BERLIN -- Germany's finance minister greeted the conservative New Democracy party's projected win in Greek elections Sunday as a decision to "forge ahead" with implementing far-reaching reforms. Germany's foreign minister said it's important for Greece to stick to its agreements with creditors, but held out the prospect that Athens might be given more time to comply with them.
New Democracy party beat the radical-left Syriza party into second place on Sunday and immediately proposed forming a pro-euro coalition government -- a development that eased, at least briefly, fears that the vote would unleash economic chaos.
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Germany -- Europe's biggest economy -- has been a major contributor to Greece's 2 multibillion-euro rescue packages and a key advocate of demanding tough, and highly unpopular, austerity and reform measures in exchange.
If New Democracy's win is confirmed, Germany "would consider such a result a decision by Greek voters to forge ahead with the implementation of far-reaching economic and fiscal reforms in the country," German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a statement.
The austerity and reform program aims only "to put the country back on the path of economic prosperity and stability," he added. "This path will be neither short nor easy but is necessary and will give the Greek people the prospect of a better future."
"In order to succeed, the program requires political stability," Schaeuble said.
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told ARD television earlier Sunday, shortly after exit polls showed a neck-and-neck race, that "we want Greece to stay in the euro; we want Greece to continue wanting to belong to Europe." But he stressed that it was for Greece to decide on its future path, and said that "you cannot stop anyone who wants to go."
Westerwelle said it was important for Greece to form a pro-European government that sticks to the agreements with creditors.
Debt inspectors from the EU, the European Central Bank and the IMF who are managing the Greek bailout regularly check progress in implementing its conditions to determine whether Greece can secure further aid payouts. Westerwelle insisted that the substance of the bailout agreements must remain unchanged, but signaled some flexibility on deadlines.
"There cannot be substantial changes to the agreements, but I can well imagine talking again about timelines, against the background of the fact that, in reality, there was a political standstill in Greece over recent weeks because of the elections," he said. "But there is no way past the reforms -- Greece must stand by what has been agreed."