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Greece's kamikaze strategy

Barbara Wesel / cmkFebruary 17, 2015

Despite another round of talks, Greece has yet to offer solid facts and figures. Athens is playing with the expectations of its eurozone partners - but its all-or-nothing strategy could backfire, says DW's Barbara Wesel.

Krise Euromünze aus Griechenland
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Where is this all leading? On Monday, the Greek government broke up the second round of negotiations with the Eurogroup in Brussels, all because eurozone finance ministers did not bow to its will. What frustrated even experienced EU negotiators was the fact that both sides weren't even able to begin a real, substantive discussion.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has to date not provided one single sheet of paper with solid figures, data or the wishes of the Greek government. Varoufakis even implied that his European colleagues could check out the New York Times for an explanation of his imagined solution, if they wished to do so, providing only a few hasty explanations after the talks. Speaking to the press, he announced that Greece wanted to do everything possible to come to an agreement - and that such an agreement could be reached as soon as Wednesday, if he wasn't mistaken.

Varoufakis isn't taking his colleagues seriously

Cleary, the Greek finance minister has a propensity for impertinence. One shouldn't treat one's colleagues like this, especially not when asking for money. It's unlikely that German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and the rest will allow themselves to be pulled around by ring by Varoufakis and made to perform at will.

Even before Monday's failed talks, the mood wasn't exactly optimistic, with some speaking of a lack of confidence in Greece's promises. And the attempt to play the European Commission and the Eurogroup off one another didn't help matters. Athens has used up all the EU's initial goodwill.

Barbara Wesel Porträt
DW's Barbara WeselImage: Georg Matthes

Maybe Varoufakis is looking for a new job as a columnist with an international newspaper. Why else would he first publish the wishes of his country for bridge financing without conditions in the US press, and then present this requirement in Brussels as the sole basis for negotiation? Did he hope to convince US officials to intervene once again, and ask the Europeans to unite? He's heading down the wrong road with that approach. Or does Varoufakis think he can look to the Americans for financing? Good luck with that.

Professional propaganda battle

Although the crisis management skills of the new Tsipras government appear to be amateurish and irresponsible, it's clear that its propaganda battle is being managed by professionals. With expressions full of contradictions and numerous false statements, Greece is hoping to win supporters. First, the argument was that Greece is overwhelmed by its debts - although this repayment isn't set to begin until 2022. Interest rates are too high, they said - but these have been deferred and are quite low. The troika is responsible for the misery of Greek pensioners - in fact, it's the fault of Greece's former governments, who could have chosen a different way to reorganize their budgets.

The main culprit in the Greek misery, and playing the role of the great bogeyman, is Germany, complete with Nazi comparisons and all the rest of the garbage from the political dustbin. But the maligned Schäuble is by no means alone - the finance ministers from the Baltic countries, and even their counterparts from Ireland and Spain, countries who also had to endure a debt crisis, have become particularly uncompromising to Greece's claims.

What Athens has requested is nothing less than the temporary - and the precise timeframe has not been defined - funding of its state budget by the eurozone. Just like that, without any conditions, warranties or repayment agreements. That may be their wish, but the Greek government should not lose its sense of reality and start believing its own campaign rhetoric. For their part, the Eurogroup finance ministers have insisted that the existing agreements be respected, at least the outline. And should a government then need a little more air, a solution can always be found - as it has in the past. But negotiators haven't even made it that far - Athens has found it unacceptable to even speak of such things, living by the motto: all or nothing.

Who's still afraid of Grexit?

And what follows nothing? Perhaps one more round of talks on Friday, but only if the Greeks ask politely and present concrete proposals. They seem to be playing Russian roulette with their country's future, still insisting that the Eurogroup is deathly afraid of a Grexit and will be the first to give in. They may, however, be wrong about that now, with that threat being outweighed by the annoyance over Greece's politics. And where does the Tsipras government get the confidence that the European Central Bank will always be on hand to shore up Greek banks with emergency loans?

State bankruptcy, with all its consequences, is coming closer and closer. At present, it's not yet clear whether Athens will veer away at the last minute or factor in the crash in its kamikaze strategy. The question is: when will the Greeks begin to realize what sort of game their government is playing with them?