Has anybody counted how often the headline “Now Grexit is unavoidable” has popped up in the media over the last few months? In fact, the ongoing Greek debt crisis is predictable only in its unpredictability.
Apologies in advance for my Byzantine answers – in the Greek crisis, we cannot know precisely what has transpired so far, or who is to blame with certainty.
For over 20 years I have attempted to understand Greece and its complicated relationship to the rest of Europe. Today, I am sometimes amazed by the certainty of judgment many politicians, economists, and journalists display in the current crisis. In an understandable desire for clarity, they lapse into bold predictions: “The game is up!” – “Now Grexit is unavoidable!” – “The Europeans are to blame!” – “Austerity is ruining both Greece and Europe!” – “Tsipras is driving Greece off a cliff!” To risk sounding bold, I must say that I don’t believe any of these statements hold the truth. The main feature of this crisis is the attempt to find a path in uncharted territory, the inconsistencies, and the diversity of players. After all, in a crisis that has already lasted six years, many actors have had the opportunity to make errors.
Let us begin with the bold predictions from last week. Many believed that June 30 would finally be the beginning of the end, an indicator towards Grexit. On this day, Athens did not pay the outstanding rate to the International Monetary Fund. Therefore Greece is practically bankrupt, yet nevertheless still in the euro. And nobody can throw them out. Some think that the Greek referendum, when 60 percent of voters said “No” to the aid package offered by Brussels, would catapult Greece irrevocably from the eurozone, and possibly from the European Union as well.
But even with the referendum, nothing is yet decided. In fact, the reform proposal of the Europeans is already paper waste; negotiations have to start anew. The referendum may have high symbolic power, but it has no solid base – and therefore is not binding. If the Greeks had voted “Yes” to the reform proposal, many expected that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras would have resigned. Instead, as the Greeks have voted “No”, Tsipras is now strengthened – but Greece’s future still hangs in the balance and the country could either bargain further or leave.
Bad news for friends of clarity: The situation will likely remain murky. The Europeans cannot throw Athens out from the eurozone; they can only withhold money. A hypothetical Grexit would then come in installments, during a dramatic struggle. In the end, nobody will know exactly who was at fault or how it all transpired – with the possible exception of our expert commentators from the United States and Great Britain, who write from afar with little familiarity on the subject. For the most part, they just offer plenty of apocalyptic rhetoric: “Grexit is coming, the euro is finished, Greece will become a Russian colony, and Merkel is to blame for it all.”
In fact, the blame already lies on many shoulders, beginning with the Americans, as the euro crisis would not be the way it is without their homemade, self-inflicted economic crash of 2008. Next, the blame falls upon the Greek politicians, who for decades used the state as a cover to accommodate their clientele, and thus brought it to nigh inoperability. Thanks PASOK! Thanks Nea Dimokratia!
The German government and Angela Merkel deserve a mention as well. Since 2010, they prioritized savings and reductions at the expense of a fleshed-out growth policy. Their looming menace converted many Greeks to oppose reform. EU politicians and the IMF ought to bear some of the blame with Merkel, as they were quite big on savings advice yet pushed to little on government reform.
And lastly on to Alexis Tsipras, who, after only five months in office, deserves to be remembered as yet another culprit in Greece’s misery. He wanted to get as much as possible out of the negotiations, to help his country grow further – naturally this was a noble and prudent goal. Alas, his methods were wrong: confrontation, tactical maneuvering, delays in Brussels, and loud but empty pathos at home. Thus he delayed an agreement with the EU until bankruptcy, which now tears his country deeper into crisis than all the excessive savings before it. We carry responsibility whether we sign an agreement or not – and should be held accountable for our actions.
The failure has many culprits. Bear this in mind during the next talk show, with its all-too-unequivocal opinions.