The final battle for the Greek economy and its future is being staged this week, in one hell of a dangerous game of chicken.
Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras laid out plans on Sunday to dismantle Greece's "cruel" austerity program, ruling out any extension of its international bailout and setting himself on a collision course with his European partners.
In his first major speech to parliament since storming to power last month, Tsipras rattled off a list of moves to reverse reforms imposed by European and International Monetary Fund lenders: from reinstating pension bonuses and cancelling a property tax to ending mass layoffs and raising the mininum wage back to pre-crisis levels.
Showing little intent to heed warnings from EU partners to stick to commitments in the 240 billion euro bailout, Tsipras said he intended to fully respect campaign pledges to heal the "wounds" of the austerity that was a condition of the money.
Greece would achieve balanced budgets but would no longer produce unrealistic primary budget surpluses, he said, a reference to requirements to be in the black excluding debt repayments.
"The bailout failed," the 40-year-old leader told parliament to applause. "We want to make clear in every direction what we are not negotiating. We are not negotiating our national sovereignty."
Somebody will blink here. Greece is pretending like its economy isn't in flaming shambles without EU bailout cash, and the EU is pretending like kicking Greece out won't unravel the euro for the rest of the eurozone.
At least one of the two is wrong to the point of catastrophe, if not both. We'll see here, but with the EU set to meet Tuesday and Greece running on fumes right now, a decision is going to have to come fast to avert a train wreck.
I'm not sure at this point that the wreck can be stopped, either. Neither is The Kroog:
What we’re looking at here is, in short, a very dangerous confrontation. This isn’t diplomacy as usual; this is a game of chicken, of two trucks loaded with dynamite barreling toward each other on a narrow mountain road, with neither willing to turn aside. And all of this is taking place within the European Union, which is supposed to be — indeed, has been, until now — an institution that promotes productive cooperation.
How did Europe get to this point? And what’s the end game?
Like all too many crises, the new Greek crisis stems, ultimately, from political pandering. It’s the kind of thing that happens when politicians tell voters what they want to hear, make promises that can’t be fulfilled, and then can’t bring themselves to face reality and make the hard choices they’ve been pretending can be avoided.
I am, of course, talking about Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and her colleagues.
It’s true that Greece got itself into trouble through irresponsible borrowing (although this irresponsible borrowing wouldn’t have been possible without equally irresponsible lending). And Greece has paid a terrible price for that irresponsibility. Looking forward, however, how much more can Greece take? Clearly, it can’t pay the debt in full; that’s obvious to anyone who has done the math.
Unfortunately, German politicians have never explained the math to their constituents. Instead, they’ve taken the lazy path: moralizing about the irresponsibility of borrowers, declaring that debts must and will be paid in full, playing into stereotypes about shiftless southern Europeans. And now that the Greek electorate has finally declared that it can take no more, German officials just keep repeating the same old lines.
And of course that can no longer work. I'm not sure if anything can at this point, but we'll know pretty quickly one way or the other.