Vindication or fiasco

The EU is a complex yet flexible institution. That said, it is important that you always have an idea of who you are talking to, who makes the hard decisions and who you can rely on in times of need.

Greece’s bailout governments often ended up in a mess because they misinterpreted the signals coming from abroad. In some cases, they mistook northern European niceties for a nod of approval. There have been ministers who claimed to be certain of the troika’s wants because they had earlier spoken to task force officials in Athens. Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras believed up until October that the European Commission would step in to wrap up the evaluation process on certain mild conditions before he could move on to pursuing an agreement on the Greek debt. We all know what followed.

Those who engage in this endless and exhausting power game are always in danger of committing a very costly mistake. The current government is inexperienced but it has a mandate for a tough negotiation. It has drawn its own red lines but it is important to know the other side’s red lines as well. The European Commission traditionally wants to help reach a compromise solution because it is allergic to anything that could jeopardize the European project. But that is only as far as it can go. The EU’s executive did not want IMF involvement in Europe, yet this was imposed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Now it wants a face-saving solution for Athens and Berlin. However, it has become clear that when the Eurogroup gets under way, the Commission and European Parliament play second fiddle.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras questions the decision-making process because, as he said on Tuesday, it does not make sense to hold a Eurogroup meeting and then have one government make the decision. As an experienced leftist he knows a thing or two about the balance of power. He knows that there is no such thing as a southern alliance, a northern alliance, or in fact any alliance that would be there to support Greece ahead of a clash. The Americans would not like to see an accident but there is not much they can do. The same goes for the Chinese. Russia is a strong card that you can only flash once or twice.

Will an accident be avoided? The danger is clear. Tsipras could be vindicated on having warned against the disastrous austerity and of having spoken of Germany’s counterproductive hegemony. But Greece will have still suffered serious damage. Tsipras, and the rest of us, will still be here, in rather unpleasant circumstances. The others will be out playing the blame game about why the Greek case ended in fiasco.