Hollande and Merkel clash over Greece, Juncker shuts up

No Merkozy here: François Hollande and Angela Merkel. [Reuters]

France wants the eurozone to push for a deal with Greece before Sunday’s referendum, President François Hollande said yesterday (1 July), in comments that differed sharply from those of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The Greek drama is degenerating into a vaudeville in which different actors are performing for their own domestic audiences.

“(A deal) must be found before the referendum. It wouldn’t (make) much sense afterwards,” Hollande said, referring to the poll Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called on Sunday (5 July).

France has been pushing for a deal, fearing that failure to strike one will hurt the eurozone as a whole.

The French left, particularly the Socialists, is increasingly concerned about the Greek crisis, and sympathises with the leftist Syriza.

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, the Greek-descended head of France’s Socialist Party, has been particularly outspoken in his criticisms of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and its obstructions to a compromise with the government in Athens.

Hollande is also under pressure from the left wing of his Socialists to show he is doing all he can to help Tsipras.

A grouping of rebel Socialists called “Maintenant La Gauche” (“Now The Left”) issued a statement on Tuesday implicitly urging the Greek people to vote “no”, rejecting an agreement with Greece’s creditors, pushing the country toward exiting the eurozone.

In recent days, German government sources have patronisingly characterised the French stance as “going through the motions”.

In Berlin, Merkel clearly said that negotiations over a new bailout programme for Greece would not take place before the referendum planned for Sunday (5 July).

“We can await it calmly,” the Chancellor said. “A new [bailout] programme cannot be negotiated before the referendum,” Merkel added.

‘A good European’ …

In a possible reference to Hollande, she said: “A good European is not a person who accepts an agreement at any price”.

In the Bundestag yesterday, leading figures in the German government took turns at the podium accusing Tsipras of betraying his own people.

>>Read: German leaders admonish Greece ahead of referendum

“This government has done nothing since it came into office,” said Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, whose hawkish line in aid talks with Athens has turned him into a hated figure in Greece, and amongst the European left.

In contrast, his French counterpart, Michel Sapin said that France will try to reach a deal with Greece before the Sunday referendum.

“Our aim is to see until the last minute whether it’s possible to find a deal that paves the way for a return to stability in Greece and would reassure Europe and the world,” he said.

Sapin made his comments hours before eurozone finance ministers were to hold their second conference call on Greece in two days.

Alexis Tsipras sent a conciliatory letter to creditors asking on Wednesday (1 July) for a new bailout that would accept many of their terms.

Eurozone finance ministers discussed the issue for an hour, but were adamant that no further discussions would be held until after Sunday’s vote.

“We will come back to your request for financial stability support from the ESM (European Stability Mechanism) only after, and on the basis of the outcome of, the referendum,” the head of the currency zone ministers’ Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, wrote in a letter to Tsipras.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde told Reuters that she wants to see reforms before opening discussions on any new debt package.

In a sharp contrast with his conciliatory letter, Tsipras abruptly switched back into combative mode in a television address.

Greece was being “blackmailed”, he said, quashing talk that he might delay the vote, call it off or urge Greeks to vote “Yes”.

The remarks added to the frantic, at times surreal atmosphere in recent days, in which acrimonious messages from the leftist government have alternated with late-night offers of concessions to restart negotiations.

“A ‘No’ vote is a decisive step towards a better agreement that we aim to sign right after Sunday’s result,” he said, rejecting repeated warnings from European partners that the referendum would effectively be a vote on whether Greece stays in the euro or returns to the drachma.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has played the role of “honest broker” with the authorities in Athens, has recently become talkative, and has asked the Greeks to vote ‘Yes’, despite the fact that the question asked at the referendum is irrelevant, as it refers to proposals which are no longer on the table.

>>Read: Juncker asks the Greeks to vote yes for Europe

But yesterday, Juncker refrained from commenting on the Greek crisis, when he appeared in front of the press alongside Mario Monti, who chairs a high level group tasked with making proposals to integrate more “own resources” to the next EU budget.

“Had I had the intention to have a press conference on Greece, I would have called a press conference on Greece,” Juncker commented. Asked to comment on Greece a second time, he replied, “I’m in permanent contact with the Greek, and other authorities.” Juncker then smiled, and departed.

Council President Donald Tusk also made his contribution. He tweeted:

“Europe wants to help Greece. But cannot help anyone against their own will. Let’s wait for the results of the Greek referendum.”

It looks like a majority of Greeks will vote “No”. In a poll by the ProRata Institute published in the Efimerida ton Syntakton newspaper, 54% of Greeks planning to vote would oppose the bailout against 33% in favour.

Of those polled before the announcement of the bank closures, 57% said they would vote “No” against 30% who would vote “Yes”. However among those polled after, the “no” camp fell to 46% against 37% for “Yes”.

Seeking a “No” vote, Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis told state television a deal would then swiftly follow, as early as Monday, and capital controls would be lifted.

“The ECB will press the button,” he said.

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