FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — European Central Bank President Mario Draghi nudged Spain and its European partners to take up bank's offer of help with the country's high debt costs, reassuring Madrid that the conditions for getting the assistance "don't need to be punitive."
The ECB chief said at a news conference in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, Thursday that Spain had made "significant progress" toward getting its finances under control, adding that a number of measures had been "announced, legislated, and implemented" in only a short period of time.
Draghi however, said it was up to Spain to decide whether to seek help.
Also Thursday, the ECB also left its key interest rate for the 17 countries that use the euro unchanged at a record low 0.75 percent. That underscored the bank's message that it had already taken steps to rescue the euro from collapse — and that now it's up to governments to act.
At its last policy meeting on September 6, the ECB said it would buy unlimited amounts of government bonds to help lower borrowing costs for countries such as Spain or Italy, which are struggling to manage their debts. To get help from the ECB, a country must first ask for assistance from the rest of the eurozone by approaching the bloc's emergency fund, the European Stability Mechanism, and agree to tight spending and reform measures.
Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is holding off asking for help out of concern that Spain may be slapped with harsh austerity conditions from the eurozone. Spain is at the center of the eurozone crisis — its €1.4 trillion ($1.8 trillion) economy is the fourth-largest among the 17 countries that use the euro. Markets have calmed after the ECB offer of bond purchases. But Spain's delay has started to unnerve markets again, and the country's borrowing costs have crept back up.
Draghi told the news conference that the conditions a country would have to agree on "don't need to be punitive," and could include measures to ease rules and regulations to boost growth in the economy over and above painful cuts in spending.
In the past week, Spain has announced an austerity budget for 2013 that would cut overall spending by €40 billion. It has already introduced several packages of tax hikes, civil servant wage cuts and freezes in a bid to get out of the crisis. Analysts say the Spanish government hopes the budget would be enough to stop the eurozone from imposing further spending and deficit controls if and when Spain asks for help with its bonds.
Draghi nonetheless declined to comment on whether Spain had to ask for help or could make it without added loans and bond purchases. "The decision to start this process is entirely in the hands of governments," he said.
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