Germany Wants to Humiliate Greece

Matt O'BrienGreece has offered an almost unconditional surrender on its bailout, but Germany might not accept anything less than a Carthaginian peace. In other words, a deal that not only forces Athens to submit, but also humiliates it in the process.

This latest melodrama, playing out in Brussels as European finance ministers meet to discuss whether or not to approve a new Greek bailout, appears so nonsensical that it can be hard to believe these people are deciding the future of Europe. Although you wouldn’t know it from the headlines, the truth is that Greece and Europe have been close to a deal for awhile now. Both sides agreed about how much austerity Athens should do, but disagreed about how Athens should do it — at least until last Thursday. That’s when Greece came up with an offer that was not only nearly identical to Europe’s, but also to the one its people had just rejected in a referendum…

Under the plan, the only way Germany would let Greece stay in the euro now is if it sells 50 billion euros of “very valuable Greek assets,” allows international observers to monitor its bailout, and puts automatic spending cuts in place in case it misses its deficit targets. Otherwise, Germany wants Greece to take at least a five year “timeout” from the euro, during which time its debts could be restructured and it could receive humanitarian aid. The entire proposal was less than a page long.

In case there was any doubt, this is an offer Greece can’t accept. Sure, selling assets would lower Greece’s debt today, but it would make the rest of Greece’s debt harder to pay back tomorrow — which, according to the International Monetary Fund, is already unpayable. It’s the kind of thing you ask for if you want Athens to say no…

If Greece does leave the euro, though, it will only be temporary in the sense that all life is temporary. Bringing back the drachma would either be such a boon to Greece’s economy that it’d never want to go back to the euro, or be such a disaster that Europe would never want to invite it back. But in either case, Greece and Europe’s trial separation would turn into a divorce. That might actually be better for Greece now that it’s already gone through a lot of the pain of ditching the euro — like a financial crisis — but it could be a catastrophe for Europe. It wouldn’t just show that countries can leave the euro, but maybe that countries have to leave the euro to recover. So the next time an anti-austerity party wins power, it might decide to do the same, at which point the euro zone would be more like a northern euro zone, if that. Especially if France decides that this makes the euro not worth saving anymore.

What’s the German word for kicking-someone-out-of-the-euro-and-regretting-it-later?

—Matt O’Brien
Germany Doesn’t Want to Save Greece. It Seems to Want to Humiliate Greece.

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