Revealing the distance that still remains between the Greek and German governments when it comes to renegotiating terms of the bailout program, a meeting between the nation's financial ministers in Berlin on Thursday was punctuated by the acknowledgement that the two could not, in fact, even "agree to disagree" and a warning from the new Syriza government that without a loosening of austerity, fascist forces will almost surely rise.
"We didn’t come to an agreement," said Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, recently appointed to the post after Syriza swept into power during national elections last month. "We couldn’t even agree to disagree. We agreed to continue consultations as partners. Our solution will have Europe’s interest as a priority."
He continued: "We did not reach agreement because it was never on the cards that we would... We didn’t discuss the debt, but we set the framework for discussions."
For his part, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble indicated that his nation would remain steadfast in its belief that Greece must adhere to the terms agreed to by the previous government, despite the fact that Syriza was elected on clear promises to renegotiate those terms. Without apology, Syriza has said the austerity measures attached to loans offered by the so-called Troika—the IMF, European Central Bank, and the EU—are crushing its economy and the Greek people and must be reversed.
"We have a common currency but different economic policies," Schaeuble said of his meeting with Varoufakis. "There are commitments to the level of governments for their budgets and they need confirmation by the Greek Parliament, but it is important that agreed commitments and agreements must be respected."
In his remarks, Varoufakis said that if the does not Troika bend and accept new terms, there is serious risk that the spiraling impacts of the economic Depression in his country will continue to fuel the rise of fascist, rightwing forces within his country.
"No one understands better than the people of this land how a severely depressed economy, combined with a ritual national humiliation and unending hopelessness, can hatch the serpent’s egg within its society. When I return home tonight, I will find a country where the third-largest party is not a neo-nazi party, but a nazi party,” he said, referring to the Golden Dawn party which currently, despite many of its members serving prison time for violence and corruption, holds the third-most seats in Greek Parliament. "We need the people of Germany on our side."
Despite those risks and proving that members of the Troika are ready to play hardball with Syriza, the ECB on Wednesday applied market pressure on the new government by announcing it would no longer accept Greek-issued bonds. As explained by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the move by the powerful institution "was a clear and deliberate attempt to undermine" the new leadership in Athens amid ongoing negotiations.
According to Weisbrot, "They are trying to force the government to abandon its promises to the Greek electorate, and to follow the IMF program that its predecessors signed on to."
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He concluded, "The ECB should be ashamed of its latest assault on Greek democracy. And they should not be able to get away with disguising it as anything less than that."
Syriza, led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, is expected to reveal its economic plan in the coming days.
As both Tsipras, Varoufakis and other ministers returned to Athens on Thursday night, they were greeted by a large public demonstration condemning the Troika's austerity policy.
Thousands gathered in Syntagma Square to cheer Syriza and protest the ECB's move on Wednesday. According to the Greek daily Ekathimerini:
Responding to a call on social media, the crowd estimated by police at 5,000-strong stood in silence on Syntagma Square, the scene of violent protests at the height of the Greek economic crisis in 2012.
"It's the first demonstration in favour of a Greek government. Finally we have a government which respects its campaign promises and defends the interests of our country," Telemaque Papatheodorou, an engineer in his 30s, told AFP.
The protest was called following the decision by the European Central Bank late Wednesday to cut off a vital source of funds for Greece's banks. [...]
"The decision by the ECB demonstrates the pressure on Greece, but that's nothing compared to the problems of people who are starving or suicidal," said Dimitra Spyridopoulou, a lawyer.