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Greece 'is a cow': behind the scenes of a deal collapse

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

Brussels   /   Mon, June 15, 2015   /  12:21 pm
Greece 'is a cow': behind the scenes of a deal collapse A cow?: Protesters take down a huge banner bearing a picture of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on a European Union flag from the ministry of finance in Athens (AFP)

A cow?: Protesters take down a huge banner bearing a picture of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on a European Union flag from the ministry of finance in Athens (AFP)

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-for-cash 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 manoeuvering, 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 eight 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 finance minister 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 humour 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 six 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. (dmr)

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