Rhetoric, from the Greek ‘Rhētorikē’, means – language designed to have an impressive effect, but which is often regarded as lacking in meaningful content. In that definition we have a useful précis of almost every word uttered by the Syriza politicians so far this year.
For example, the first gem from Yanis Varoufakis came the same day he was appointed as finance minister in January – “There won’t be a duel between Greece and Europe”. Why would he say that? If he believed it he’s an idiot, if he didn’t he was blowing hot air up the Greece electorate. It took him all of a week before he told the Dutch finance minister, in public, that “We have no intention of working with a committee of officials overseeing a programme suffocating the country”. This was not regarded as helpful, nor was his lowest point, when he described the Euro countries insistence of being paid back some of the money Greece had borrowed as – ‘terrorism’.
By May the Government spokesman was reassuring the people that “There is no possibility whatsoever that capital controls will be enforced”. Those queuing in the heat outside the ATMs today may remember that remark.
After Sunday’s overwhelming Syriza victory in the poorly worded referendum, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said “Today’s referendum doesn’t have winners or losing. It is a great victory, in and of itself” adding that ‘Democracy can’t be blackmailed”.
By wrapping themselves in a warm and righteous cloak, made of the dangerous mix of the fibres of nationalism and socialism, a tide of emotion has repeatedly carried Syriza to the gates of Brussels with a series of demands based on the argument ‘It’s your fault you lent us that money, we want to keep spending it, and you’re too chicken to throw us out of the club to which we lied in order to gain entry.’ That is blackmail.
Now they are back with new demands and an old list of grievances, but so far it seems they carry few concessions. Ministers occasionally murmur soothing platitudes about ‘secret negotiations’ to keep hope, even expectation, alive in Greece, but these shadowy negotiations usually seem to exist only in their minds.
To keep the people sweet they want the Euro countries to continue to use tax payers money to subsidize Greeks. In the spirit of solidarity this is reasonable, less so is the refusal to cut their spending. What has not been mentioned much in this whole debate is that, to keep the Colonels sweet, the Government continues to spend 4% of GDP on defence, among the highest rate in Europe. Part of the Syriza led coalition is the nationalist Independent Greeks party which exists to defend the interests of the military.
So, we are back where we were a few weeks ago when Syriza refused a deal.
The way ahead may be to reword it so it looks as if Tsipras has gained concessions, including some form of debt restructuring. The idea of a complicated version of stimulus is gaining strength in the European capitals, but there would still be a requirement for Athens to raise retirement ages and cut back on other social spending. Some of the Euro nations have also been blowing hot air attempting to sustain the belief that they will not blink. It is also worth noting that the Eurozone countries knew Greece was lying when it cooked the books to enter the Eurozone, and were lying themselves in pretending to believe Greece. The banks which originally lent the money were also aware of this but made money from the loans.
It is reported Tsipras’s latest idea is that the Euro countries agree to writing off 30% of the money owed. You can’t rule out a version of that emerging in a compromise agreement, but if so, it will be done in desperation, and will be a desperate gamble that when Portugal, Spain and Italy see the deal they won’t be tempted to say ‘Nice deal – we want the same’.
The decision is to a great extent for Berlin to make. It can go down as the country which forced a fellow European out of the Euro, which it does not want. It can compromise, and then we would see it has also been blowing hot air. That would risk contagion and damaging the Euro, which in turn would damage Germany’s export market.