Greece ‘is a cow’: be­hind the scenes of an ac­cord col­laps­ing

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY CILINE LOUBETTE

Greece is a cow slip­ping on ice that must be pushed to firm ground, says Euro­pean Com­mis­sion head Jean-Claude Juncker, em­ploy­ing a rustic metaphor for painful days of try­ing to save head­strong Athens from de­fault and catas­tro­phe.

Last week no less than 60 del­e­ga­tions de­scended on the Euro­pean Union cap­i­tal of Brussels for a Europe-Latin Amer­ica sum­mit.

But the spot­light did not shine on the high wattage smile of Brazil’s Dilma Roussef, nor on Chile’s Michelle Bachelet and her flu­ency in Ger­man.

In­stead it fo­cused Alexis Tsipras, the 40-year old Greek pre­mier, who was dis­creetly on the hunt for yet an­other meet­ing with the EU’s most pow­er­ful leader, Ger­many’s An­gela Merkel.

Tsipras, whose lat­est re­forms-for­cash pro­posal was roundly dis­missed as 46 pages of “left­ist ide­ol­ogy” by ex­as­per­ated Euro­pean of­fi­cials, was tread­ing danger­ous wa­ters.

Europe’s ne­go­tia­tors are weary of the young man’s ma­neu­ver­ing, even though the good-na­tured Juncker al­ways tou­sles his hair or pecks him on the cheek when he joins Tsipras for the cam­eras.

At the last minute this week, Tsipras won his meet­ing with Merkel and French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande. “When there’s a will there’s a way,” the Ger­man leader said hope­fully — a mantra she re­peats of­ten.

‘It’s all very civil’

Af­ter a

fish din­ner with

the Latin Amer­i­cans, the trio sat down Wed­nes­day in a soul­less cor­po­rate of­fice some­where high in the EU sum­mit tower.

“There’s no scream­ing, no fight­ing, it’s all very civil,” an ob­server told AFP. “Merkel por­trays her­self as some­one seek­ing a so­lu­tion.”

The sit-down ended with the three agree­ing that ne­go­ti­a­tions need to be “in­ten­si­fied,” which was enough to send the Athens stock mar­ket soar­ing by 8 per­cent the next morn­ing.

Speak­ing in his na­tive Lux­em­bour­gish that morn­ing, Juncker made the bovine com­par­i­son to Greece, na­tion of the mino­taur. “We con­tinue to try to push it.”

French Fi­nanceMmin­is­ter Michel Sapin stuck to travel metaphors, say­ing the Greece ne­go­ti­a­tions are “now truly on the right track.”

“I truly love Greek tragedy, but I think that we need to move to the happy end­ing,” added his pre­de­ces­sor, Pierre Moscovici, who is now eco­nomics af­fairs com­mis­sioner at the EU.

But the IMF poured cold wa­ter on the bur­geon­ing good hu­mor of cows, trains and happy end­ings, slam­ming the “ma­jor dif­fer­ences” late on Thurs­day be­tween Greece and its cred­i­tors.

“The ball is with the Greeks” be­came the new cho­rus from Wash­ing­ton to Brussels.

“There is no more time for gam­bling,” of­fered EU Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk — who rarely speaks on Greece, be­ing from Poland, which does not use the euro — but the game the­ory tac­tics of Greek Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ya­nis Varo­ufakis has baited more than one into the fight.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions were at a stale­mate Fri­day when Euro­pean sources leaked widely that eu­ro­zone of­fi­cials were for the first time con­sid­er­ing a po­ten­tial de­fault by Greece and other worst- case sce­nar­ios, turn­ing the screws on Athens. The Greek stock mar­ket tanked 6 per­cent.

‘Hands in their pock­ets’

On Satur­day, Tsipras dis­patched his clos­est ad­vi­sors for last chance ne­go­ti­a­tions, de­liv­er­ing what he called a “dif­fi­cult com­pro­mise” and Athens’ fi­nal of­fer.

Dis­cus­sions dragged on with Juncker’s clos­est aides. The IMF of­fi­cials, wait­ing in the wings, never made an en­trance, find­ing the Greek pro­pos­als — and maybe even the EU ones — un­fit for fur­ther con­sid­er­a­tion.

The text mes­sages started land­ing: Juncker was throw­ing in the towel, his “last” ef­fort was over and the mission to seal a deal now lay with the eu­ro­zone min­is­ters who meet in Lux­em­bourg on Thurs­day.

“The de­mands of the cred­i­tors are ir­ra­tional, the dis­cus­sions lasted 45 min­utes,” an irate Greek gov­ern­ment source said.

“They came with their hands in their pock­ets,” a fu­ri­ous EU source told AFP. “They think that some­one from the Euro­pean con­stel­la­tion is go­ing to dig them out of the ditch they fell in.”

The drama con­tin­ues.

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