AFTER more than two years of desperately trying to save Athens, German and other European finance ministries are becoming more vocal in their declarations that Europe's 17-nation currency bloc is big enough to ride out a potential Greek bankruptcy.
As dazed Athenians continued to clear up the rubble from Sunday's protests, in which dozens of downtown buildings were torched, and the Greek parliament agreed to another round of budget cuts, the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, became the latest to suggest that Greece be cast adrift, arguing that the euro zone was ''better prepared than two years ago'' to deal with a Greek default.
German hesitancy on a proposed $160 billion lifeline for Greece was underscored by the cancellation of what had been perceived as a critical meeting of euro zone finance ministry officials, scheduled for Tuesday. The meeting was to consider the latest iteration of the Greek response to terms demanded by Europe if it was to help Athens meet a $17.8 billion bond repayment next month.
Mr Schaeuble was echoing a blunt warning from last week, when the Luxembourg Finance Minister, Luc Frieden, suggested to a Washington conference that markets may have already factored in the prospect of a Greek collapse: "If [the Greeks] don't do this, they exclude themselves from the euro zone and the impact on the other countries now would be less important than maybe a year ago."
Some analysts see a test of that argument becoming more inevitable. "The risk of a disorderly default has risen," Thomas Costerg, a London-based economist at Standard Chartered Bank told Bloomberg.
"The timetable is already over-stretched and gives no room for manoeuvre or additional delay.
"The question remains whether we have reached the point of no return for Greece. I don't think it's the case yet, but we're dangerously close to it,''
Amid rising doubts, most strongly held in Berlin, Amsterdam and Helsinki, on the extent to which Greece can be trusted to meet new obligations, the European Commission's most senior economics official, Olli Rehn, warned of ''devastating consequences'' if Greece defaulted.
Tuesday's meeting of finance ministry officers was to consider the detail of a Greek response to European demands that it find another $400 million in budget cuts, but the Luxembourg Prime Minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads Euro Group, blamed the cancellation on Greece's failure to lock-in the support of the next Greek government - which will emerge from elections in April.
The latest razor gang proposals in Athens - a $4 billion package of pay, pension and job cuts - were steered through the parliament as the city was ablaze on Sunday, but Mr Juncker said he had not received written commitments from the leaders of the individual political parties.
"Until we have it all definitively on paper, with really solid guarantees from Greece as well, and legislation, we can't make any decisions," said Jan Kees de Jager, the Dutch Finance Minister, The Financial Times reported.
The European insistence on iron-clad commitments stems from a refusal to sign by the Greek conservative leader Antonis Samaras, most likely to be the next prime minister, who doubts that a country so deep in recession could cope with the impact of the cuts.
Mr Samaras told parliament on Sunday that he would vote for the cuts only to prevent Greece from ''leaping into the abyss'' in the wake of two years of ''wrong'' policies - but Europe wants him to sign on the dotted line.