Ever since the Greek voters rejected EU austerity policies the Euro area has been in a state of shock. The rest of the zone, led by Mrs Merkel, tried to pretend nothing had happened. If Greece wanted the rest of the money under the last loan agreement, they said she had to carry on with the cuts and the privatisations to qualify. If she refused to comply with the pre determined EU spending, tax and economic policies then there would be no more money. The Greek government for their part said they had just won an election with a mandate to tear up the agreed policies of the loan. The irresistible force of EU policy had just met the immoveable object of the Syriza political movement.
The tensions became clear through substantial withdrawals of funds from the commercial banks in Greece. The EU blinked first, and advanced large sums under an emergency loans programme from the European Central Bank. Greece did not have to comply with the wider loan agreement in order to qualify for large additional borrowings. The difficulties also showed as the Greek government struggled to find the cash to pay the day to day bills. The EU blinked again, and gave the Greek state permission to issue Treasury bills to raise the money to pay the pensions and wages. The first two messy rounds went to Syriza.
On Friday Greece is meant to repay the IMF some money. We are now told they can delay until the end of the month, when more will be owing. The IMF has now blinked. The IMF, the ECB, the EU, France and Germany met earlier this week to construct a “final” offer to Greece. Presumably this is another attempt to lend Greece more money with conditions attached. Greece was not invited to the meeting. The Greek PM spent his time writing a furious article condemning Euro area economic policy and explaining again he was elected to change it.
My guess is the Euro area leadership and the institutions that have lent so much money to Greece will blink again. They will offer to lend more money with less onerous terms. In due course they will have to accept they have lost a lot of the money they have lent to Greece in recent years, and construct an elegant way of writing some of it off or down. If they dig in and demand full enforcement of their loans and loan conditions and turn off the cash taps they are currently using to fund Greece, the Greek government may decide to walk away from the debts. If the Greek government meekly surrenders then it loses all domestic authority, and it may prove difficult to implement the policy changes the EU demands.
It is a dangerous and fascinating contest. It is a real tragedy for all the Greek unemployed and struggling businesses caught up in it. I do not think Syriza’s economic policy will lead to a strong Greek recovery, nor do I think the EU should carry on with the policies for Greece that have done so much damage to jobs, incomes and output in recent years. The obvious first step in a Greek recovery would be exit from the Euro, the one policy neither side will accept. If they stay inside the Euro then there is a simple choice: yet more unwelcome austerity, or much larger transfers of cash from the richer parts of the zone, which have to be grants, not loans. It has to begin with a major debt write off by the EU states and institutions that have lent money. The Euro scheme for Greece is indeed being part of the European Unemployment and Recession Organisation. It is now testing democracy in an extreme way.