The EU breathed a sigh of relief in view of what looks likely to be a new government coalition in Athens willing to stick to the terms of the bailout agreement. The EU may even be prepared to grant minor concessions.
It is not yet clear who will govern Greece. But it appears likely that two former rivals, Antonis Samaras’ conservative New Democracy and Evangelos Venizelos’ socialist Pasok, will form a coalition government.
They were the parties who led Greece into the crisis in the first place, but they are also the parties who in general accept the international lenders’ austerity plans and terms. While Samaras and Venizelos merely demand easing the terms, however, Alexis Tsipras and the leftist Syriza alliance had pledged an immediate end to all austerity measures.
It also appears likely a new government may be offered minor concessions. “We’re ready to talk about the time frame,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told German television on Sunday. But the substance of the reforms is non-negotiable, he said: “There is no way around reforms.”
Room to maneuvre
European Parliament President Martin Schulz warned that the new government in Athens must break the deadlock.
“We must help the Greeks back to their feet with a pact for jobs and growth and a bit more time to make the savings. Then, they will be able to fulfil their obligations,” Schulz said Monday in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. “This is in the interest of Germany, as there are dark times ahead for our continent if the eurozone and the European Union fall apart,” he said.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders also noted there is “room for maneuvre” concerning the time Greece needs to deliver on bailout commitments.
But as a whole, the group of 17 nations using the euro stressed the importance of adhering to the austerity and reform course. “Continued fiscal and structural reforms are Greece’s best guarantee to overcome the current economic and social challenges,” the group’s leader Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Paul Juncker said late Sunday in a statement.
Ever uncompromising, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the Greek approach of “promised, broken, nothing happens” must finally come to an end – a reference to the fact that Greece has barely fulfilled any of the obligations so far.
“It is unacceptable that those who don’t keep their side of the bargain can just go ahead and make the other look like a fool,” the German chancellor said. Merkel specifically warned of a potential for blackmail: because fear in Germany, too, is great that the currency union could fall apart, Europe’s political leaders might too easily give in and accommodate Greece.
With this in mind, Angela Merkel is likely to have registered the outcome of the parliamentary vote, also on Sunday, with some concern. President Francois Hollande’s Socialists won the absolute majority of the vote, giving Hollande a majority in both chambers of parliament, too. On the European stage, Hollande has opted to tone down austerity measures; he is in effect moving in the opposite direction from the German chancellor. “Discipline is necessary, but so is hope, “French Finance Pierre Moscovici said with regard to Greece.
But even if the powers willing to toe the line on the bailout can and will form a new government in Greece, that doesn’t guarantee the country will remain in the eurozone. Difficult negotiations with lenders are certain to be ahead; it is even quite possible that the Greek side harbors unrealistic ideas concerning concessions. Even if a number of European politicians have indicated they may agree to a more flexible time frame, no one is interested in re-negotiating the terms.
To the contrary, anger prevails over the fact that so far, Greece has fulfilled few of its obligations, leaving little room for negotiation.