LUXEMBOURG—Europe was scrambling Friday to pick up the pieces after another failed meeting over Greece’s bailout that reinforced fears that the country was heading for bankruptcy and a possible euro exit.
Several European countries said openly they are getting ready for the possibility of Greece leaving the euro. And though there was no sign of panic in the streets of Greece over that prospect, officials say Greeks are taking money out of banks in growing amounts.
As a result, the European Central Bank has scheduled a teleconference of its governing council to discuss emergency credit for Greek banks — just two days after it increased the amounts it was willing to provide. The ECB has been steadily increasing the credit it allows Greek banks to draw on.
The ECB could turn off that support if it thinks Greece is going bust, but that’s not expected ahead of Monday’s emergency meeting of the eurozone’s 19 leaders. The country needs a deal to get more bailout loans from creditors before June 30, when it has the first of a series of debt repayments it cannot afford.
Without a deal, the ECB would be under intense pressure to stop pumping money into a banking system that might collapse.
Relations between the creditors and the Greek government, which was elected in January on a promise to end the crippling austerity cuts demanded since 2010 in return for the bailout money, have soured significantly in recent days, with each side blaming the other in stronger language for the impasse.
In Athens, there were no visible signs of distress, or larger than usual lines at banks or supermarkets, despite reports of large withdrawals and transfers, which can also be made electronically.
An EU official said 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion) had been taken out of Greek banks in the last three days.
“Money is going out of the Greek banks faster than at any time before,” said the official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation.
In the streets of Greece, newspaper headlines warned that time was running out. The daily Ethnos called Monday’s summit the “Last Chance for a Deal” while the pro-government Efimerida ton Syntakton said creditors had put a “Knife to our Throat.”
Athenian Giorgos Tsakoyiannis, 55, said he believed a deal would be hammered out.
“When two parties want to resolve something, there’s no way it won’t happen,” he said. “It looks extreme, but politics is never extreme. It’s a dirty game.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sought to portray the events in a good light. He said Monday’s summit is “a positive development on the road to agreement,” claiming that those “who invest in crisis and horror scenarios will be proven wrong.”
“We sought final negotiations to be at the highest political level in Europe and now we are working for the success of this summit,” he said.
And in a statement Friday, the Bank of Greece sounded relatively optimistic, noting the “great effort” the Greek government has made to find common ground with creditors. The gap that needs to be covered “is not a large one,” it added.
It also said its governor “has given his assurances regarding the stability of the banking system, which is fully guaranteed by the joint actions taken by the Bank of Greece as well as the European Central Bank.”
As finance ministers from across the 28-country European Union met in Luxembourg, there was some skepticism about the prospects of a deal on Monday. The hope is that technical talks between Greece and its creditors will resume over the weekend before another meeting of the eurozone’s finance ministers on Monday in the lead-up to the leaders’ summit.
Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb said that “right now, it’s touch and go” whether a deal can be brokered in time for Monday’s summit.
And Michel Sapin, France’s finance minister, said it’s becoming a matter of urgency to find a solution to “this situation that is becoming unbearable.”
It’s not just countries in the eurozone that would be affected by a Greek exit from the euro. Some in the markets think a so-called Grexit could be another “Lehman Brothers” moment for the world economy — sparking a potentially destabilizing chain reaction, the way the collapse of the investment bank did in 2008. Others say it could be manageable, though the uncertainties are great.
“We hope for the best but we must be prepared for the worst,” said George Osborne, Britain’s finance minister. “In the United Kingdom we’ve taken the measures to increase our economic security so we can deal with risks like this from abroad and clearly now we must go on and complete that plan.”
Slovakia’s prime minister, Robert Fico, said in Bratislava that his country was “mentally and technically prepared” for a Grexit. “We wish for Greece to remain in the eurozone but not at all costs.”
Investors appeared to be taking the developments in stride, with the main stock market in Athens down just 0.3 percent by midday Friday. The yields on Greek government bonds fell, a sign investors think a deal may be nearer than the political rhetoric suggests.
Greece needs its creditors to give their backing to reforms and budget cuts in return for the money it needs to meet its commitments. First up, Greece has to pay 1.6 billion euros to the IMF on June 30. It cannot afford that without a deal that would unlock the remaining cash in its bailout fund, about 7.2 billion euros.
In case of bankruptcy, Greece may have no option other than to introduce a new currency — most likely bringing back the centuries-old drachma — to pay wages, salaries and pensions.