German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told the Bundestag, parliament, that negotiations could continue with Greece, but only after the country’s referendum on Europe’s reform demands. The opposition Left accused her of taking too hard a line.
Addressing the lower house of parliament, on Wednesday, Merkel stressed that the Greek people should be politicians’ primary consideration during all future talks.
“We have some turbulent days behind us, but there are still many turbulent days in store for Greece,” Merkel said in her opening remarks. “We have to remember the people of Greece. They’re a proud people and the will have many difficult days to overcome. But the door to dialogue with Greece remains open. We owe this to the Greek people.”
Chancellor Merkel stressed that the suffering of the Greek people had to be the key consideration in talks.
Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble agreed with that sentiment, saying that ordinary people were most affected by the debates and disagreements of recent weeks. However, Germany’s hawkish lead negotiator also warned that further talks were redundant given the current uncertainties, epsecially with regard to Sunday’s planned referendum.
“Greece was on the right path in 2014,” Schäuble said. “But since this government came to power, Greece has reneged on its agreement. It is unclear whether they will or will not hold a referendum. You cannot expect us to have talks with them amid such a situation.”
Chancellor Merkel detailed how Greece had failed to meet its International Monetary Fund (IMF) deadline overnight. While Athens had the right to call a referendum on the terms of continued European loans, Merkel said, the other 18 eurozone countries also had the right to take a strong stance against this move.
“We will wait for the result of the referendum. Before that, we won’t be able to discuss any further aid packages,” Merkel said.
Opposition accuses Merkel of wanting to oust Syriza
However, opposition leader Gregor Gysi of the left-wing party “Die Linke” criticized Merkel’s position, saying that her true target was to see the current Syriza government in Greece collapse after the referendum.
“That is not fair. France and Austria are willing to talk to Greece ahead of Sunday, but you are revealing your true colors by insisting on waiting until Sunday,” Gysi said. Gysi also warned the plenary session that the eurozone might ultimately collapse altogether as a result of a Grexit, while attracting a great deal of heckling.
“If there’s a chain reaction after a Grexit leading to the collapse of the euro, we will only have ourselves to blame,” he pleaded, adding that even the European Union as a whole might suffer despite its best intentions.
Merkel: ‘Europe stronger than five years ago’
Merkel disagreed, however, insisting that Europe remained strong, and even saying that the European Union was much stronger than it was “five years ago, when the crisis started in Greece.”
“Everyone has to be happy to enter a compromise,” Merkel said.”This applies to Germany and France as much as it applies to Greece. If Europe lost its ability to find a compromise, Europe would be lost. But Europe’s future is not at stake. This union of values remains strong.”
Gysi demands EU based on social justice
However, Gregor Gysi had a different idea about the values that should be considered moving forward, lashing out at the chancellor for not living up to what was expected of her.
“We need a different kind of Europe, where it is clearly defined that social justice is the highest of all values,” he said. “Mrs. Merkel, you have the opportunity to go down in history as either the saviour of the European idea or as its destroyer.”
In his closing remarks, Finance Minister Schäuble instead focused on the Greek leadership as a potential “destroyer” of the European idea: “we have to establish a basis, which cannot be destroyed by anyone.”
Greek pensioners rush to banks for cash allowance
Pensioners rushed to Greece’s banks after two days of ATM-only service. Elderly people, many of whom do not use debit cards, were permitted double the daily cash withdrawal limit currently in force.
Queues formed at branches across Greece on Wednesday as the government opened up banks to service those people unable to withdraw any money this week. With Greece’s solvency hanging in the balance in talks in Brussels on Monday and Tuesday, savers could withdraw a maximum of 60 euros ($66.50) per day using ATMs, as the branches themselves stayed shut.
Following complaints from pensioners who do not use debit or credit cards, the capital controls were partially eased to allow the elderly access to their money. Roughly 1,000 branches opened, solely to allow pensioners to withdraw a maximum of 120 euros in cash each.
Normal service is not expected to resume at banks in Greece until after Sunday’s planned referendum on the terms offered to Athens by its major creditors, namely the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Tsipras appeals for ‘OXI’ vote
Prime Minsiter Alexis Tsipras took to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, issuing a series of posts in English again calling for a “No” vote in Sunday’s referendum. First, he focused on the unpopular issue of capital controls, placing the blame for the closures on the European camp.
Tsipras continued with a series of short statements arguing that a “No” vote would not mean Greece’s losing the European single currency, but rather that it would impose “strong pressure” on lenders and would contribute to “returning to the Europe of values.” He rejected claims that he was seeking a mandate to withdraw Greece from the European Union.
Greek banks were shut amid fears in Athens of a run on capital, owing to the uncertainty surrounding the referendum and negotiations in Brussels. Greek banks currently remain solvent courtesy of “ELA” (Emergency Liquidity Assistance) payments from the European Central Bank. The ECB was expected to agree to continue providing these payments at its weekly meeting in Frankfurt on Wednesday evening.
OPINION: Who will end the Greek tragedy?
Greece teeters on the brink of an abyss, without any hope for help. The government is to blame, says DW’s Bernd Riegert. The Greek people should vote it out of office at the referendum on Sunday.
The Greek Prime Minister’s latest summersault, the last-minute request for a new loan, is a transparent election campaign maneouver. Just hours before the second bailout programme ran out – a programme he rejected – Alexis Tsipras wanted the lenders, whom he tends to label as financial torturers, to grant a third aid package. Where is the logic in that?
Tsipras knows that there is no way the Euro Group can endorse that hasty reaction within just a few hours. But at home in Greece, he may be able to win brownie points, claiming he fought to the very end. Will the Greeks be taken for a fool? The referendum on Sunday will give proof of that. In the meantime, Alexis Tsipras no longer seems to be sure that the people will do his bidding and say ‘no’ to Europe. That’s the only interpretation of hints leaking from within his team that the referendum might be cancelled or postponed.
Brussels has given up hope of getting anywhere with the Tsipras administration. EU leaders, as well as heads of state in the EU, are openly urging voters to vote ‘yes’ on Sunday. Should Tsipras fail with his referendum, he will have to step down if he has even a smidgeon of a sense of responsibility.
For the first time in five years, Greece is without international financial aid. The country has no access to the private financial markets. Its welfare depends solely on the European Central Bank, which will only keep the Greek banks afloat for a few more days. Athens put off the IMF by refusing to make a scheduled loan repayment. State bankruptcy and the ensuing technical exit from the euro zone is only a matter of time.
Considering the dramatic situation, the Greek head of government has nothing better to do than brashly mocking the Europeans. Greece owes the ECB 120 billion euros alone, he said in a TV interview, adding that a Grexit would be much too costly for the lenders – so Greece would never leave the euro zone. His spaced-out Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis topped that, threatening to take the euro zone and the ECB to court if the money stops flowing. Ridiculous!
The Finance Minister and his disastrous policies will take care of the Grexit. To quote Yanis Varoufakis: “The country is bankrupt anyway. We can’t collect taxes, we’re just not in a position to do so.”
The leftist radical experiment has failed.
The poor Greeks will have to bear the costs. The lenders will get over written-off loans and pass them on to future generations. The loans from the bailout package are only due in 30 years anyway. No one wants to humiliate Greece or take away its independence, which is what Syriza and its rightwing radical coalition partner surmise. Greece is not forced to accept aid, but if it doesn’t, it will have to make do without loans from the outside. With aplomb and all on its own. For quite some time now, none of this has been about European solidarity and European integration.
Now all we can do is hope for a new start after the referendum – or Greece must leave the euro zone.
A democratic referendum, a decision by the people, is legitimate. But not only in Greece. When I asked a Syriza politician if the Germans, Finns, French, Spaniards and other Europeans should also vote on whether they want to continue to finance Greece, he fell silent, and then mumbled ‘no.’
That’s a highly questionable understanding of democracy. One member of the Euro Group is better than the 18 others? That cannot be.