Life goes on but the clock ticking to avert a Grexit

Focus turns from the street to the chancelleries of Europe

Ruadhán Mac Cormaic reports from Athens where ordinary life goes on after Greece rejected bailout proposals. Video: Reuters

 

Cafés are busy. The streets are choked with traffic. Tourists brave stifling heat to wander amidst the ruins of the Acropolis. The morning after thousands of Athenians took to the streets to celebrate the country’s resounding No, in other words, ordinary life goes on.

Outwardly, at least. Even by the standards set by a five-year depression that has traumatised the country and upended its politics, this is anything but an ordinary moment in Greece. Its banks remain closed, and will run out of money unless they receive a lifeline. Accounts holders are limited to daily ATM withdrawals of €60, some parts of the economy have ground to a halt and uncertainty hangs over the country’s place in the euro zone. Proudly, defiantly, if also a little fearfully, Greeks have taken a leap into the unknown. So too has the European Union, which finds itself without a map to guide it out of one of its gravest tests in decades.

With the emphatic scale of the referendum result confirmed - 61 per cent of Greek voters rejected the lenders’ bailout proposals, with 39 per cent in favour - attention now turns from the street to the chancelleries of Europe. There, over what promise to be a fraught 48 hours of talks involving some of the key players in Greek and European politics, Greece’s fate will be hammered out.

The diplomatic shuttling has already begun. Senior figures in the Greek government are meeting in Athens. Elsewhere, EU institutional leaders Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk, Jeroen Dijsselbloem and Mario Draghi were due to hold a conference call to plan their next moves. On Monday evening, German chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Paris for a working dinner with French president François Hollande. And on Tuesday, euro zone heads of state and government are due to convene in Brussels.

Syriza is adamant a deal can be done. Its leadership doesn’t want Greece to leave the single currency area. Nor do the great majority of those voters who said No on Sunday, many of whom described their decision as a reaffirmation of European democratic ideals. From a position of strength in the wake of Sunday’s result, prime minister Alexis Tsipras has in effect sacrificed his high-profile finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, whose difficult relationship with many of his European counterparts was well-known. His successor is rumoured to be Euclid Tsakalotos, another urbane and impressive radical-left academic but one who, Tsipras may well be calculating, European finance ministers will find less annoying. Varoufakis’s departure might change the tone at euro group meetings - and, given that the two sides’ numbers were apparently quite close before talks collapsed more than a week ago, that could count for a lot - but the two sides’ positions remain entrenched. Neither can be seen to lose face. “This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece,” said Dijsselbloem, the Dutchman who heads the euro group. Decoded, that reads: Greece has just moved a step closer to the exit door.

Time is running out, because Greece is running out of money. If the European Central Bank continues to pump cash into the Greek banks at current restricted levels, it’s estimated that that would give them 48 hours before the banks run dry.

The clock is ticking.

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