The search for a compromise on Greece continues: Yet another key meeting of finance ministers has ended without an agreement. European leaders want a solution from the Eurogroup.
Ahead of the latest EU summit, European Council President Donald Tusk said he had a hunch that the Greek drama would not end like one of Sophocles' tragedies. This story, he said, would have a happy ending.
And yet, in this story, there's a fine line between tragedy and comedy. After a string of chaotic days this week, finance ministers had two papers on the table ahead of their decisive summit. Despite hours of talks yesterday, last night, and this morning, Alexis Tsipras and representatives from Greece's creditors did not manage to reach an agreement. And so it was that the Eurogroup had a list of revised proposals, due largely to help from the IMF. In it, the Greek government's planned tax hikes were lowered so as not to impede economic growth. And there were a few more concessions to Athens with regard to pensions and VAT.
On the other side of the table: the Greek paper. Economists say it is detrimental to growth, because it focuses less on austerity, and more on tax increases. Experts say that tax revenue, while desireable, is barely enforceable under the Greek system.
Government leaders wash their hands
Chancellor Angela Merkel had bad news for Greek politicians hoping for a solution tonight in the meeting with European leaders, saying that the council would not get involved in the negotiations. Rather, the institutions (creditors) would have to keep working. She said that necessary progress was not being made – in some areas, Merkel added, negotiations were taking a step back.
Those searching for a forced sense of optimism will not find it in Angela Merkel. She is in agreement with her finance minister, who also commented that the talks were moving backward instead of forward. The French president was less forthright in his comments, but has shown himself to be equally reluctant to personally tackle all the problems. "An agreement is possible and necessary," said Francois Hollande - but the negotiating teams have to do the work. Neither Paris nor Berlin seem prepared to offer Greece a "political solution" to end the crisis.
Good advice, too late
In the neighboring building, where finance ministers had been meeting since midday, the session ended after two hours. The word from the meeting was that Greece should put forward a new proposal. Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny said that while there was sympathy for the Greek situation, the suggestions for overcoming the problems have to make economic sense. When Ireland had its debt crisis, it did not raise taxes, choosing instead to introduce other measures. "It is difficult to see what positive effect can come from higher taxes," he said, adding that he was not confident that the crisis would be solved during this summit.
Perhaps Alexis Tsipras should have asked Kenny for advice earlier. After its crisis, Ireland cut back on expenditures, implemented reforms, and after a few years, had returned to economic growth. Admittedly, though, the two countries' starting positions are hardly comparable.
The Greek prime minister continues to appear confident, despite the many setbacks. He says he believes in a deal, because "Europe has a history full of conflicts, negotiations and compromises." However, he hasn't been on the scene long enough to realize that things have never been as frustrating, tedious, and nerve wracking as they are in the case of his country.
Talks again in overtime
The break in the Eurogroup quickly turned into a further postponement without a set date. The Finnish Finance Minister Alexander Stubb, the best friend of the press due to his honesty, tweeted: "That's it for today. Eurogroup back later, but not today." Hadn't the Irish prime minister predicted a long weekend?
According to the latest rumors, there'll be another meeting of finance ministers on Saturday. Just as well that no one in Brussels has any other plans for this weekend. The negotiations with Greece seem to require the patience of a Buddhist monk. "You can't get nervous," European Council President Donald Tusk has said. At least no one is mentioning the deadline of June 30 anymore.