1. The Eurogroup of the 20th of February was the end of the first (short) round of negotiations between the new Greek government and its European partners.
2. To judge what the government won and what it lost, as well as what it did not win and what it did not lose, we have to take into account three things: the conditions under which the negotiation took place, the goals that each side tried to achieve, the alternative choices.
3. How many sides were actually negotiating around the table? The answer is: Very many. The outcome, but equally importantly, the interim stages of the negotiating process, included important stakes not only for Greece and Germany, but for each and every one of the 17 Eurozone countries. However, even the approach that reduces the stakes involved at the level of “national interests”, is misleading. In reality, the FInMins of all participating elected governments were negotiating the politics (and the relative power) of their respective governments, in the same way that the European Commission was negotiating its politics (and its relative power) through J-C Junker, the ECB through M. Draghi, and the IMF through C. Lagarde.
4. Schauble’s extreme aggression was indicative of the pressure that the German government was facing in its effort to safeguard the primacy of its own view of the crisis, as well as the continuation of the austerity policies. It was also indicative of its effort to maintain important players bound to its project. For this reason, the stance of France and Italy were of particular importance. The cracks that could be achieved by the Greek government – at this stage – mainly came from this side, rather than from the side of the “Southern front” (Spain, Portugal, Ireland), which was perfectly aligned with the German lead, in view of a possible rise of the Left in their respective countries. In a sense, the game they chose to play was even more dangerous. Their choice to identify with the German strategy was clearly against the interests of their own people, meaning that, as long as Greece is able to ensure even small victories, the pressure on them will grow.
5. Given all this, what Germany tried to ensure was that the government of SYRIZA would sign on the exact same things that the previous government would sign: On the one hand, the acceptance of all conditionalities pending for the completion of the 5th review of the Greek Adjustment Program (economic submission) and on the other hand, the acceptance of the logic that the only way out of the crisis is the one indicated by Germany (political submission).
6. That did not happen, for two reasons: the first reason was that SYRIZA was not bluffing viz its red lines. The government was and remains committed to honour the mandate it got from the elections and be accountable to the Greek people. The second reason is that the European political and economic elites were frightened by the dynamics of a clash. In other words, it is one thing to believe that a Grexit is, on the balance of probability, manageable, and it is quite another thing to be sure of it. The experience of Lehman Brothers has surely taught some lessons regarding this fine line.
7. In this sense, and under these circumstances, it is that the second round of negotiations will start tomorrow. And it will last for as long as it is foreseen in Friday’s “bridging agreement”: four months. During this time we will draw conclusions not only on this particular negotiation – and the ones that will follow it – but also for bigger and more important strategic issues in the history of the Left. Let us, therefore, be careful and patient. We do not have the necessary political, temporal or emotional distance to make final judgements as yet.
8. The next four months will be a battle with time, but mainly a battle with ourselves. An ongoing conflict on the interpretation of the agreement (Krugman’s argument in his article “Delphic Demarche” is forseeable, and for this reason we must use all flexibility available, bearing in mind that the other side will do the exact same thing.
9. I fully agree with the view expressed by comrade Elias Ioakeimoglou in a relevant article: “The conflict remains unresolved and time will favor the one who will better prepare the conditions for the next big negotiation.“
10. This is what all of us (the government, the party, the political and social subjects involved in our project) must ensure during this period: that the conditions in which the next negotiation will take place will be favourable for us. This implies many things. First of all, it implies that the possibility of a clash remains strong and that tactical maneuvers do not amount to integration. It also implies that our commitments remain our guide, and that their prioritisation will be a true prioritisation and not an abandonment. Finally, it implies that political processes will be particularly important in order to ensure the debate and the understanding of all these issues, but also in order to serve as a control mechanism. If we want time to work on our side, we need to invest in genuine, concerted and substantive cooperation between us, towards the resolution of the real problems ahead and with a strict orientation to the interests of the many. This will largely determine whether the government of SYRIZA can and must continue to exist after June.
This text was originally published at: AnalyzeGreece on 24 February 2015.