Speaking at a press conference from Brussels, Greece's erudite new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said that negotiations will continue in the coming days, and that he was sure an agreement would eventually be found that would be “therapeutic for Greece and good for Europe.”
In a shock announcement he revealed that earlier in the day he had been presented with a communique by EU Economics Commissioner, Moscovici, that he would have signed “right there and then without a second thought”. This communique, he said, recognised the humanitarian crisis in Greece and proposed a 4 month transitional programme to a new contract for growth in Greece. Under these conditions, Varoufakis confirmed that the Greek government would have been happy to agree. Unfortunately though, moments before Eurogroup began, this proposal was taken off the table and replaced by the inflexible proposal for a continuation of the same conditional agreement that was leaked earlier this evening.
Varoufakis reaffirmed that the Greek government will not complete the programme that they were elected to challenge, a programme which he says has failed to stabilise the country and generated a humanitarian crisis.
He also reiterated the commitment of his government to reforming Greece. There is no plan B, and we are not playing games. Greece, he said, “wants to be treated as equal partners, and not as a debt colony.” They are willing to compromise and to accept all of the conditions that they can deliver upon, under the sole condition that they are not obligated to impose any further recessionary measures such as VAT hikes.
Since taking power, Greece's new government has been working to convince Europe of the need to reach a new agreement to tackle their debt burden, which has been described as unsustainable. Following his appointment as finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis undertook a whistlestop tour of Europe meeting with the likes of French finance minister Michel Sapin, George Osborne, the UK's finance minister, Italian finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission.
Whilst there have been expressions of sympathy for Greece's position, as the harsh austerity measures which have been the condition of Greece's previous bailouts have taken their toll on Greek society in what many term a humanitarian crisis, last week's Eurogroup meeting failed even to agree on a framework for the coming negotiations. The following day saw the EU Summit meeting of European heads of state, and the first for Greece's new prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Whilst the bailout talks were not on the agenda, hopes were raised of the likelihood of a compromise as Greece agreed to start technical discussions to lay the groundwork for Monday's meeting.
Meanwhile, anti-austerity demonstrations have been taking place both in Greece and throughout Europe this weekend in support of Greece's efforts. Syriza MEP Manolis Glezos joined a rally in Brussels on Sunday with hundreds gathering in Trafalgar Square in London.
As Syriza treads the tightrope of trying to reconcile the more hardline elements of its leftist platform with the demands of its creditors it is increasingly clear that it is not going to be able to satisfy everyone. But are its demands really so radical? As Varoufakis told the Guardian, “We are a party of the left, but what we are putting on the table is essentially the agenda of a reformist bankruptcy lawyer from the City of London…The bailout was not a bailout of Greece in 2010, it was a bailout of the German and French banks. The German public was misled into thinking that this was money going to the Greeks, the Greek public was misled into thinking that this was our salvation.”
Regardless of what happens in the coming days, Syriza has already succeeded in very publicly challenging the logic of austerity and in renewing hope for the downtrodden Greek people. An opinion poll last week showed that 79% of Greeks support Tsipras's policies with 74% of the population believing that his negotiating strategy will succeed.
* Αnti-austerity demonstrations have been taking place both in Greece and throughout Europe this weekend