As EU leaders gather in Brussels for their spring meeting, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is pleading for more money, but it's not clear where Europe and Greece are headed, says Christoph Hasselbach.
In many ways, this EU summit is a haunting reminder for the participants of the worst days of the Greek debt crisis several years ago. After two bailout programs and a partial debt relief deal, Greece once again is threatened by bankruptcy.
It could be only weeks away. The big difference between then and now is that today the leftist Greek government under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is doing all it can to put off its creditors. Greek politicians have not only reviled the German government and the Troika team of auditors from the EU, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
Tsipras is also implementing pieces of legislation that run contrary to agreements. With his "humanitarian crisis" bill he is offering free electricity and food stamps to the needy. That may be understandable from a social point of view, and it is certainly popular in Greece. The EU, however, wants to have a say in the way its money is spent.
Small countries excluded
No wonder tensions are high. EU Council President Donald Tusk fears they might dominate the Brussels summit completely, and therefore he has relegated to the sidelines of the summit a special meeting between Tsipras, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande and top EU officials.
For some, holding this exclusive meeting outside the normal summit schedule is a dangerous split.
The Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has complained that small countries like his own were not invited, although they have contributed to the bailout programs.
Tusk, as summit host, has a difficult job on his hands and has tried to downplay the importance of the talks on Greece.
Sanctions against Russia likely to be kept
Chancellor Merkel meanwhile - who will also meet Tsipras in Berlin on Monday - has made it clear that neither the Brussels nor the Berlin meeting will bring a decision on Greece's acute financial problems.
For her, as well as for practically everybody else except Mr Tsipras, it is now up to the Greeks to fulfill the conditions. The Greek leader had some sympathy initially when he came to power, but has now become totally isolated on the Brussels stage.
As this Greek tragedy unfolds – some would even call it a parody - it is already overshadowing other issues at the summit, like dealing with Russia and Ukraine. EU leaders will probably keep existing sanctions against Russia in place as long as the Kyiv ceasefire agreement is fully working. They also want to create an energy union to reduce dependence on Russian energy imports, and work on details of a planned massive EU investment program.
All this, however, could move to second place now that the Greek crisis is getting more dramatic by the day.