They were dancing in the streets on Sunday night in Athens. The Greeks haven’t had much to smile about, let alone dance about, these past few years as they lived in the shadow of a punishing bailout scheme devised by the stern-faced bankers of Europe.
But after the resounding rejection of the latest bad Eurozone deal, a glorious sun of hope, pride and maybe even prosperity shone through the clouds.
Vox populi can be heady stuff, and after all, they invented it. On Sunday night, after the stunning results at the polls, they looked like they had re-invented it.
Why, is not hard to understand. Your whole country says “No!” to the haughty Germans, to the snooty French and to the supercilious British; an end to E.U.-imposed austerity and the smug scoldings of the bankers; and to years of humiliation and hardship. Only a flat-footed eurobanker would not be dancing in the streets.
That nobody was dancing in the streets of Berlin or Paris or London mattered not to the delirious Greeks. On the contrary, that was part of the fun: Let them be miserable for a change.
The Greeks are not unaware of the risks they run of economic collapse and social chaos. They also follow the news. They know about the warnings from the Eurozone that a bailout without reforms they will not get. But that, apparently, is just what is buoying the Greeks.
Maybe it’s just the bailout mentality. But there is talk of getting a better deal from the Euro partners and the I.M.F. within a day or two. Analysts are betting on a Grexit from the Eurozone, but the Greek chorus in the Athenian squares are chanting that they won’t let it happen, that the prospect of an unraveling of the entire Eurozone experiment, with Italy and Spain next to go, will force the bankers to give in.
They will have to give in fast if the celebration of democracy is not to give way to the harsh realities of cash. Or, rather, the lack of it. The banks are still shut, and cash withdrawal limits, already at €60, may have to be cut to €20.
Beyond the end of ATMs, hoarding, shortages of food and fuel and possibly even government delay or default on pensions and the salaries of civil servants are hulking just around the corner.
The E.C.B. will take measures to contain regional spillover, including expanding the current program of large-scale purchases of securities. This will weaken the euro’s exchange rate. Europe’s growth will likely slow, and that will hurt U.S. companies and workers. The resultant strengthening of the dollar will also hurt U.S. exporters. That could be why they’re not dancing in the streets outside the Federal Reserve in Washington, either.
So, faced with such a bleak scenario — and the immense load of blame that will be poured upon them if the worst does happen — the heads of Europe are meeting to decide what to do.
As fed up with Greece as they are, as much as they would like to foreclose on the nationwide block party taking place in that uncooperative little country, Eurozone leaders will have to put aside their resentments and sit down to renegotiate. It will likely be a bad deal for everyone, letting the Greeks get away with this and setting a precedent that all will regret — but the alternative is so much worse.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras praised his people for their “brave choice” at the polls, but he too acknowledged the heavy responsibility that he bears. As he said, “I am aware that the mandate you gave me is not a mandate for rupture.”
Fortunately, there are indications in the Eurozone of a renewed willingness to be conciliatory, despite the dour proclamation of Germany’s Deputy Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, that renewed negotiations were “difficult to imagine” and that Tsipras had “torn down the bridges” between Greece and Europe.
However, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that “now it is right to start trying for an agreement again. But there is no escape from the Greek labyrinth with a Europe that’s weak and isn’t growing.”
Belgium’s finance minister said that talks could be restarted “literally, within hours.”
French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were to meet in Paris on Monday, and a summit of Eurozone heads of state is set for Tuesday.
We wish them success in formulating a realistic proposal the Greeks can accept without feeling they are giving up their self-respect. Then, even the bankers of the Eurozone will have reason for dancing in the streets.