Things tend to go sour in Greek-German relations at pivotal times. Athens just doesn’t get Berlin at all and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras seems to glean all the wrong messages from developments in the German capital.
The support expressed on Monday for Greece’s bid for debt relief by the SDP and the Foreign Ministry is useful but does not play an instrumental role. The show is run by Wolfgang Schaeuble and the Finance Ministry’s bureaucrats. The chancellor needs him to appease the party’s right-wing faction and she doesn’t want Greece to turn up on her radar in the runup to elections. Nor, of course, does she stand up to her hardline finance minister.
The German finance minister is now all too familiar with Greece and has become an expert at finding reasonable sounding excuses to toughen his stance before every key negotiation. Tsipras’s mistake is occasionally giving Schaeuble the excuse he’s looking for, without good reason. He stated, for example, that if debt relief is not secured, the government will cancel the implementation of the measures that were just passed. This was nothing short of icing on Schaeuble’s cake.
The excuse that Tsipras had to say what he did in order to appease his party and MPs doesn’t hold water. And because the stereotype that Germans and Greeks are from two different planets seems to be true, the Germans take such grand political statements seriously as opposed to the Greeks who know that they are just part of the business of politics.
The current misunderstanding concerns a difference between the two sides on when the much-coveted talks on debt relief will start in earnest. The Germans insist that this will not happen before the elections there and the end of the program here, sometime in mid-2018. Athens wants the talks now, which is why it agreed to more strict measures of the kind being demanded by the International Monetary Fund.
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos realized on Monday night that he had accepted the IMF’s terms without debt relief.
This is where we are now and where we have been in the past: with our politician having raised the bar too high and now realizing just how high it is. Is the problem poor communication with Berlin or is it, perhaps, that the professional optimists in Brussels convey whatever image they want?
The fact is that everyone seems to be working on behalf of Schaeuble and his higher plan… whatever that may be.