The coalition government of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks may have a lot of weaknesses, a complete lack of experience in governance and fixations that are endemic to the left, but we should not underestimate Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s and his aides’ ability to manipulate the parties of the opposition. Ahead of Monday’s Eurogroup, as part of an overall effort to dramatize the negotiation process in Brussels, the government introduced the issue of a referendum on whether or not the administration should strive for a compromise and go back on some pre-election pledges.
The finance ministers of the eurozone took the news in stride. In fact, Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble said that he had advised former Prime Minister George Papandreou to hold a referendum. In contrast, back in Athens, the Pavlovian reaction with which all opposition parties are programmed prompted the systemic parties to adopt a rather derogatory stance in regard to Greek citizens’ ability to decide on such serious matters, the management of which they consider should be the exclusive property of the elite.
The real danger of such a referendum at this stage does not lie in the result, which would overwhelmingly be in favor of staying in the eurozone, but rather in the fact that it would solidify a trend in favor of a Greek exit from the eurozone. It would create the conditions of division, without any real reason, at a time when Tsipras and his government have obviously decided that whatever solution is found, it should be within the eurozone framework.
It was a ruse, and while it failed to incite a reaction from the eurozone ministers, it exposed Greece’s opposition parties as being skeptical of the Greeks’ good judgment. In short, the entire discussion is being held on terms defined by SYRIZA. The so-called European forces of this country still have a lot to learn from the other Europeans about how to behave.
The referendum may now be off the table but the issue will create problems when New Democracy or PASOK will have to support whatever agreement the government comes to Parliament with. We cannot know what the content of this “honorable compromise” would be. It is likely to be worse than what the previous government was in the process of negotiating before the elections.
At the end of the day, what’s at stake is Greece’s place in the eurozone and this is ostensibly what the so-called pro-European parties want as well. Sure, they can criticize particular measures and reforms and must do so boldly, but they must uphold whatever deal is presented in principle, and this goes especially for New Democracy.