After more of the familiar lies and misdirection yesterday, there were some optimistic noises from Brussels last night as the leaders of Germany, France and Greece met on the side-lines of the EU-Latin America summit. They were short-lived.
Having tried to play the International Monetary Fund, and its managing director, Christine Lagarde, last week, the game theory academics in the Syriza-led Greek Government are being treated to a practical lesson in hard-ball negotiations by the IMF. As the Guardian’s Larry Elliott notes
“You’ve got to ask yourself one question. Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?” The lines spoken by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry sprang to mind when the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that it had called its Greek negotiating team home from talks in Brussels.
The IMF’s message was short and brutal. There were still major differences between Greece and its creditors. There was no progress in narrowing those differences. The two sides were well away from an agreement.
So much, then, for the talk earlier this week that a deal is close. Shares across Europe surged on hopes that a resolution to the crisis was at hand, but that optimism was punctured by the news from Washington.
The IMF, clearly, has had enough. It was unimpressed by Greece’s decision to bundle up all four of the debt repayments due this month and is frustrated by the unwillingness of Alexis Tsipras, the Greek prime minister, to cross its two “red line” issues – pensions and labour-market reform.
This, then, is the IMF holding the gun to Alexis Tsipras’s head. It feels like a pivotal moment, the point where the creditors are saying “take it or leave it” and the Greeks have to decide whether the IMF really means it.
Earlier, European Council President Donald Tusk spelled out an unprecedentedly forthright message to Greece’s radical anti-austerity government after four months of bitter negotiations.
“There is no more time for gambling. The day is coming, I’m afraid, that someone says that the game is over,” he told a news conference after chairing an EU-Latin America summit that was dominated by intense talks with Mr Tsipras on the sidelines.
“It is very obvious that we need decisions, not negotiations,” Tusk said, adding that Athens needed to be “more realistic.”
Mr Tsipras held two hours of talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, but neither side reported any breakthrough. “Come in the torture room,” Mr Juncker told Mr Tsipras at the start of their meeting. [added emphasis]
EU officials later described the talks as a “last attempt” to reach a debt deal.
Asked about concerns for the process raised by the departure of IMF and Greek negotiators, an EU diplomat said: “If the process was working properly the president would not have had to have a meeting with Tsipras today.”
As this earlier Guardian report noted,
The move left the Greek negotiating team with no option but to say it would also be leaving the talks and heading home to Athens.
“The ball is very much in Greece’s court,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said. “There are major differences between us in most key areas. There has been no progress in narrowing these differences recently.”
The IMF’s decision followed increasingly sharp criticism from EU officials frustrated at the Greek government’s continued refusal to bow to creditors’ demands.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, earlier attempted to pressure the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, to agree terms with its creditors, warning that the time for gambling was over.
Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland, intervened in the negotiations over Greek debt repayments as Athens appeared steadfast in key areas of dispute.
Tsipras was due on Friday to resume talks in Brussels with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, to resolve the ongoing dispute over Athens’ implementation of wide-ranging reforms and steep spending cuts in return for further loans. Such a meeting is now in doubt.
As usual, keep a weather-eye on the Guardian’s live-blog for any further updates.
But, for now, the last word goes to Larry Elliott
For their part, the creditors say Greece is not serious about reform, with the IMF noting that the Greek government is contributing 10% of GDP to pensions against an EU average of 2%. Put simply, they know Greece is running out of money and wants to stay in the euro.
They are fed up with Tsipras acting like he is the one holding the .44 Magnum and they are threatening to pull the trigger.
This movie climaxes next week. [added emphasis]
[Really?! – Ed] Possibly…
Latest Update From the Guardian’s Friday live-blog [6.43pm]
Here’s Ian Traynor’s report on the day’s Greek developments:
Greece has less than a week to strike a deal with its eurozone creditors to avoid defaulting on its massive debts and perhaps being kicked out of the single currency area, with German leaders and top EU officials now conceding that default is the likeliest outcome.
Negotiations between the leftist government in Athens and the creditors are now at their lowest ebb since Alexis Tsipras became Greek prime minister in January.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said on Friday that the talks with Greece would carry on ahead of next Thursday’s key meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg. That meeting is now viewed as the deadline for a decision on Greece’s fate.
Merkel was said to have resigned herself to a Greek default, and at a meeting on Thursday night in Bratislava, eurocrats preparing for the Luxembourg talks included the default scenario in their discussions for the first time.