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Opinion: Greece running amok

Barbara Wesel / bkJanuary 31, 2015

Athens is on collision course with Europe, and much quicker than Brussels was expecting. Now the EU has to develop counter strategies before Greece's chaos drags all of Europe with it, says Barbara Wesel.

Martin Schulz und Alexis Tsipras
Image: Reuters/M. Djurica

For a few days, Brussels was puzzling over how to deal with the new Greek government. Now the answer has come from Athens, and it's this: not at all! Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis doesn't want to talk to the so-called troika, made up of the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. That's like suddenly deciding not to talk to a bank that has given you a loan, because you consider banks, the international financial system, and the global economy as a whole as a mess. Only now they will have to take the consequences - no more money.

If you don't talk to creditors, you go bankrupt

It's the troika, the three creditors, that decides about further payments, and it has no choice but to cancel the 7 billion euros ($7.9 billion) that was meant to be delivered at the end of February. We don't want it, Athens says stubbornly. However, Greece is expected to pay around 11 billion euros in February and March for refinancing and interest. Does the country want to stop fulfilling its financial responsibilities?

Also: if Athens throws the troika out, presumably the European Central Bank will stop providing Greek banks with liquidity. That means no more cash in Greek ATMs. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras mocked the idea and said he would never allow his country to fall into such chaos. But its citizens could still be in for this rude awakening.

Barbara Wesel Porträt
DW's Barbara WeselImage: Georg Matthes

It would be possible to laugh about this chaos brigade in Athens, if it wasn't the declared aim of Tsipras and his cohorts to drag the entire EU into its vortex. Their travel plans speak volumes: London, Rome, and Paris are on the agenda, because they are hoping for support there. But Tsipras is avoiding Berlin. Germany, he said, was just one country among many. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has already given the necessary response: we won't force Greece to take any money. If they don't want to talk to us, then not.

Tsipras wants to divide the EU

But now Tsipras is trying to turn the Italians and French against Berlin. Not only that, he's looking for help from London, where the dominant opinion is that Germany should flood the eurozone with money to create some quick growth. But the Britons don't have to take responsibility for the debts, and ought to hold their tongue on the matter.

In Rome and Paris, they too might be of the opinion, in principle, that the EU should simply spend more money and everything would be fine. They would certainly like to loosen the Stability Pact a little further. But they would probably reject a cut of Greece's debt too - for they too, like Germany, would have to pay for that.

What Athens wants is in principle a debt conference in which a large share of Greece's debts would be forgiven - as happened to Germany after the Second World War. But the situation is not comparable. And anyway, friends and comrades in Greece, you are not victims of earthquakes, civil wars, or tornadoes, but your own corrupt kleptocratic elite. It's no one's fault but your own! The banks leant you money irresponsibly. That's true. But no one forced you to take it and live beyond your means. Stop making out that you are the victims.

The Greek government is welcome to try to play games with the European Union. We'll see how far they get. The International Monetary Fund in Washington won't be impressed by wannabes like Alexis Tsipras and his unrestrained demands. We can wish him good luck when he faces its boss Christine Lagarde.

Grexit is an option

And at the end of the day - you can believe that cheek will win out. And you can be drunk with your own power and put your hands in your pockets when you say goodbye to one of your European colleagues. But you can't continually insult the people you have to negotiate with, whether it's about national bankruptcy or Greece's exit from the EU. Angela Merkel doesn't have to accept the comparisons with Hitler and Schäuble has nothing to do with any "Fourth Reich."

Tsipras and his people have replaced reason and realism with insolence and bad manners. The EU should quickly think up some mechanisms that might open the way for a "Grexit," before they drag the whole of Europe with them.