Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
"Germany is eating itself over Greece. It is eroding its moral authority, and seems prepared to destroy the eurozone's integrity just to make a point." -- Paul Mason, Germany v Greece is a fight to the death, a cultural and economic clash of wills, Guardian
If you haven't been following developments in the Greek-EU standoff, you're really missing out. This might be the best story of the year. And what makes it so riveting, is that no one thought that little Greece could face off with the powerful leaders of the EU and make them blink. But that's exactly what's happened. On Monday, members of the Eurogroup met with Greece's finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to decide whether they would accept Greece's terms for an extension of the current loan agreement. There were no real changes to the agreement. The only difference was semantics, that is, the loan would not be seen as a bailout but as "a transitional stage to a new contract for growth for Greece." In other words, a bridge to a different program altogether.
In retrospect, Varoufakis's strategy was pure genius, mainly because it knocked the EU finance ministers off balance and threw the process into turmoil. After all, how could they vote "thumbs down" on a loan package that they had previously approved just because the language was slightly different? But if they voted "thumbs up," then what?
Well, then they would be acknowledging (and, tacitly, approving) Greece's determination to make the program less punitive in the future. That means they'd be paving the way for an end to austerity and a rethink on loan repayment. They'd also be conceding that Greece's democratically-elected government had the right to alter the policies of the Eurogroup. How could they let that happen?
But, then again, how could they vote it down, after all, it was basically the same deal. As Varoufakis pointed out in a press conference on Monday:
"We agree to the terms of our loan agreements to all our creditors." And we have "agreed to do nothing to derail the existing budget framework during the interim period."
See? It's the same deal.
This is the conundrum the Eurogroup faced on Monday, but instead of dealing with it head-on, as you would expect any mature person to do, they punted. They put off the loan extension decision for another day and called it quits. Now maybe that was the smart thing to do, but the optics sure looked terrible. It looked like Varoufakis stared them down and sent them fleeing like scared schoolchildren.
Now, remember, Monday was the absolute, drop-dead deadline for deciding whether the Eurogroup would approve or reject the new terms for Greece's loan extension. That means the Eurogroup's task could not have been more straightforward. All they had to do was vote yes or no. That's it.
Instead, they called "Time Out" and kicked the can a little further down the road. It was not a particularly proud moment for the European Union. But what's even worse, is the subterfuge that preceded the meetings; that's what cast doubt on the character of the people running EU negotiations. Here's the scoop: About 15 minutes before the confab began, Varoufakis was given a draft communique outlining the provisions of the proposed loan extension. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the document met all his requirements and, so, he was prepared to sign it. Unfortunately, the document was switched shortly before the negotiations began with one that backtracked on all the crucial points.
I'm not making this up. The freaking Eurogroup tried to pull the old switcheroo on Varoufakis to get him to sign something that was different than the original. Can you believe it? And it's only because Varoufakis studiously combed through the new memo that he was able to notice the discrepancy and jam on the brakes. As it happens, the final copy was just a rehash of the same agreement that Varoufakis has rejected from the onset. The only difference was the underhanded way the Eurogroup tried to slip it by him.
Now you tell me: Would you consider people who do something like that "trustworthy"?
Of course not. This is how people behave when they don't care about integrity or credibility, when all that matters is winning. If the Eurogroup can trick the Greeks into signing something that's different than what they think they're signing; then tough luck for the Greeks. "Caveat emptor." Buyer beware. The Eurogroup has no problem with that kind of shabby double-dealing. That's just how they play the game.
But their trickery and bullying hasn't worked, mainly because Varoufakis is too smart for them. And he's too charismatic and talented too, which is a problem for the EU bigwigs who resent the fact that this upstart Marxist academic has captured the imaginations of people around the world upsetting their little plan to perpetuate Greece's six-year long Depression. They never anticipated that public opinion would shift so dramatically against them, nor had they imagined that all of Europe would be focused laserlike on the shady and autocratic workings of the feckless Eurogroup. That's not what they wanted. What they wanted was carte blanche to impose their medieval policies on the profligate Greeks, just like the good old days after Lehman Brothers tanked. After all, that's how a "anti-democratic imperialist project" like the EU is supposed to work, right?
Right, except now Varoufakis and his Marxist troopers have thrown a wrench in the Eurogroup's plans and put the future in doubt. The tide has turned sharply towards reason, solidarity and compassion instead of repression, exploitation and cruelty. In just a few weeks, the entire playing field has changed, and Greece appears to be getting the upper hand. Who would have known?