Greece: “Hope” vs Tough Reality: 0 – 2. A dance floor covered with broken plates awaits for Tsipras and Varoufakis to dance
While clubs all around the world are more or less the same, Greeks traditionally enjoy their music in “clubs” structured differently. Their unique “bouzoukia” is a combination of concert, restaurant and club. A singer singing live, a large dance floor and the clients sitting on tables around it. Once cheeriness reaches a certain level, clients may start dancing on chairs, tables and of course on the dance floor.
Since the late 70s, if you appreciate their dance, you throw flowers (carnations) but in the 50s and 60s the typical “cool” way to applause someone’s dance was to throw / break plates on the dance floor.
It may occur nowadays as well, but this is the rare exception.
When President Obama prevented an attack against Greece
After the first week of the new Greek government the atmosphere for Greece was quite negative. On Sunday President Obama stepped out and supported the country in a move that surprised many. Very few analysts paid attention to a leak published by Mega TV and capital.gr, both leading newswires: “An economic attack against Greece was blocked literally at the last minute before it started, revealed to Mega TV a diplomatic source in London, during the meeting of Yannis Varoufakis and George Osborne. According to the source, yesterday morning (e.n. Sunday morning) there was great tension in Europe. “The hostile group of Eurogroup, he said, was preparing a dangerous attack which was prevented by France and the US, with the statements of President Obama and French minister Sapin, fact which is mirrored in today’s market reaction”.
European officials, speaking like… experienced Romanian politicians
Get on tv an experienced Romanian politician and ask him to give you support on something “difficult”. He will simply avoid replying directly, trying to say something satisfactory for everyone. In the end he will stick to his initial standing point. This is what happened with the European officials meeting with Greeks during the previous days…
The Italian prime minister offered to the Greek one a… tie, the French minister of Finance had warm words to say about Greece, the English one was kind as well. But, beyond politeness and comments on the Greek officials’ dress code, everyone insisted on one issue: “You must respect the rules and the agreement, you must continue the reforms”.
Greeks cheered up. “Our government is fighting hard”, “don’t you see? The Europeans understood our problem”… the stock market skyrocketed and almost all media were “very sure that a consensus will be reached”. Very few analysts were insisting: “The negotiation has not even begun yet, we did not speak with Germany”. “If France, England and Italy express their solidarity, why do we care so much about Germany?”
Well… when France clashed with Germany, all Eurozone countries backed Germany. When Italy tried the same, the rest of Europe stood by Germany. Same stands for Spain and several other countries. Regardless if someone agrees with Mrs Merkel or not, she has set the rules of the political and economic game around Europe during the crisis period.
Breaking plates on the dance floor 1
While Greeks were “hoping for the best”, on Wednesday the European Central Bank woke everyone up, back to the reality. The country’s banks were cut off support in European level, as their collaterals (Greek bonds) were no longer accepted. Since Wednesday, 22.30, a single liquidity source remained open for the Greek banks: The Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA), handled by Greek National Bank.
The Greek government did not find the news alarming. Journalists reminded to people that in 2012 Greek banks had also obtained liquidity from ELA, injecting some 130 (!) billion Euro.
Mario Draghi, the President of European Central Bank, had saved the best for last: “In 2 weeks from now, on 18.02, the situation will be re-evaluated”.
(All these happened just hours after minister Varoufakis “was counting on ECB for a favorable solution…)
Breaking plates on the dance floor 2
Just some hours before, Martin Schulz, the European Parliament president, sent a direct message: “If Greece unilaterally changes the agreements, the other side is no longer obliged to stick to them… then no more money will go to Greece and the state won't be able to finance itself”
Breaking plates on the dance floor 3
During the same day, a non-paper was leaked to media. It was sent by the German government to the Greek one, asking it to respect the existing agreement. Greece “rejected the document and sent it back to its sender as unacceptable”.
Breaking plates on the dance floor 4
On Thursday, the Greek Finance minister finally met with his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. Many experts in politics say he should have met him since the very beginning, but the new Greek government did not want to acknowledge Germany’s leadership over Europe.
Reminding the joke with the lion and the rabbit, Varoufakis did not tell to Schaeuble everything he used to state during the previous days. He was much more humble and pragmatic. Having already replaced the discussion of writing off the debt with “extension, perpetual bonds” and other, more realistic solutions, he stressed that Greece is focused on reforming its economy. He went further on, saying that his government agrees with 67% of the reform program agreed by the previous one. For a party which won the elections saying that it rejects 100% of the program agreed by the government of conservative Antonis Samaras, this is already a great concession…
But it was not enough. Wolfgang Schaeuble maintained Germany’s standing point: “You have to do all you promised… we agreed that we disagree”. Once he felt that his will to negotiate was treated indifferently, Varoufakis became tough as well: “We didn’t even agree to disagree”.
Some with concessions, some with proud declarations and Russia in the background
While Europe sent to Greece multiple messages and minister Varoufakis made some steps towards an agreement, the Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras continued its rhetoric, speaking to his MPs on Thursday: „We are a sovereign country, we will keep our promises to people… Greece cannot be blackmailed”…
In the same time, the defence minister (radical right party president / coalition member) Panos Kammenos considered it right to maintain a dispute with his German counterpart on Russia.
Tsipras did not argue, simply announced his discussion with Putin who invited him to visit Moscow in May.
The Greek government decided to delay a bit its parliamentary confidence vote, from Saturday to Sunday, having been reported trying to ease the „aggressive wording” of some ministers.
The dance floor has been prepared and welcomes Greece to dance…
By Tuesday, all these will be over and then a dance floor is ready, full of broken plates and awaiting for Tsipras and Varoufakis to dance without getting hurt. Extraordinary Euro Working Group summit is expected on the 11th of February, with a possible Summit of the European leaders on the 12th. In these events Greece will ask for its proposals to be approved, so as to resolve its liquidity bottleneck „until a final agreement to be reached in May”.
Greece made a lot of noise, “hoping for the best”, trying to change the rules of the game. Now it will sit on the negotiation table, knowing that its liquidity is limited, the public revenues are down and the banks can receive money only from ELA, at least until 18.02 when ECB will re-evaluate the situation.
Europeans are asking Greece to step back and accept all that was agreed in the past, while the Greek government continues saying to its voters and MPs that “we obtained new allies, changed the agenda and we will win”. Government officials unofficially remind that “Germany is always tough in the beginning, we have taken this into consideration”.
Is it possible for Tsipras and Varoufakis to dance zeibekiko through broken plates, secure the country’s position IN the Eurozone without a revolution within their own party? Can they do all that Europe is asking for, while maintaining their “brave heart / winners” status in Greece? Can they impose to Europeans their demands, despite the fact that they run out of time?
It’s about time to watch them dancing…
PS.1. The undersigned, being Greek as well, wishes that the Greek government will protect the country and maintain its European orientation. He also prefers for Greece to pay its debts, but this is a personal opinion.
PS.2. A possible solution: Greece to “obtain” some minor advantages in exchange of a new agreement, which the MPs of the government will hardly accept.
PS.3. The Greek banks in Romania, being regulated by the National Bank of Romania and under the guidance of Mr Mugur Isarescu, do not have any problem at all.