EU Summit’s major takeaway: a handkerchief cannot save Greece from austerity

"Do You see Angela entering? Get ready! I told you to wear that tie!", Renzi should be saying to his good friend to whom recently bought a tie. From left to right, Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy and Alexis Tsipras, new Prime Minister of Greece (EU Council TVnewsroom, 12/02/2015)

“Do you see Angela entering? Get ready! I told you to wear that tie!”, Renzi should be saying to his good friend to whom recently bought a tie. From left to right, Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy and Alexis Tsipras, new Prime Minister of Greece (EU Council TVnewsroom, 12/02/2015)

After Wednesday’s Eurogroup where Greece’s Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, “agreed to disagree” with his European counterparts, Grexit enthusiasts had a reason to celebrate in the evening. However, they did not count for the modern Hercules, Alexis Tsipras, who came tieless to his first EU Summit yesterday in Brussels but with plenty and trendy new suit accessories in his luggage.

This piece should mainly focus on the stylistic choices of the new Greek Prime Minister simply because there was nothing decided about Greece yesterday in Brussels. Obviously Ukraine and anti-terrorism European strategy was much more important for the Summit of the European leaders than the “Greek capriccio”.The only thing worthy to report about yesterday is a Tsipras’ statement here or a Merkel’s or Daiselbloom’s one there. And that only out of sympathy to show the media that the EU elite has not already flushed the “Greek file” down the toilet.

Nobody wants to play with Alexis

The German “Iron Lady” said yesterday on the Greek “headache”: “Europe always aims to find a compromise, and that is the success of Europe. Germany is ready for that”… “However, it must also be said that Europe’s credibility naturally depends on us respecting rules and being reliable with each other.”. Of course Mrs Merkel was happy to speak about the “compromise” but she did not have the time yesterday to say who would have to make that compromise…

Moreover, the Dutch Head of Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who had almost destroyed his Greek headset when the translator transferred to him Mr Varoufakis’ ultimatum saying goodbye to Troika, during his visit in Athens a couple of weeks ago, joined the club of “important” statements yesterday: “We didn’t actually go into detailed proposals, we didn’t enter into negotiations on content of the program or a program, we simply tried to work next steps over the next couple days. We were unable to do that.”

The Greek “revolution”

And now let’s give the floor to the man who brought a “revolution” in Europe, not so much in politics but mostly on the dress-code and stylistic approach in Brussels; the one and only, Marxist, Leninist and “neocapitalist” Greek Prime Minister, Europe’s brightest hope, Mr Alexis Tsipras. “Today we made some important steps, we have not covered all the distance, but we proved that the European Union is a place of conflict but also of compromise,” the 40 year old Greek politician said.

Right after that, a very pompous statement of his made the microphones shake: “There will be no troika and Greece will be communicating mostly with EU institutional authorities to make sure that the new program will be on the right path and resolve problems together. We will be communicating mainly with the European Commission and the representatives of the other lenders when it is necessary.” Mr Tsipras briefly announced there the death of Troika that could not make it after the fierce and “very strategic” Greek political attack.

The U-Turn drift show

As everybody was mourning Troika’s loss in Europe after that bold statement, Mr Tsipras made his first U-Turn claiming the following: (his government) “wants to implement many of the reforms that were part of the previous program and have not been realized”. He also said that those harsh reforms will be put gently in Greek people’s “wallet” this time: “Most importantly these reforms have to be fair and not put all the burden on the poor. Many of Greece’s rich did not pay the price of the crisis cause they had ways to escape, by taking their money abroad for example.”

As U-turning is a piece of cake for Mr Tsipras, he repeatedly stressed that “There is no memorandum!”…”What we should do is find common ground between the old programme of reforms and the program of the new government that the Greek people elected.” So the old austerity programme’s inescapable cancellation, which was the main reason a party of 4 % in previous Greek elections gained 36 % of the Greek voters’ support a couple of weeks ago, sadly also followed Troika to a sudden death.

Then, the leader of the Greek “revolution” elaborated further on his thoughts: “The ultimate goal is to achieve a contract between Greece and its partners that will guarantee the country’s path to exit the crisis but without the austerity measures of the past that crippled its people financially.” So Mr Tsipras apparently baptised here the austerity program “contract”, because he does not like neither the word Troika nor the word austerity; he prefers to call it contract.

“Many said that we were isolated, that we were alone against everybody else. I didn’t feel this in the Summit today and many of our partners supported our positions.”, the enthusiastic Greek Prime Minister continued. Of course Greeks are not isolated; Europe loves Greece, especially during Summer. But most of all, they support the new groundbreaking Greek position, which is limited to a baptism or renaming of the existing program and putting a different name tag on Troika. It should not come as a surprise to Mr Tsipras that his EU colleagues made him feel good yesterday. It is part of the foreplay.

Political awkwardness

The most politically awkward act of Alexis yesterday is when he pointed the finger to the Prime Minister of Spain.”Rajoy was a bit anxious at the meeting and I want to explain to him that he is making a mistake and that he should not bring his internal politics to Europe, putting in danger our common European future,”…”Some people, and also Prime Minister Rajoy, see a potential success of the Greek government as a political problem for them, but this is a mistake. If we succeed, or not, the problems will still be there.” As Europe is tolerant with Mr Tsipras, Mr Tsipras should be also tolerant with Europe and let the member states play their own political ball.

Resurrecting the dead

After all those wise political statements on behalf of Greece, Mr Dijsselbloem yesterday happily tweeted the following: “[We] agreed today to ask the institutions to engage with the Greek authorities to start work on a technical assessment of the common ground between the current programme and the Greek government’s plans”. Further, Mr Tsipras equally happily stated later: “All these discussions and today’s developments signal the intention for a political agreement”…”The technical teams get to work tomorrow. Their work will facilitate discussions at the Eurogroup on Monday”.

So, basically, to cut a long story short the same great negotiator who were saying minutes before “Forget the programme, it no longer exists. The troika doesn’t exist either”, now he is happy that he will have a long weekend with Troika discussing the austerity programme to be followed. This will “facilitate” Monday’s arrival of Eurogroup, the final limit date that a deal needs to be stricken. Let’s all remember here that 18 February is the deadline in the negotiation that had been set by Mr Dijsselbloem. If a clear decision is not taken there, then there will be technically no time to pass it on to the member states’ parliaments and thus avoid the collapse of the Greek economy to come at the end of the month.

Negotiating with ghosts

All in all, the Greek dream team will spend today and the weekend with “ghosts”. Those “institutions” in Eurogroup leader’s tweet are no other than the good old “trio”, consisting of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and last but not least the IMF. The same Troika that Mr Varoufakis and Mr Tsipras “killed” in Athens and beyond, now gets resurrected to convene with Greece just for the weekend.

Game over

It is somewhere here that the negotiations officially come to an end. After this political retreat or “political front flip” as the Greeks like to call it, the game is over for the tieless Greek politician. Not so many people though commented on Mr Tsipras new stylistic accessory in yesterday’s summit. The leftist non-conformist Greek Prime Minister wore a handkerchief to match his suit yesterday.

The handkerchief will save Greece

It was as if he felt a bit empty for the first time without a tie and he wanted to fill the “void” somehow. The big problem is that a handkerchief is appropriate dress code for a party or ball. Unfortunately an EU Summit is not a place for fun.

That should be the major takeaway for Mr Tsipras and Greek people from yesterday’s EU Summit.

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