What exactly are we negotiating for?

Most people in Greece have no idea what is going on between Athens and its international creditors, amid the din of statements by all sorts of government officials. The overwhelming opinion is that the troika of international lenders has invaded Greece in order to tear apart the country, which up until its involvement was doing very nicely.

So what is Athens negotiating for with such intensity?

Are we negotiating the right to produce a deficit, or to reduce the debt within the time frame that suits us, that is before the European elections? Are we asking our foreign lenders to accept our assessments of costs and revenues, or are we negotiating the size of the primary surplus? Are we talking about the country’s desire to be free of supervision, or its refusal to implement the terms it agreed on? Or are we negotiating Greece’s privilege not to adopt measures while at the same time enjoying the support of others without terms? And since we’re negotiating – that is we are in a give-and-take process – what exactly is it that we are offering? Finally, if this is a negotiation, why are we drawing so-called “red lines”? So that the other side knows our boundaries and doesn’t dare to cross them, because we don’t trust ourselves to uphold them, or because we want to paint ourselves into a corner?

The support of the Greek public is taken for granted in the national negotiation efforts. But while the Greek government, with the help of the media, has put the troika in its sights, it is also asking our foreign lenders to recognize the sacrifices of the Greek people and to show some leniency.

Unless of course Athens is hinting that it did not resort to blackmail – as leftist opposition SYRIZA says it could – by demanding a complete debt writeoff back at the start of the crisis, when the eurozone was still defenseless.

The fact is that the tension that is apparent has been stirred by the prospect of European and possibly local government elections in May. The government obviously wants to head to the polls with a feather in its cap. It wants to be able to show that it stood up to the troika, brought the country out of the darkness and into the light, and, without having to agree new measures, found a way to deal with the debt pile. The government is afraid, and rightly, that if SYRIZA comes in ahead at the European polls, it will lose its legitimacy.

On the other hand, our lenders are also facing the European elections with some trepidation given the rise of euroskepticism in the bloc. So, even if the other governments of Europe want to present the bailout deal as a success, they do not want to show that they are giving Greece too much leeway either, at least not before heading to the polls.