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July 8, 2015
July 8, 2015

Greece: Interview with negotiations insider

Source: Mediapart  Category: On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Greece: Interview with negotiations insider
In this interview with Mediapart, a senior advisor to the Greek government, who has been at the heart of the past five months of negotiations between Athens and its international creditors, reveals the details of what resembles a game of liar’s dice over the fate of a nation that has been brought to its economic and social knees. His account gives a rare and disturbing insight into the process which has led up to this week’s make-or-break deadline. He describes the extraordinary bullying of Greece’s radical-left government by the creditors, including Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem’s direct threat to cause the collapse of the Hellenic banks if it failed to sign-up to a drastic austerity programme. “We went into a war thinking we had the same weapons as them”, he says. “We underestimated their power”.

For the whole interview, visit Mediapart

On the February 20 agreement

[…] Already from the end of February and certainly by the middle of March it was obvious that the creditors were not going to honour the February 20th agreement, which says that Greece proposes reforms, the Troika – “the Institutions”, as it is now called – evaluates and agrees and the reforms go on. Nothing like that happened. The institutions were continuously rejecting reforms without looking. “No, they are too generous” and Varoufakis was telling them: “Please, let us complete four to five reforms on which we all agree and view as necessary and let us implement them and you can evaluate and make an assessment of them”. The Institutions said: “No, no, we need a comprehensive agreement before we implement these reforms, because if you implement these reforms that would be a unilateral action. We haven’t approved them yet, ok, we agree, but we still haven’t determined the primary surplus”. So we are unable to do anything while at the same time they wanted to see our books because they didn’t trust our numbers.

All the money they owe us… about 17 billion euros, [of which] 10 billion [is] from the remainder of the 50-billion-euro [Hellenic] Financial Stability Fund which, under the February 20th agreement, we would have to give back. We have not received any money from June last year, so for 12 months we have been paying around 10 billion euros to the creditors from our resources without getting a single euro from them, which they had agreed to give, of course under conditions.

On the ‘maze of pseudo-negotiations’

All the loans we have received, 240 to 250 billion euros, go for the servicing of the debt, back to the creditors. The first bailout was a bailout of the banks to the state. We didn’t get any finance in order to pay them, we couldn’t borrow short-term and we couldn’t facilitate the liquidity of the economy because the ECB was putting one restriction after the other. So you have the liquidity problem and at the same time you have a financing problem. The two of them are connected in what I called from the beginning ‘credit asphyxiation’.

In the middle of March, finally, some Brussels sources said to the correspondents in Brussels that “yes, the institutions – the EBD, IMF, European Commission, are using credit asphyxiation in order to force the government to comply, accept the reforms, do it quickly, et cetera.”. For me it was an admission that they were using the worst king of economic blackmail to the country. The worst kind of economic sanctions. If we [take] Iraq, and instead of doing a trade embargo they said “we cut all your assets, your banks have no money, no dollars, no anything, you have to rely on printing money, you’re going to have an exposure”. But they didn’t do that in Iraq. It was a trade embargo, not a financial or credit asphyxiation. Because at any moment, gradually, there comes a time you die. You can’t survive this much longer. Varoufakis has even called it “waterboarding”, financial and fiscal waterboarding.

The assumption is that by pulling the plug, they pull the plug of the whole world. This has not happened and I am sorry. I was following how the euro was going, how it was reacting, because they did experiments. Wolfgang Schäuble and Berlin are clever, they enforce artificial crises into the negotiations now and then: “Oh, the Greeks are not cooperating, they haven’t understood what to do, they are not giving any figures”. And instead of falling, the euro is going up. The same with European stock exchanges.

I said let Tsipras go to the European Parliament and say that this is how we were treated the last months. Also, refuse to implement these harsh measures. They [the Greek government] prefer to lose the elections [rather than] to enforce those measures. But every time they try political negotiation they [have been] fooled by them [the creditors]: twenty times with Merkel and five more with Schäuble. And how many Eurogroup [meetings] where they said “go back to the technical teams, go back to the Troika”. The [Greek government] said “no, we want a political decision” [but they were told] “Our political decision is to go back to the technical decision, you can’t have a political decision without a technical decision”.

Behind the scenes with ‘king’ Schäuble, and when Dijsselbloem threatened to sink the Greek banks

In the beginning of February, Jeroen Dijsselbloem told Varoufakis “You either sign the memorandum that the others have signed too, or your economy is going to collapse”. How? “We are going to collapse your banks”. He had said that. In his last interview to ERT, the national [Greek public] TV [channel], two days ago, Varoufakis said: “I didn’t denounce that then, because I was hoping that reason would prevail in the negotiations with all of the Eurogroup”. So he went on with the numerous agreements. And credibility as well as money was lost.

The Eurogroup is not a proper democratically-functioning body. The Greek government discovered that, again, very late, when the Eurogroup wanted to throw Varoufakis out after the referendum announcement. Which was basically a gesture to humiliate. Varoufakis says “Who decides that?” Dijsselbloem says “I decide”. Shouldn’t there be a vote, shouldn’t there be unanimity? Yes but it’s not necessarily recorded, there are no minutes taken. He was taping, others too. Why? Because there are no minutes taken. So there is nothing formal.

You can’t say “I went to the Eurogroup and Italy said that, Cyprus said that” et cetera. So everybody can come out and say anything they like. No-one can say: “Are you sure you said that? Let’s look at the minutes”. There are no minutes. Of course, nobody can come out with a tape recorder. Varoufakis said that of course he kept the minutes of his own, because he was to report to the prime minister, and the others do it too. And the others came shouting “Oh! Varoufakis admitted this, and that”.

The other countries in such a set-up had to think Wolfgang Schäuble is the king, he controls the others, he can raise his voice and say “no”. Varoufakis has described incidents that show really how the Eurozone is completely undemocratic, an almost neo-fascist euro dictatorship. You cannot rely on what the others are saying. Varoufakis says that if he could negotiate with one at a time for an hour, the deal would be struck in a day. But you can’t do that because each one has different priorities and different people telling him “no”.

You cannot argue too much with Schäuble. It would be dangerous, because you won’t get finance, German banks will want their money back, and so on. So it’s a institution where you cannot make your voice heard, so what’s the point in encountering [them]? There was no-one else but Varoufakis talking straight. Schäuble has said “How much money do you want [in order] to leave the euro?” He doesn’t want Greece in the euro at all. He was the first to raise the issue of a Grexit back in 2011.

We went to a war thinking we had the same weapons as them. We have underestimated their power […] It’s a power that enters the very fabric of society, the way people think. It controls and blackmails. We have very few levers. The European edifice is already Kafkaesque.

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