Is the Greek crisis coming to a head again?

The row over financial aid for Greece is once again heating up. The Euro Group is set to endorse the payment of the next credit tranche on February 20. However, the creditors are still at odds over debt relief and tougher austerity measures, which Wolfgang Schäuble in particular is calling for. Some commentators take the German Finance Minister to task, while others criticise the EU for indulging in wishful thinking in election year 2017.

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Neue Zürcher Zeitung (CH) /

Europe's denial of reality

In the row over further bailout measures for Greece the European debtor states will continue to indulge in wishful thinking, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung believes:

“If we stick to the facts there are just two options: either Greece shakes off the corset of the euro or the creditors grant it substantial debt relief. But the Europeans aren't having any of it. The appointments book leans in Athens' favour. The next few months will see important elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany. In all three countries the governments have no interest in an escalation of the crisis, because this would play right into the hands of the right-wing nationalist forces there. So they will cling to extremely optimistic scenarios, show willingness to go along with purely cosmetic debt relief measures and transfer the next loan instalment even before the summer, when the country is due to repay several billions in debt. You can call this realpolitik - or you can call it denying reality.”

Público (PT) /

Germany's uncompromising stance fuelling row

Greece is not to blame for the escalating situation this time, economist Ricardo Cabral comments in Público:

“Greece's national debt is once again the focus of attention, but this time - fancy that - it's not because of Greece but because of an old 'conflict' that has been brewing between the IMF and the Euro Group since 2015. The German finance minister has adopted an uncompromising stance, and the Commission and the European Stability Mechanism are backing him up. … The IMF wants a restructuring of Greek debt. … Otherwise it says it won't participate in a new bailout package for Greece. But Berlin rejects the idea of debt relief and is insisting that IMF participation in a fourth bailout package is a conditio sine qua non.”

La Tribune (FR) /

Master Schäuble destroying solidarity

The German Finance Minister's plans may well bury hopes for a united Eurozone, La Tribune fears:

“Wolfgang Schäuble is pressing ahead with the formation of a European organisation based on his 1994 project: that of a 'hard core' in the Eurozone. … We are moving closer to this option: essentially a revision of the current Eurozone. Either through the exclusion of the 'bad pupils' or through an even more stringent revision with more reforms and higher targets for primary surpluses from 2018 on. In addition this is about presenting the other countries of the Eurozone with new, unwritten rules for the future: unilateral adjustment or withdrawal. … In the case of Greece not only the fate of the country is at stake but the future of the entire Eurozone: if Wolfgang Schäuble's plans become reality it will be the end of the dreams of a balanced and united Eurozone.”

Avgi (GR) /

Only united can Athens stand up to Berlin

The politicians in Greece are too divided to counter Germany's dominance effectively, the pro-government daily Avgi complains:

“Germany's political leadership doesn't seem to be changing its tactics on the Greek issue and has developed a new two-speed EU model. … Greece could stand up for itself in this unequal battle if it were only united. If all the political parties had understood how important this is for the country's future. Imagine a scenario in which all the Greek politicians say no to Schäuble's proposals. Imagine what would happen if the country could defend itself against the blackmail tactics. But that is inconceivable because the opposition leader and chairman of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wants to become prime minister and the leader of the socialist Pasok party, Fofi Gennimata, also wants her share of power in the German colony.”

De Tijd (BE) /

The eternally festering sore

The Greek crisis has flared up at the most unpropitious moment, De Tijd writes in concern:

“Seven years after the start of the Greek crisis the problem is still far from solved. ... First: the creditors have refused to give Greece any debt relief. ... Secondly: the country is dawdling with the necessary structural reforms. Both sides have good reasons for their behaviour, nevertheless the consequence is that the Greek sore continues to fester. ... As long as Europe, the IMF and the Greek government cling to their positions and refuse to make any major concessions, a breakthrough is unlikely. Must we wait until the very future of the euro hangs in the balance? It's not even sure that there's an answer at all, when you consider that in recent months Europe has been in a state of total confusion and lacks any leadership worth mentioning.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Schäuble's gamble could be dangerous

In the end Berlin will have to approve some form of debt relief, Die Welt suspects:

“What Schäuble is worried about is how much will be given up and when. This is why he has been gambling with the IMF for months over the issue. … But Schäuble's game carries risks. Because if Tsipras decides not to give in after all, the crisis will escalate in the summer just as it did two years ago. But unlike in 2015 parliamentary elections will be imminent in Germany. And if the Greeks haven't relented and implemented further reforms by then, Schäuble may be forced to show his cards. Unless some deal is struck with the Greeks the IMF will abandon the current programme. And then Schäuble will have to decide whether to recommend a new bailout package in the Bundestag with elections around the corner - and without the IMF to guarantee the austerity promises - or whether to have another go at Grexit despite the unstable global political situation burdened by Brexit and Donald Trump.”

Avgi (GR) /

Berlin using IMF to push through its interests

The pro-government daily Avgi speculates on why the IMF is taking part in the Greek bailout programme at all:

“We fear that the reasons for this are political, which is why the IMF joined the programme in 2010. Most of the protagonists, if not all of them, have on occasion actually admitted that Germany backed the idea and has used the IMF to enforce its policies in our country - and perhaps its hidden strategy for all Europe. ... It's hard to interpret the continual consistency between Schäuble and [IMF troika member] Thomsen in any other way. And what a coincidence: Schäuble, who presented the Grexit as Plan B in 2015, is once again threatening with this scenario even though Greece has fulfilled its obligations and the programme is running smoothly. The conclusion is that Greece and Europe don't need either the IMF or Schäuble's policies. Both pose a threat.”