We are still living in the Greece we know: The government is struggling to explain its retreat in the face of our creditors, the opposition (including dissidents in SYRIZA) smells blood, we are running out of funds and no one knows what the next few months will bring. And this is the positive outcome of last week’s negotiations. We avoided the worst, where our state and banks would have no cash and our country would take a leap into the unknown. The government – like the previous ones – did not cave in because of cowardice nor out of some strategic genius. It had no choice: It would either agree to a four-month extension of our bailout agreement or carry the responsibility for economic catastrophe.
The rigid stand of our partners and the European Central Bank, and the lack of an alternative, forced the government to retreat in order to gain some time. It accepted a basic rule of survival – when your country’s fate is in the balance, what matters is not a glorious defeat but managing to fight another day. Greece stayed alive and this is a victory. Our partners got what they wanted too: They allowed us just enough breath to prevent turmoil in the eurozone, but without leaving any room for the Greek government to move. In this way, they minimized the possibility of the Greek “rebellion” inspiring other nations to question austerity and order.
We could say that today we are at a point similar to before the elections, albeit with greater problems because revenues have declined even further and we don’t know how we will repay loans to the ECB and the International Monetary Fund in the next couple of months. However, one positive result of the agreement outweighs the problems. For the first time, Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, was forced to deal with reality, to clash with his comrades in SYRIZA and to discover that he can bear conflict. This was a first step, although he still seems unable to impose a single policy on the party’s factions. Maybe the dissidents themselves will solve the problem, by pulling out of the government if not the party. This would allow SYRIZA to forge a coalition which could focus on necessary reforms and not on the imposition of ideology.
SYRIZA had not prepared to govern. Now, the breath that the government has won allows it some time to evaluate the situation, to count its strengths and weaknesses and to plan its next moves. Faced with a dead end in Brussels, Tsipras showed that he can learn quickly – despite the verbal bravado of the past few days. The government must get to work immediately, adopting measures that will give people some hope. Before it finds itself at another impasse at home and with our creditors, and however difficult this may seem, it must work toward gaining the greatest possible consensus in society and in Parliament. This would be its greatest weapon in our battle to stand on our feet and secure our place in Europe with dignity.