Germany chides Austria minister's Greek comment-paper

VIENNA - German Chancellor Angela Merkel's staff has complained to Austria about Finance Minister Maria Fekter's suggestion this week that Greece could be thrown out of the European Union as a result of its economic crisis, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The Oesterreich paper cited no sources for its report that Merkel's office called Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann's staff on Tuesday to ask whether Fekter was voicing a new official policy in Vienna and was told this was not so.

Merkel's staff then made clear such public threats via the media were "no way" to treat fellow EU members, the report said.

An Austrian finance ministry spokesman said the ministry was unaware of such a call and defended Fekter's comments to reporters before a meeting of euro zone finance minister in Brussels on Monday.

"Fekter never threatened to throw Greece out of the EU. She was asked (by reporters) to comment on various recently published opinions and statements that Greece should leave the euro zone," he said in an emailed response to a question.

"She replied that it is technically impossible to leave the euro zone; one could only leave the EU. She also made it clear that she is against such a step."

He said her comments were correctly reported by Austrian media which were present but falsely reported by German magazine Der Spiegel, which said on its website that Austria was threatening to throw Greece out of the EU.

"You can't leave the euro zone. You can leave the European Union, the contract has possibilities there. Once you left the European Union you also left the euro zone," she had told reporters, adding Athens would have to reapply for membership.

Fekter had already landed in hot water for her plain-speaking ways in March, when she had to apologise to Eurogroup head Jean-Claude Juncker for prematurely divulging details of a decision to boost the euro zone financial firewall.

A spokesmen for Faymann was not immediately available.

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