Greece at a cross­roads

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PA­PACHELAS

The next cou­ple of weeks are cru­cial for Greece, as the prime min­is­ter will have to sit down with the rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Euro­pean Union, the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank and the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund to ne­go­ti­ate a new mem­o­ran­dum that will en­sure the coun­try’s fund­ing over the next two years. There are three ma­jor thorns in this ne­go­ti­a­tion: de­mands for the clo­sure of state or­ga­ni­za­tions, which will in­volve peo­ple be­ing fired; the in­sis­tence of pro­vid­ing col­lat­eral in re­turn for any new loans, and the ex­ist­ing, painful re­forms for 2011. The gov­ern­ment needs to read the troika’s red lines care­fully and to put up a fight in or­der to win over the pub­lic on the do­mes­tic front, but ul­ti­mately it will end up with a new mem­o­ran­dum. Mean­while, an­other sig­nif­i­cant ne­go­ti­a­tion is un­fold­ing that prom­ises in­cred­i­ble com­pli­ca­tions, and this is over a “Vi­enna 2” agree­ment that will con­vince our len­ders to ex­tend the ma­tu­ri­ties of bonds that have to be paid out on within the next two years. For these two ne­go­ti­a­tions to suc­ceed – for Greece to get the fund­ing pack­age and to re­struc­ture its debt – Ge­orge Pa­pan­dreou will need to ac­cept a se­ries of painful mea­sures and push them through Par­lia­ment. The path of the ne­go­ti­a­tions is strewn with land mines, how­ever. For one, the mood to­ward Greece in some Euro­pean gov­ern­ments is very neg­a­tive and we can­not know what they may ask of Athens in ex­change for more as­sis­tance. Also, there is a sense that the troika will in­sist on en­sur­ing the sup­port of op­po­si­tion leader An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras be­fore it agrees to any­thing new. The next po­ten­tial ob­sta­cle comes from within the rul­ing PASOK party where there are cer­tain mem­bers who are like hair-trig­gers and may go off if they see a sin­gle em­ployee fired from a state-owned com­pany, as well as oth­ers who are only just be­gin­ning to re­al­ize that they are in the wrong job. Which of them will go off and how re­mains to be seen. Mean­while, all of this is hap­pen­ing on a back­drop of in­cred­i­ble so­cial in­sta­bil­ity and ten­sion. Over the next few days we will in­evitably see more protests, more block­ades on high­ways and at ports. The coun­try will look like it is on the verge of be­ing un­govern­able. Banks are also at break­ing point, while peo­ple are get­ting des­per­ate and don’t know where to reach out for a life­line. The gov­ern­ment has lost its cred­i­bil­ity and now, be­cause it took so long to take any real de­ci­sions, it is at risk of hav­ing to face a tsunami of pub­lic dis­con­tent that will be deaf to any ap­peals. The smoothest sce­nario would be for the gov­ern­ment to seal a deal with­out hav­ing to com­mit to hu­mil­i­at­ing terms such as pro­vid­ing state as­sets as col­lat­eral, for Par­lia­ment to ap­prove the deal im­me­di­ately and for Pa­pan­dreou to form a new gov­ern­ment con­sist­ing of fight­ers who are de­ter­mined to get the re­form and pri­va­ti­za­tion pro­grams off the ground what­ever the cost. In this best-case sce­nario, Sa­ma­ras will back Pa­pan­dreou on the most im­por­tant is- sues, he will stop slam­ming the mem­o­ran­dum and he will co-man­age the pri­va­ti­za­tion process along with his clos­est and most trust­wor­thy aides. In this sce­nario, Greece will step back from the ledge and get onto a path that may lead it back to growth. Sa­ma­ras will also be able to ex­pect to see the ben­e­fits of his stance in the next gen­eral elec­tions. Ev­ery­one knows that the sit­u­a­tion is se­ri­ous and de­pends on a lot, from po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in some small part of Ger­many to whether or not the mass ral­lies ex­pected in Athens will turn vi­o­lent. Yet there is some­thing in this strange equa­tion that gives hope. First of all, the ma­tu­rity shown by the Greek peo­ple de­spite their anger and rage, and, se­condly, the fact that we have the back­ing of Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans who don’t want to see Greece per­ish as it would harm their in­ter­ests. This, of course, does not mean that they will be able to stop us from com­mit­ting sui­cide if that is what we de­cide to ul­ti­mately do.

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