Eurozone crisis live: Venizelos warns Greece’s euro membership is at risk

Pasok leader has told the Guardian that upcoming election is Greece’s biggest challenge since military junta was overturned in 1974

8.38am: Over in Greece, thousands of workers are expected to protest against the current austerity cuts today.

The traditional May Day rallies will be a focal point for anger against Greece’s economic plight. Its two largest unions, GSEE and ADEDY, are organising a rally. The Communist-affiliated PAME group will hold a seperate event.

According to Reuters:

Athens buses, trains and the subway have come to a standstill as transport workers staged a 24-hour strike, while Greek seamen held a four-hour stoppage. Public sector offices were shut and hospitals worked on emergency staff.

Greek readers: are you taking part? Is the disruption is affecting your day?

8.26am: It’s not a surprise that Evangelos Venizelos, head of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, should want a fellow left-winger to win France’s presidential election. But the strength of his support for François Hollande is notable, indicating that the European left is fast losing patience with the relentless focus on austerity.

During his exclusive interview with The Guardian (see also 8.09am), Venizelos said that Pasok was crossing its fingers for a Hollande triumph.

We are very much hoping that he [Hollande] will win. He is by far the best solution.

Hollande’s pledge to renegotiate the Eurozone fiscal pact was warmly welcomed by Venizelos, who said the “one-dimensional” approach to the crisis had to end. As he put is:

The issue, more generally, is that the eurozone has to have a strategy and we believe the [political] balances in Europe have to change. Europe has to begin to think in other ways. Its approach is quite one-dimensional from the perspective of how it has handled the economic crisis.

8.09am: Evangelos Venizelos, the new leader of the Pasok party, was in robust (if typically cautious) form as he met with my colleague Helena Smith, our Athens correspondent.

Venizelos was clear that the general election, now just five days away, gives Greece the chance to send a clear message that it will follow a “safe and responsible” pro-European course.

With extremist parties on the rise, Venizelos also admitted that Greece’s long-term future in the eurozone is certainly not guaranteed – even though it secured its second package in March.

In a clear message to ordinary Greeks to stick with the mainstream and not flirt with the extremists, he told Helena:

There are certain misconceptions that worry me: for instance, the misconception that whatever happens we are not going to leave the euro.

adding…

Europe and the eurozone have no reason, rationally, to push Greece out of the euro. But this is a system in which many parties, many countries, many governments, many electorates participate and we could have events which, rationally, are not controllable.

Venizelos saved his most pointed ire for the far-right Chrysi Avgi, or Golden Dawn party (of which more shortly), saying it would be worng for parliament to host “followers of neo-nazism”, adding:

It’s absurd and a pity that people who are despairing and bitter, who are unemployed and have lost their businesses, should be persuaded by such policies.

The polling data, though, shows that Golden Dawn is on track to win enough support to secure seats under Greece’s proportional representation system. Promising to leave tthe euro and end immigration has proved a popular platform with some Greeks.

8.00am: Good morning and welcome to our rolling coverage of the eurozone crisis.

It’s May Day, which means a national holiday in much of Europe. So most stock markets are closed, and it could be a quieter day on the breaking news front.

However, to make up for that, we have an exclusive interview with Evangelos Venizelos, leader of the Greek Pasok party. He’s warned that Greece’s political stability is at risk in this Sunday’s elections, and admitted that the country could yet quit the euro.

I’ll blog the highlights of the interview shortly.

Greece will also be in focus later today as unions organised strikes and protests against the country’s economic plans.

Also coming up, new data will show how the UK’s manufacturing sector fared in April – particularly interesting, now Britain is back in recession.

And in the early hours of the morning, Australia’s central bank slashed interest rates by 50 basis points – more than expected – warning that conditions in Europe were ‘very difficult’. Another sign that the eurocrisis is threatening the global recovery.

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