Frustrated and angered eurozone leaders gave Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a last-minute chance Tuesday to finally come up with a viable proposal on how to save his country from financial ruin.
Overcoming their surprise when Tsipras failed to present them with a detailed plan, the leaders reluctantly agreed to a final summit Sunday, saying that could give both sides an opportunity to stave off collapse of the struggling but defiant member nation.
Underscoring the gravity of the challenge, European Union President Donald Tusk decided to call all 28 EU leaders to Brussels instead of only the 19 eurozone members, because, for the bloc, it “is maybe the most critical moment in our history.”
French President Francois Hollande agreed. “It’s not just the problem of Greece — it’s the future of the European Union” that’s at stake, he said.
And highlighting the rising anger with Tsipras over months of foot-dragging and surprising negotiating twists, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker had a stark warning for Greece.
“We have a Grexit scenario, prepared in detail,” he said, referring to the situation in which Greece would have to exit the currency union.
With Greece’s banks just days away from a potential collapse that could drag the country out of the euro, Tsipras arrived with only vague proposals and a commitment to back it up with real figures and a more detailed plan by Thursday.
Speaking to reporters late Tuesday, Tsipras said he made proposals to the leaders during the evening summit, but it was unclear whether it meant anything more than the general direction of staving off too-tough austerity and insisting on debt restructuring.
Yet he made clear he had gotten the message that there wasn’t a moment to waste as deadlines for debt payments that Greece cannot afford draw near.
“The process will be swift, it will be speedy, it will begin in the next few hours with the aim of concluding until the end of the week at the latest,” Tsipras said.
According to a joint statement of the leaders, Tsipras must set out Greece’s proposals in detail for a reform agenda. The country’s international creditors will then assess the plan to prepare for another meeting of eurogroup finance ministers and ultimately Sunday’s summit of the full EU.
Often such detailed plans have fallen by the wayside amid political bickering between Greece and its creditors.
Patience among Greece’s allies was wearing very thin ahead of the meeting.
“You know, there was a promise for today. Then, they’re promising for tomorrow,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite. “For the Greek government it’s every time ‘manana.’”
Tsipras came buoyed by a triumph in last Sunday’s referendum, where an overwhelming majority of Greeks backed his call to reject the belt-tightening reforms that creditors had last proposed.
But that domestic victory did not appear to give him much leverage in talks with foreign creditors, who know Tsipras needs a deal soon to keep his country afloat. Banks have been shut since last week and will not reopen before Thursday, cash withdrawals have been limited for just as long, and daily business throughout the country has come to a near standstill.
So it was with astonishment and dismay that European leaders learned Tsipras did not yet have a written proposal for new rescue aid.
“I’m extremely somber about this summit. I’m also somber about the question of whether Greece really wants to come up with proposals, with a solution,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.
In his flurry of contacts, Tsipras spoke by phone with President Barack Obama, and the White House said it was in Europe’s interest to reach a resolution that puts Greece on the path toward economic growth and stability.
An official from a eurozone nation said that Greece’s failure to bring clear proposals to an earlier meeting of finance ministers caused widespread frustration. Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos instead made only an oral presentation and discussed key issues.
“Everybody was angry,” said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was commenting on a closed meeting.