IS THE STORY CREDIBLE, & WHO LEAKED IT?
Person or persons unknown leaked the ‘news’ 48 hours ago that Antonis Samaras had aready extracted huge concessions from the country’s lenders in a secret deal completed last November. The Slog tries to unravel truth from fiction.
The Italian daily La Repubblica was first with the story, which has since been picked up by Open Europe and ForexLive. Although as yet not officially confirmed, the general feeling in Athens and Berlin is that the article “has official approval”. This is normal EU code for “was leaked”.
Two questions now become important:
i. Who leaked it and why?
ii. Is the content invention or genuine?
On the second question, I have many doubts…but to see why, we need to look at the first question.
At first glance, the fact that it appeared first in Republicca points the finger at Alexis Tsipras: the paper is pro-Syriza, and he speaks excellent Italian. But it falls down at the ‘why?’ hurdle: the piece asserts that:
‘In November 2014 Greece and its European partners had made a secret pact for postponement of repayment until 2020. In other words, EU and Greek officials had already agreed to push back the debt…. bilateral loans from the EU would see the interest rate chopped to the 3-month interbank rate +50 basis points, currently at 0.53%…’
That would, if true, effectively leave Syriza flat-footed. So why leak it? There is one possibility: that having discovered the existence of the deal, the new Greek government could easily position the EC as devious – and trying to renege on a deal that had already been made….and also embarrass the Sprouts by showing they’d given a special deal to Greece, but not Syriza. (On this basis, that ‘explains’ why the deal wasn’t revealed earlier – because ‘deal contagion’ would’ve spread to other ClubMed States).
My preference at the moment is to assume that the Troikanauts leaked the information. This allows them to suggest to the Greek people that Syriza is making a fuss about nothing: but more crucially, it would allow them to give ground and pretend they’d given nothing away. The risk of relief contagion remains; but these are desperate times, and they call for desperate measures.
However, I’m fairly certain that this particular desperate measure is a lie, and the reason is simple: contagion now is no different to contagion before the election. Had his deal been done, Samaras and Schäuble would’ve been screaming from the rooftops about it. Perhaps most telling of all, the EC/ECB strategy right up to election day was a single-minded “Tsipras is lying to you, voting for him will gain you nothing”. The leak now seems to catch Syriza on the back foot, and also allows for concessions without loss of face; but it is totally at odds with what Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin said before the election.
Two other things now suggest themselves. First, that the EC was bluffing, and the surprising size of Syriza’s win has called that bluff; and second, the Bundesbank almost certainly knew nothing about the deal…if indeed it ever happened.
As to who personally dreamed up the leak, it does have Schäuble written all over it; but it would also play to Mario Draghi’s long-term game plan as well.
It’s yet another tangled web, and another alarming example of the Western press ignoring a potentially vital clue in the process of unravelling what happens next in the eurozone.
The day following the Republicca piece, Clive Crook at Bloomberg announced somewhat pompously that, yes indeed, the refusal of either side to give in was pure posturing. So convinced is Clive of this, he loftily observed, ‘What surprises me is that this all-or-nothing positioning takes anybody in”. He could well be right, but the speed and radical nature of these first Syriza moves suggests something quite different. To be blunt about this, Tsipras and Varoufakis have spent the last two days rubbing Brussels-am-Berlin’s noses in it. Perhaps the most flagrant act was to disavow themselves from the EU/Nato/US line of “it’s all Putin’s fault” in relation to the Ukraine crisis.
But odder still in that context was the reaction of US Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland that “the US government has no problem with the close working relationship of Greece and Russia”. We may be back at the 2011 Geithner/Wall Street “amputate Greece” game that dominated US diplomacy at that time: the game-plan being to separate Athens from Brussels, and then swarm all over the Greeks offering every kind of gift. The view in Washington is that Russia is finished, so their relationship with Greece is irrelevant. And don’t forget, Tsipras spent a lot of time in the US during 2013.
However one interprets this deep pool of perfidy, Greece’s new prime minister sent a clear message to the EU yesterday: Greece – and Cyprus – disagree with the imposition of sanctions on Russia. Given Moscow’s longstanding interest in Cyprus as a base, that must’ve sent one or two ripples through the UK Foreign Office.
Last night at The Slog: If you need to program a product, it’s too complicated