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Greece needs decade to get competitive: German finance minister

German Finance Minister Schaeuble attends cabinet meeting in Berlin
German Finance Minister Schaeuble attends cabinet meeting in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said in a magazine interview published on Saturday that Greece would not be able to return to capital markets next year and would need a decade to make its economy competitive.

Schaeuble told business weekly WirtschaftsWoche that it was "clear that Greece will not be able to return to capital markets in 2012, as we thought in 2010."

"Greece will need a decade rather than a year to get fully competitive," added the minister from Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right government.

With anxiety about a possible Greek sovereign debt default rising in Europe, the chief economist of German insurer Allianz said a major haircut for Greek government bondholders would only increase the risk of contagion in the euro zone.

"I don't believe the time is right for a debt haircut like this," Michael Heise told German radio, in response to Greek media reports -- denied by Athens on Friday -- that one option was an orderly default with a 50 percent haircut for creditors.

The economist said such a default scenario would create more problems and increase the risk of contagion to other euro zone countries, which would create "a very, very serious situation."

Athens denied reports in two Greek newspapers that Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos had outlined various options to lawmakers, including a bailout by Europe and the International Monetary Fund, a haircut and a disorderly default.

Merkel said on Friday that a Greek default was "not an option for me" as the damage was "impossible to predict."

With heavily-indebted Italy also giving increasing cause for concern, her finance minister Schaeuble said in the interview Italy was "a strong country with good economic data."

"Italy's debts are manageable and could be brought back into the guidelines relatively quickly," he said, adding that the downgrading by rating agency Standard & Poor's could prove beneficial by encouraging Italy "to implement the already decided measures more quickly and urgently."

But Italian Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti suggested on Friday that the ball was in Germany's court and the European economic powerhouse had to overcome its own "uncertainties" about whether to save the currency union.

"Now everything depends on Europe, and Europe depends on Germany, and that depends on the capacity Germany must have to overcome its uncertainties and understand that Europe is in everyone's interests, including theirs," he told Italian TV.

He appeared to be referring to a threatened revolt among some members of parliament in Merkel's coalition on a crucial vote on the European Financial Stability Facility -- the euro zone's current bailout mechanism -- in Berlin on September 29.

(Additional reporting by Christian Goetz Writing by Stephen Brown; Editing by Ed Lane)

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