Whether the 180 deputies needed needed to elect a new president are found or not, the moment of truth for the country and its politicians will come on February 28. If 180 MPs in the 300-seat House do elect a new president, the government will have just two months to make a deal with the troika and turn over a new leaf. The hardliners in the troika will have nothing to hold over Greece; they won’t be able to keep raising demands by evoking political uncertainty in Athens. But neither will the Greek government be able to blame the pressure of opposition SYRIZA for its prevarication.
If, on the other hand, Parliament fails to elect a president and a new government emerges from snap polls, it will have even less time to negotiate with the country’s creditors. Nevertheless it will have to know soon what tactics it plans to follow, be they blackmail or compromise. No politician can claim not to know what is going on. Greece’s northern European partners, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – which always plays the most crucial role – have made their position clear and no one can say they are ignorant of it.
Greece will run out of money at about the same time as the new bailout extension granted by the eurozone expires. There are those who believe that this will not happen, arguing that the country has a surplus to rely on and can always resort to T-bill issues. They are underestimating the role of the ECB, which holds the key to the banking system’s liquidity and controls T-bill issues as well.
As far as the international markets are concerned they remain and will remain closed off to Greece, its businesses and the state until it becomes clear who is ruling the country and what kind of relationship that government has with the creditors.
Yesterday’s decision by the Eurogroup, which agreed to grant Greece a two-month extension to its bailout program, was the best that could have been hoped for under the existing circumstances. Sure, mistakes were made, there was foot-dragging and precious time was wasted. However, the country managed to stay afloat and some sort of order has been restored.
Despite its limitations, the government did not leave the country to its fate, exposed to the risk of a disorderly default or the chaos that this would entail. Even at the very last moment, the country managed to act a bit more responsibly than what we have been used to over the past few years. There is some safety net under our feet for any political acrobatics in the coming two-and-a-half months. Banks will be safe for that period. Everyone knows the facts. What we decide to do from now on is up to us. The time of lies and delusions is over. The time of truth is near.