From ‘Gref­er­en­dum’ to pos­si­ble ‘Grexit’: failed talks stun Brus­sels, eu­ro­zone heads

The China Post - - WORLD BUSINESS - BY ALEX PIG­MAN AND AURE­LIE MAYEMBO

There is shell-shock in the eu­ro­zone as of­fi­cials slowly wake up to the idea that a meet­ing of min­is­ters on a balmy Satur­day night in Brus­sels may have been the tragic mo­ment when the euro, and a cer­tain idea of Europe, fell into tat­ters.

It all be­gan with a tweet, in the late hours Fri­day.

“We were in the Charle­magne build­ing talk­ing with Greek ne­go­tia­tors when they looked down to their phones. There was a ref­er­en­dum. No one had told them. They saw it on Twit­ter,” said an ex­as­per­ated EU of­fi­cial.

As it is the way in the EU cap­i­tal, of­fi­cials who work be­hind the scenes re­fused to speak on the record.

“We are very, very dis­ap­pointed,” one vis­i­bly ex­hausted ne­go­tia­tor said, worn out af­ter the nearly six-month strug­gle to keep Greece in the eu­ro­zone.

“There was sur­prise on ev­ery side,” another Euro­pean ne­go­tia­tor said, as news of the ref­er­en­dum on the cred­i­tors’ re­form pro­pos­als spread amongst the of­fi­cials who thought a fi­nal deal with Athens

was al­most there for the tak­ing.

‘98 or 99 per­cent there’

The belief was that we were “98 or 99 per­cent there,” an of­fi­cial said, de­scrib­ing the over­whelm­ing feel­ing that a deal be­tween Greece and its cred­i­tors would in the end be clinched.

But the meet­ing of the Eurogroup, the fifth in ten days, in­stead be­gan like a wake with min­is­ters grim-faced in dark suits obliv­i­ous to the Satur­day sun.

The ref­er­en­dum thun­der­bolt was “baf­fling,” “neg­a­tive” and left Euro­peans “no choice,” he said.

“This is not the first time the Greek gov­ern­ment cre­ates more drama again and again,” said Slo­vakia’s fi­nance min­is­ter Peter Kaz­imir, mo­ments be­fore the meet­ing started.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s con­tro­ver­sial fi­nance min­is­ter, sat alone in the meet­ing room, snubbed by his coun­ter­part un­til one of his hard­set crit­ics, Fin­land’s Alexan­der Stubb, tapped him po­litely on the shoul­der.

But min­is­ters mostly were wal­low­ing in dis­ap­point­ment.

“When we left on Thurs­day evening there was two pa­pers on the ta­ble,” Ir­ish Fi­nance Min­is­ter Michael Noo­nan said, re­fer­ring to the pre­vi­ous round in a marathon of talks.

“I thought we would con­tinue to bridge the gap ... And then I found at 12 o’clock last night that the Greeks uni­lat­er­ally dis­con­tin­ued ne­go­ti­a­tions.”

“I thought we had ar­rived to a good place, but that’s not to be,” Noo­nan said.

It did not take long for the 18 min­is­ters of the eu­ro­zone to refuse a re­quest from their 19th mem­ber Greece for a bailout ex­ten­sion be­yond June 30.

“How­ever re­gret­ful, the pro­gram will ex­pire Tues­day night,” Eurogroup chief Jeroen Di­js­sel­bloem said in a press brief­ing.

“It’s ac­tu­ally a good thing,” a eu­ro­zone diplo­mat said mo­ments af­ter Varoufakis left the meet­ing.

“No one wanted to deal with them any­more. Varoufakis is in an al­ter­na­tive re­al­ity. He and Tsipras are lead­ing their coun­try out of the eu­ro­zone,” the of­fi­cial said as the re­main­ing min­is­ters con­tin­ued to meet.

The jilted Varoufakis, leav­ing the build­ing, said: “”It’s a sad day for Europe but we will over­come it.”

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