A journalist remembers the Greek crisis 2.0

A journalist remembers the Greek crisis 2.0

Perhaps the singular achievement of my career is that in 2015 I became the only European journalist who tried and failed to land an interview with Yanis Varoufakis. The reasons were prosaic enough: I was in Athens reporting on SYRIZA, and my appointment with the then finance minister was canceled when he had to fly to Brussels – my home, ironically – for the latest round of emergency bailout talks.

Perhaps it was fitting, because the government to which Varoufakis was attached was the cause of one of the most intense periods I have known as a journalist. In four years based in Brussels for the Economist, I have covered the refugee crisis, the populist ascent, Poland’s assault on its judiciary, Russia’s adventurism, terrorism, Brexit and the crisis over Slovak fish fingers (yes, that was a thing). None of these tested our sleep patterns as much as the Greek crisis 2.0.

It was clear from the moment Varoufakis strutted on to the stage that the Greek story was back. There were endless false starts and fake deadlines as the negotiations over a third bailout faltered. But the pace intensified as the real crunch – two bond redemptions to the European Central Bank worth 3.5 billion euros due in July – approached. At one point we were blessed to be summoned to emergency Eurogroup meetings every other day.

Then, in June, came Alexis Tsipras’s snap referendum, which ruined a journalist friend’s leaving party. The bar we were in was transformed from a merry scene of carousing into an impromptu newsdesk, as half-cut hacks hit the phones and scrambled to file. As for me, a columnist rather than a newshound, I was running out of ways to cover the talks. Having exhausted the views from Brussels and Athens, I began a tour of eurozone capitals to take the temperature elsewhere. Someone needed to cover the crucial Bratislava angle.

So the crunch summit, in mid-July, came none too soon. That was a brutal night for the Brussels press corps (although, like grizzled Vietnam vets, journalists bearing the euro crisis scars from 2010 growled that it was far worse back then). As the night wore on mysterious signals emerged from the negotiating chambers upstairs: Now Merkel and Tsipras were locked in talks; now Hollande had a counterproposal; now the Dutch were making life difficult. At 1 a.m., with no end in sight (and no daily deadline), I called it a night. The next day I woke early to the news that the politicians were still talking. I jumped out of bed and hot-stepped it to the Justus Lipsius building, just in time to make the press conference where we were told, for the third time in five years, that Greece had been saved.

Tom Nuttall is a journalist at The Economist.

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