What The Hell Are They Thinking In Athens?

More Drama Than Drachma

I’m trying to get my head around the logic of why (oh why) the Prime Minister of Greece George Papendreou would propose a referendum on the rescue package.

First Mr Papandreou had to confront a hostile cabinet (although it has since endorsed the idea of a referendum). Then he faced the threat of a rebellion by his Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok). And on November 2nd he will miss the opening session of a three-day confidence debate in parliament: Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s president, have summoned Mr Papandreou to emergency talks in Cannes. They will try to dissuade him from what one western European observer called “political suicide and financial ruin for Greece”.

Pasok lawmakers erupted in fury at the idea of a referendum, which may be held as early as December, but could not happen at all if the Greek government loses the vote of confidence. Two socialist backbenchers said they would henceforth sit as independents, reducing the party’s parliamentary majority to a bare minimum of 151 seats in the 300-member chamber. A third socialist deputy, former development minister Vasso Papandreou (no relation), said she had asked Greek’s president Carolos Papoulias to call a meeting to organise a government of national unity. It would push through fiscal and structural reforms, then take the country to elections. “Greece faces imminent bankruptcy,” Ms Papandreou warned. Separately, six veteran Pasok members urged the prime minister to resign, saying he was “taking Greece back to the 1950s”—a grim period in the country’s history, which was marked by widespread poverty and mass emigration.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle have joined the call for a snap election. Antonis Samaras, leader of New Democracy, the conservative opposition party, said that elections are “a national imperative”. A referendum “would put the country and the future of Europe at risk”. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftwing Syriza faction, also called for elections, saying Mr Papandreou “is finally being dragged to the polls under asphyxiating popular pressure, but it will be an election, not a referendum.”

It’s a real head-scratcher as to what he thinks such a referendum would achieve, but off he goes, mouthing off this referendum. Naturally stocks took a nose dive everywhere, which is neither here nor there; although I really do want to point out that even if it doesn’t look like altruism, the European Union is going a considerable way towards trying to bail out a reckless Greek government that went and squandered what it borrowed. It might not look like it but Sarkozy and Merkel went to great lengths to hammer out an agreement to ave Greece from itself. Now Papendeou has taken that fragile agreement and tossed it to the dogs, so to speak. And by dogs I mean those people baying for a change in Greece just so it doesn’t have to go through with the austerity measures. It’s a bit like he’s gone and metaphorically spat in people’s faces, now that he’s secured agreements from them to save his metaphorical house on fire.

And I’m asking myself, what rational reason could he give for throwing all of that out the window? What the hell is he thinking? Is he seriously thinking it’s a realistic choice to let the people decide and if the people decide to default, then history would somehow absolve him? Because if that’s the idea, he’s not only out of his depth, he’s out of his tree.


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