It has been five months since the radical leftist Syriza party’s electoral victory and the subsequent formation of a coalition government with the far-right Independent Greeks party. It has been five months of ups and downs, endless negotiations, talks after talks, meetings after meetings, summits and “Eurogroups,” visits to Brussels, to Berlin, and to Paris. We’ve seen much, but not a resolution to the Greek drama. And not what is needed: an agreement with the country’s bailout creditors.
In February, the newly formed government agreed with its creditors to extend the current bailout program that had been signed in 2012. Alexis Tsipras and his ministers would have until June 30th to agree on a deal that would release the remaining 7.2 billion euros from Greece’s aid fund—money desperately needed.
The problem was, in his election campaign, Tsipras had pledged to abolish the hated “memorandums,” to reverse austerity measures, and bring back dignity to the Greek people. All that while remaining in the Eurozone and the European Union.
What followed highlighted the inexperience of the new government and made Greek voters and foreign observers wonder about its motives. At the head of the negotiations was a finance minister who would rather lecture his EU counterparts on game theory than present them with concrete reform plans. He would spend more time explaining how the creation of the euro had been wrong than demonstrating what he would do for his country to keep it.
Ministers and parliament members would contradict each other, creating an impression of domestic strife, obviously unaware that their statements would reach and be unappreciated by foreign partners. They would blame the creditors for insisting to humiliate the Greek people, only to claim that “a deal is close” right after. The prime minister seemed incapable of preserving any kind of control over his own party and was absent from the negotiating process. Instead, he tried to blackmail the EU leaders by approaching Vladimir Putin. He went all the way to Moscow only to be told that, if he wanted loans, he should ask his EU partners.
All this brinkmanship, indecisiveness, and contradiction has brought as here, two weeks from the end of June and with talks between Greece and its bailout monitors nowhere near a resolution, only getting worse and worse. Last week, the three creditors’ “troika” became two, as the International Monetary Fund left the negotiations table. Last night, Athens’ negotiating team left the European Commission’s headquarters in Brussels just 45 minutes after entering, as its reform plans were once again deemed inadequate.
Meanwhile, the real economy of the country is plunging. Deposits are fleeing the banking system, companies are running out of money, and unemployment is rising again.
With this impasse seemingly becoming more insoluble with every attempt, concerns about the geopolitical position of the country are also on the rise. In the event of the country’s departure from the European Union, it is unknown to whom it will turn for alliances or what the future holds for its people.
If the left-wing government remains in power, it will surely make another attempt to approach Russia. Russia was unwilling and unable to give any financial aid the first time, and that is unlikely to change, as it has its own woes to tend to. Politically, it might consider the idea of an ally so close to the EU very tempting. However, it is yet unknown whether it would dare risk its relationship with Turkey, or if it’s ready to forgive Greece’s backing down on its opposition to the EU sanctions in response to the conflict in Ukraine. Most probably, Putin will find a way to take advantage of the European rupture without giving too much in return.
China, on the other hand, might be more willing to extend its influence right in the middle of the Mediterranean. Another possible ally to Greece is, surprisingly, Iran. There have already been moves made toward collaboration.
Wherever it might find support, Greece will definitely be entering uncharted and dangerous waters. It is doubtful that a government so inexperienced and, let’s admit it, incompetent as to have driven its positively predisposed European partners away will be able to deal with a powerful senior ally with questionable motives.
Greece should not overestimate its position in its bargain with its partners. Whatever threat it may pose to the rest of Europe should it collaborate with Russia, China, or Iran, the consequences will be much more severe for its own people if such an alliance goes wrong.