For Greek PM, political reality trumps fury of Sarkozy, Merkel
Greek PM Papandreou got the backing of his cabinet to hold a referendum on EU bailout terms. He meets today with France's Sarkozy and Germany's Merkel, who have said renegotiating is not an option.
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French sources quoted in Le Monde today say that Paris will support a referendum, but only before the end of the year. They also indicated that Mr. Sarkozy will ask Papandreou to restrict the referendum to whether Greece wishes to remain in the eurozone, as opposed to dealing with EU membership more broadly or the specifics of the bailout.Skip to next paragraph
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Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel meet later today first with IMF officials, and then with Papandreou and his finance minister. A reporter covering the Elysees Palace for Le Monde described Sarkozy aides as saying the French president’s message to Papandreou would be “clear and brutal.”
Can he even hold a referendum?
Whether Papandreou can even engineer a referendum, should he survive Friday, is questionable. To hold a referendum requires between 150 and 180 votes in the Greek parliament (depending on its terms), and at the moment there are at least 16 dissenters in Papandreou’s PASOK party. Should a referendum be accepted by the parliament, it would then require 40 percent of registered voters in Greece to approve it – meaning that any substantial abstention campaigns would likely render the effort void.
“Getting a referendum passed by the Greek parliament will definitely be difficult,” says Charalambus Tsardanidis, director of the Institute of International Economic Relations in Athens.
In Athens, Papandreou’s move, which he didn’t inform even his finance minister about, is widely being seen as a political calculation to shore up his base and is being roundly attacked in the mainstream media and by opposition party members.
Yet analysts in Germany and France say that politically the move may have been apt and even necessary. For one thing, as Simon Tilford at the Center for European Reform and others have noted, the purportedly triumphal Greek bailout announced by the EU last week may not prove so different than other insufficient plans since 2009 to solve the Greek and euro crisis. Moreover, the EU terms of austerity on Athens, and a future of apparently unending penury for Greece, has meant that Brussels has replaced, in the Greek perception, Greece's own sovereign government as the final authority on its affairs.
“Greeks want the euro, but not on terms that are severe and sentence them to years of rigorous austerity and no growth,” points out Mr. Tsardanidis.