Greece must accept reform proposals before time runs out

Agreement: the outcome everyone is hoping for. EPA/Bernd von Jutrczenka

The Greek government and its international creditors remain at an impasse over the reforms Greece must accept to receive the bail-out it needs to sustain itself in the coming months. The decision to postpone its June 5 IMF debt repayment and reject a set of reforms put forward by the EU Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker has sparked debate about Greece’s ability to honour its commitments to international creditors.

The back-and-forth exchange of proposals continues, with the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras – now a regular fixture in Brussels – meeting his French and German counterparts today. The need to agree becomes increasingly important for both Greece and the eurozone as the days pass. The current bail-out deal runs out at the end of June and without the further €7.2 billion from the EU and IMF, the Greek government runs the risk of not being able to sustain itself.

Though time is running out, I believe they will eventually strike an agreement. What it will look like, however, is rather opaque. In light of Syriza’s tactics so far and the weakness of Greece’s position, the need to accept what its creditors are offering is increasingly the only solution.

Punching above its weight

When Syriza came to power last January, it promised to deviate from the path of austerity and renegotiate the bail-out programme. It was truly punching above its weight. But in the context of the Greek population having suffered prolonged periods of austerity with no real signs of recovery, it rode the spirit of populism and promised that it could deliver an alternative programme.

A proposition that scrapped austerity, however, has not come to fruition. In fact, the Greek government has not been able to implement large sections of its electoral agenda – mainly due to a lack of funds, but also because the new government needed breathing space as new and inexperienced political actors came to the forefront.

Ultimately, amateur handling of domestic policies and international negotiations by prominent government ministers, such as the finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, and the foreign minister, Nikolaos Kotzias, internal disagreement over where to focus their precious few resources and an over-reliance on the perceived charisma of Alexis Tsipras have left the government with little to show for its efforts so far.

Charisma can only get you so far. EPA/Yannis Kolesidis

Negotiations with creditors have not managed to turn European partners in favour of the Greek government’s positions. Instead the episode has demonstrated a further demise of the country’s already tarnished image as an unreliable and stubborn partner. Recent statements by high-level EU officials demonstrate well the frustration over the inability of the Greek government to deliver concrete and realistic solutions.

Political game playing

So where does this state of play leave the Greek government? As time is running out and the country’s economic position deteriorates, it is expected that the range of available alternative measures will diminish. Some of the reforms Syriza is proposing on pensions and privatisation require significant time to implement and yield the necessary economic results. Greece does not have that luxury.

There is a strong game of political communication taking place in front of the general public. Not only is Syriza trying to hold together its political mandate and appease a Greek electorate which vested its hopes in the party, but it is also up against internal opposition within the Greek parliament. This has become progressively louder and more visible – arguing for example in favour of a referendum of the proposed agreement with the EU.

Greeks are hoping for a speedy resolution. EPA/Orestis Panagiotou

Nevertheless, the Greek government under Syriza has not received a mandate from its electorate to take the country out of the eurozone. Thus, Syriza is not expected to go head to head with the EU on a full rupture of relations, something it will become extremely difficult to justify domestically.

Meanwhile Europe is trying to hold firm and press Greece to meet its bail-out obligations – to maintain the cohesion of the eurozone and protect the rest of the EU. At the same time, leaders (including Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande) also need to justify their decisions to their own domestic electorates, who are becoming increasingly uneasy.

For all the anxiety, the solution is crystal clear. In order for Greece to move forward, the Greek government needs to take up the opportunity being offered it, accept the political cost domestically and help return the international dignity and standing of the country.