The eurozone summit in Brussels delivered nothing more than what was expected: a statement of empathy and support for Greece?s efforts of fiscal adjustment with the aim of ensuring the country?s membership in the single currency bloc.
That last part was also the most important: The statement issued by the leaders of the 17-member eurozone tied Greece?s remaining in the common currency area in with the execution of a hard-to-implement adjustment program.
So despite what German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti have said about their wishing to see debt-wracked Greece stay in the eurozone, no commitment was included in the summit conclusions. Eurozone leaders chose to remain cautious and linked the release of the next tranche of rescue aid to the troika review.
A year has passed since an elected prime minister from Greece attended a European Union summit. During that whole period Greece was essentially absent from any top-level discussions and negotiations. Within that same time, Greece restructured part of its debt, it signed the second so-called memorandum, and changed three governments.
The toll has been tremendous: political instability and a society near breaking point. During his visit to Brussels, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras updated his European peers on the disturbing reality: The country cannot take any more, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is currently polling in third place, and the state coffers are expected to be empty by November 16.
Sure, the mood seems to be changing. Merkel, Hollande and Monti acknowledge that Greece is coming apart. The German chancellor recently visited the country in a symbolic gesture of support. The French and Italian premiers are also expected. The turnaround may have come late, but maybe not too late, if the words of support are succeeded by concrete actions aimed at helping pull Greece out of the lethal trap of recession and internal devaluation.
This has to happen soon — and not under the existing terms, which are suffocating the country. Otherwise the fragile southeastern tip of the eurozone will go down, taking its slow-moving partners with it.