My view on this latest round in Greece’s perpetual crisis has been that Greece will remain in the euro (whether it should do is an entirely different matter): it’s what most Greeks want and my belief has been that, when it came to the crunch, those running the euro zone would be unwilling either to risk what Grexit might bring in its wake or to acknowledge that the euro was not as ‘irreversible’ as they like to pretend.
To get to that point, however, was never going to be easy. Greece would have to be given a deal good enough for its new government to be able to claim that it had delivered what it had promised, yet not so good as to humiliate the governments of those countries that would not only take the hit but also be on the hook for more.
Let’s just say that Syriza (the hasn’t taken too much care about that whole humiliation thing. Almost the first thing that Alexis Tsipras, the new prime minister, did on taking office was to lay a wreath at the spot in Athens where hundreds of communist resistance fighters were executed by the Nazis on May 1 1944, a gesture (however understandable at one level) that will have been seen as very pointed in a Germany wearily familiar with the idea that the Greeks see Angela Merkel as some sort of fuhrer.
A few days later, Yanis Varoufakis, the country’s egregious new finance minister, took the opportunity of a trip to Germany to remind Germans that economic crisis in the 1920s had led to the rise of the Nazis, the implication being that, with the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn a force in Greece, Germany had a moral obligation to stop history repeating itself (oddly Varoufakis didn’t draw any attention to some of the more sinister aspects of his party’s coalition partners).
Then, over the weekend, Tsipras made a big speech. In a piece for Breaking Views that deserves to be read in full, Hugo Dixon, no euroskeptic, records his concern over what Tsipras had to say, a laundry list that included unwinding the labor reforms, canceling privatization plans and, for good measure, a promise to pursue claims for war reparations against Germany.
Tsipras has said, Dixon notes, that he wants a “bridge program’ with the euro zone while he negotiates a new deal. With his plans standing as they do, that’s a non-starter, meaning that a cash crunch grows nearer.
So what’s going on? Dixon reports that 70 percent of the population “support a confrontational approach with the euro zone”, but 70 percent also want to retain the single currency.
Is Tsipras gambling that he can whip up enough in the way of nationalist fervor to swing Greece behind withdrawal from the euro?
It’s possible. There are good reasons for Greece to leave the euro and there are bad. If Tsipras does want Greece out of the euro, it won’t be for good reasons. As a man of the hard left (and Tsipras is certainly that) he wants to steer Greece in a direction very different from that set by the euro zone. Its rule book would forever be in the way of what he may be planning for his unfortunate country.
Meanwhile, if Tsipras wants to talk about the morality of all this, he might like to explain to Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians (all now in the euro zone) why they should have to chip in to bail out Greece, a richer country now swinging rapidly behind Putin, a man who is no friend of the Baltic peoples.