders will demand higher interest costs. The blow to the EFSF came as bankers poured cold water on hopes for an early deal between Greece and its creditors after they accused Athens of making "completely unreasonable" demands for debt payment cuts.
Charles Dallara, head of the Institute of International Finance which represents Greece's private creditors, said talks had yet to reach agreement on any aspect of a deal following demands from Greek negotiators for ultra-low interest rates on its outstanding debts. The warning will send a shiver through Europe's capitals, which are pinning their hopes on a private sector deal with Greece to cap the country's ballooning debt bill and prevent contagion to other southern European nations.
As George Osborne admitted he could be forced to give billions of pounds in extra funds to the IMF to prevent Europe's debt crisis from spinning out of control, Dallara warned the Greek government that demanding a 4% interest rate meant some banks would be forced to write-off three quarters of their loans. "That is essentially the area where the differences are substantial," Dallara said ahead of a rescheduled meeting on Wednesday. "They are looking at the private sector to accept interest rates that they would not accept [themselves], which is completely unreasonable."