ATHENS — Greek political parties on Tuesday delayed yet again making the tough choice of accepting painful reforms in return for a new international bailout to avoid a chaotic default, seemingly deaf to E.U. warnings that the euro zone can live without Athens.
With a series of deadlines come and gone, leaders of the three parties in the coalition of Prime Minister Lucas Papademos postponed what was supposed to be a crunch meeting until Wednesday.
On a day when protesters burned a German flag in Athens, Chancellor Angela Merkel tried to ease growing tension by promising she would not try to force Greece out of the euro. But Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the currency bloc could take a Greek exit in its stride.
One party official blamed Tuesday’s delay, which is likely to enrage euro-zone leaders desperate to tie up the 130-billion-euro rescue after months of argument, on missing paperwork — the reason given when the meeting was delayed from Monday to Tuesday.
“The political leaders will not have the time to assess the measures in the bailout,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The heads of the conservative, socialist and far-right parties had yet to receive the draft agreement with the European Union and International Monetary Fund half an hour before the meeting was to start Tuesday.
“We can’t say a plain yes or no unless we have assurances from the relevant authorities of the state that these actions are constitutional and will lead the country out of the crisis,” said George Karatzaferis, leader of the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally, known in Greece as the Laos party. “There is time. When it comes to future of the country, we will find the time.”
Party leaders have hesitated to accept the tough terms of the deal, which are certain to mean a big drop in living standards for many Greeks.
Adding to the pressure, unions staged a 24-hour strike Tuesday, and protesters tussled with police outside Parliament.
Deadlines are rapidly losing any significance. Last weekend, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said a deal had to be done by Sunday. Then the parties sailed past a Monday deadline to give their response to the E.U., promising that Tuesday would be the day for decisions.
Such dithering is a challenge to the authority of Merkel, whose government is a major funder of Greek bailouts. She said Monday that “time is of the essence” and expressed bewilderment about what the repeated delays could achieve.
With Greek resentment increasingly focusing on Germany, Merkel tried to calm the atmosphere Tuesday, warning that forcing Greece to abandon the euro would have “unforeseeable consequences.”
“I will have no part in forcing Greece out of the euro,” she said in response to a question from a Greek student at a meeting with young people in a Berlin museum.
Euro-zone countries cannot be forced out of the currency bloc by their peers. But some policymakers in the bloc are starting to say in public what they have been voicing in private; that if Athens does not accept the terms, they might not do much to prevent Greece falling out of its own accord.
The Netherlands’ Rutte said the euro zone could survive without Greece if the country does not keep its side of the bargain.
“We are currently so strong in the rest of the euro zone, in the countries who have the euro, that we can handle an exit of Greece — a Greece which runs into serious trouble,” Rutte told Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
“They really have to implement all the measures they have promised to take. If that doesn’t happen we can’t help them.”