As you may have read, the Greek government dropped a sudden bombshell on the debt negotiations this weekend, announcing plans for a citizen referendum next Sunday on the deal offered by the Eurozone leadership. The problem though, it seems, is that no one really knows what exactly is the question and what exactly their “Yes” or “No” vote would actually mean.
I heard this exchange on the radio this morning between a news commentator and a member of the governing Syriza party, who is urging voters to vote “No,” i.e., rejecting the deal offered by the Eurozone:
Commentator: You have said that a No vote does not mean voting to leave the Euro, is that correct?
Syriza Rep: Yes, it is a vote to reject the deal. It is not a referendum on the Euro.
Commentator: But if we vote “No” and reject the deal, how can we possibly stay in the Euro?
Syriza Rep: We negotiate and try to get a better deal than the one we are rejecting.
Commentator: Negotiate with whom? THERE WON’T BE ANYONE TO NEGOTIATE WITH! The Eurozone leadership has made this clear–the game is over!
Syriza Rep: We don’t know that. We aren’t voting on the Euro, we’re just voting on this deal…
And around and around they go. So, the bottom line is that the government is urging people to vote “No” but is maintaining the illusion that this does not mean voting for leaving the Euro. Public opinion polls have consistently shown majority support for staying in the Euro, so how the question is presented to voters is critical.
Most interestingly, Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis’s comments after the weekend’s Eurogroup meetings seemed to me to hint that the Syriza party’s strategy was to call for a “No” vote, thereby avoiding political responsibility for yet another lousy austerity deal, but actually expecting and hoping that a majority of the Greek people would vote “Yes,” thereby keeping Greece in the Eurozone and buying some more time to work for a better deal in the future. Check out his statement at http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/06/28/as-it-happened-yanis-varoufakis-intervention-during-the-27th-june-2015-eurogroup-meeting/. Particularly his conclusion:
“Colleagues, refusing to extend the loan agreement for a few weeks, and for the purpose of giving the Greek people an opportunity to deliberate in peace and quiet on the institutions’ proposal, especially given the high probability that they will accept these proposals (contrary to our government’s advice), will damage permanently the credibility of the Eurogroup as a democratic decision making body comprising partner states sharing not only a common currency but also common values.”
Incidentally, I think Varoufakis makes a very compelling case that the Eurogroup acted not only overly harshly towards Greece with this decision, but also in a way that is likely to damage their own cause. Many Greeks will be more likely now, I expect, to vote “No” in the referendum because they feel that this decision not to allow one more week of funding to Greece in order to let them hold a democratic referendum is just one final kick in the teeth to Greek self-determination.
Uncharted waters and scary times ahead, no matter what the result of Sunday’s referendum.