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Opinion

Opinion: Acropolis adieu?

It's hard to understand what's going on between Greece and its creditors. But an old chanson could provide a clue. Tsipras' government has blown its credibility, says Bernd Riegert.

There's an old chanson from French singer Mireille Mathieu called "Acropolis adieu!" In it, she sings of a painful parting, the end of a relationship, an unrequited love. It might as well be about the unbelievable negotiations between Greece and its creditors. The Greek government can't make it work and deserves to go. The EU doesn't want to let Greece go.

A Grexit would be a tough blow to the EU's credibility, and would likely deepen the internal crisis in which it already finds itself. The Tsipras government has brought Greece to the edge of bankruptcy, and an involuntary exit from the eurozone could now be the result.

To a large extent, blame for the debacle lies with the Greek government and its irresponsible negotiating tactics. But it would also be justified to ask whether the creditors and the heads of state have done everything right?

Looking for a scapegoat

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has failed in his attempts to mediate. IMF head Christine Lagarde has been tough as nails – perhaps too tough. Chancellor Angela Merkel has been deflecting all the negotiation chaos onto her finance minister.

Trying to negotiate on the basis of pure numbers with an ideologically stubborn prime minister who's got his back to the wall back home in Athens is a difficult task. Alexis Tsipras seems like a tragic Greek hero who would rather take all of Greece down with him "honorably" than give in, save the country's finances at least temporarily, and risk being voted out.

"Acropolis adieu?" "Acropolis stay here!" one would like to call out to Greece, because the refusal of the Greek government is a strength-sapping burden. It would be hard to speak of solidarity and European values in the wake of a Grexit.

Brussels to blame?

The EU has enough other problems to deal with. The refugee problem can't be solved due to a lack of European solidarity. The nationalist government in Hungary is threatening to unilaterally suspend an EU asylum program. The conservative British government is demanding new, special rules for Britain and EU reforms – otherwise, it is threatening to leave the union in a "Brexit." The Greek drama is fueling Euro-skepticism in many member states.

Much ado about nothing?

What should be done about Greece? The decisive step will be when ECB President Mario Draghi decides to pull the plug. The central bank is keeping Greek banks afloat with emergency loans. But after June 30, the bank is not allowed to continue to do so if there is no agreement with Greece.

But if what we've heard from those involved in the negotiations is true, then the June 30 deadline to agree a bailout program is no longer feasible. Or was the talk of a deadline just that – talk in order to up the pressure? Will a loophole be found at the last minute to get around the deadline? Does the ECB have a trick up its sleeve to keep Greece afloat? Or does Greece have more money in its state coffers than it's let on? Then Greece could pay back the loan to the IMF next Tuesday, without going bankrupt.

Tsipras adieu!

That is, for now. Because none of those options is a solution to the debt crisis. A third bailout is necessary, most likely with a redistribution of the debt or a debt haircut. Those negotiations will be even tougher and more tedious.

The problem is that Greece has a government that no one really trusts anymore, and that hardly bodes well for further negotiations. The condition for a third bailout should be a change of government in Athens. Not Acropolis adieu, but Tsipras adieu!

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