This may end up being the political quote of the year, uttered by the president of Greece after talks aimed at forming an emergency government collapsed last week:
“Gentlemen, we are finished,” said the patrician President, calling an abrupt halt to two hours of baiting and cat-calling between furious Greek politicians. “I’m starting to get upset myself now. We are finished.”
The final collapse of talks to forge a new Greek government triggered repeat elections and fears of a chaotic exit from the euro zone. But it is the manner of that collapse, the acrimony and rancor cited by Karolos Papoulias, that bodes ill for efforts after June polls to pull Greece back from the brink.
“It was a complete madhouse,” a source at the socialist PASOK party told Reuters after their leader,Evangelos Venizelos, returned from the May 17 showdown. “The discussion was unbelievable.”
The only people who don’t seem to realize the depth of the truth in that quote are the Greeks themselves:
Voters infuriated by grinding poverty, spending cuts and corruption, punished Samaras and fellow mainstream party leader Evangelos Venizelos. Leftist Alexis Tsipras, 37, emerged with the power to block them. Greece, he said, could ditch its spending cuts and renounce its debts to EU partners, yet enlist their help in keeping the euro currency some 80 percent of Greeks cherish.
“Pythagoras didn’t manage to square the circle and god knows these guys don’t know how to either,” said one EU diplomat in Brussels, echoing widespread sentiment in European capitals.
“The Greeks seem to have no understanding of the seriousness of their predicament and that is a great source of frustration. There’s a breaking point and I think we’re getting close to it.”
Just how unreal is Tsipiras? Today he’s assuring Europe that he wants to stay in the Euro, but without the austerity conditions on Europe’s rescue of Greek insolvency:
The charismatic Greek leftist who could determine the fate of the euro begins a tour of European capitals on Monday carrying a single message: it’s time to talk.
In an interview on the eve of his first visit abroad since his surprise rise in a May 6 election, Alexis Tsipras veered occasionally into the combative rhetoric that has seduced disaffected Greek youth and alarmed Brussels and Berlin.
But he also stressed repeatedly that he wants negotiations to keep Greece in the euro[EUR=X 1.2768 -0.0013 (-0.1%) ]. He said he was looking to forge ties with like minded European figures, including new French President Francois Hollande, who want to soften austerity policies by finding new ways to encourage growth.
Tsipiras is touring Europe, but he’s not meeting with government officials. Instead, he will meet with leftist organizers in France and Germany, apparently to build political pressure on both governments to end the austerity conditions and convince them to hand Greece billions of Euros for more “stimulus.” France just elected Hollande, so they might be sympathetic, but Germans have supplied the main part of the money for Greece’s bailouts, and they’re tired of being the EU’s ATM.
The leaders with whom Tsipiras is not meeting offered this warning — if Greece doesn’t accept the austerity conditions, they are finished:
European leaders say that if the next Greek government spurns the bailout, they will have no choice but to cut off funding, which would effectively bankrupt Greece and force it out of the euro. The prospect sent the single currency tumbling last week and hurt the bonds of Spain and Italy, countries that could be next in the firing line if Greece collapses.
One way or another, the bill is coming due. The “disaffected youth” of Greece are about to learn that their profligacy isn’t going to be subsidized forever, and it might get very, very ugly in the birthplace of democracy. Given the propensity of their military over the last several decades to seize the reins of power, these politicians might truly be finished if they don’t get serious quickly.