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Opinion

Opinion: Greek referendum is superfluous

By holding a referendum, the Greek government wants to wash its hands of the responsibility for the looming chaos. That's a rather obvious plan, says DW's Bernd Riegert.

The Greeks will be able to vote in a referendum next Sunday - but about what? Are the people for or against the aid package offered by the international lenders, including the austerity and reform measures? That's an absurd question, because you can't very well vote on something that doesn't exist anymore.

The finance ministers of the eurozone countries have taken their offer off the table after Greece abandoned negotiations. The country is now on its own and is approaching bankruptcy faster and faster.

Bernd Riegert. (Photo: DW)

DW's Europe correspondent Bernd Riegert

Should the Greeks approve the package one week from today, the decision wouldn't have any immediate ramifications. A whole new aid package would have to be negotiated. But with whom? Not with the left-right-radical government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, since he is calling on his people to vote 'No' in the referendum. A government that doesn't support the reforms is not likely to put them into action.

Holding on to power

A 'Yes' in the referendum would thus have to mean the end of the current government and require re-elections. But it stands to fear that the government personnel, which is Communist at its core, will desperately hang on to power. Looking at the tragic mistakes of the last few weeks, they don't seem to care about their people's wellbeing anyway.

They cunningly let the negotiations fail and are now hiding behind a referendum. They could have asked the people's opinion weeks ago, not just under the pressure of looming bankruptcy.

Should the Greeks answer 'no' to the question put to them, there will be no way back. The ties to the lenders and the euro currency union would be severed for good. That's what the prime minister wants, but who could profit from that remains his secret. There's no doubt that Greece is doomed to financial failure without outside help.

Austrian Finance Minister Hans Jörg Schelling was the first one to say it out loud: the exit from the eurozone will come. The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, said wearily that the IMF couldn't help Greece like this anymore. The European Central Bank (ECB) is still saving the Greek banks from failure - for how long, that will probably be decided as soon as today.

Greece is not only democracy in the EU

In his last phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Tsipras said Greece still had "a lot of oxygen" to survive. Maybe Greece can really scrape some money together, make it past June 30 and even pay back the IMF credit.

That wouldn't change the disastrous path Greece is on, though. Tax revenues are plummeting and the economy is shrinking. Not even the nicest referendum can stop this, only smart financial politics embedded in international aid.

While debating the referendum, Greek parliament members didn't hold back with accusations and insults against the lenders and Europe in general. One accusation that's especially hurtful and absurd is the claim that democracy had survived in Greece only. All the others, Greek MPs claimed, had joined together in an undemocratic conspiracy against their country.

The EU is made up of 28 democracies that have shown solidarity for far longer than the last five years. For decades, Greece was the largest financial recipient in the EU.

With or without Europe

Syriza and the rightwing Anel party don't have exclusive rights to, nor have they invented democracy. You cannot opt out of debt or financial responsibility. The Greeks have to understand that they don't just vote for or against an aid package in the referendum, but on their further political direction: will they continue with or without Europe?

If they want to continue to participate in the far-left, doomed experiment, they have to think about the consequences. Nobody in Europe wants to humiliate the Greeks - this is also an oft-repeated point - but one can only help those who are willing to accept help.

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