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The night when Greece was on the brink of disaster

13 May 2014 / 16:05:31  GRReporter
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In a publication dedicated to "the years that forever changed Europe", the British Financial Times newspaper reveals the underhand dealings during the crucial meeting between European leaders and George Papandreou in Cannes in November 2011. Mentioning the tears running down Angela Merkel’s cheeks while she was crying "That is not fair ... I am not going to commit suicide" is striking too.

Under the title "It was the point where the eurozone could have exploded - How the euro was saved", the newspaper examines the logic of the decision on a referendum taken by Papandreou, noting that Greece’s Prime Minister at the time accounted for the fact that the pressure of the referendum would oblige his political opponents and those, who were hesitant, to take a stand and declare their support for saving the euro, which was the only way of saving the country. The article begins mentioning Angela Merkel’s tears and notes "To the astonishment of everyone in the room, Angela Merkel began to cry."Das ist nicht fair." That is not fair, she said angrily, tears welling in her eyes. "Ich bringe mich nicht selbst um." I am not going to commit suicide."

For all who were in the small conference room in Cannes and witnessed this breakdown, it was shocking enough to see the most powerful and emotionally controlled European leader bursting into tears. Witnesses of the situation however report that the scene was even more shocking for the two men who had infuriated the German Chancellor – the one sitting next to her, namely French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the other across the table, US President Barack Obama.

Nobody was aware of the referendum, neither inside nor outside Greece

The Financial Times notes that the decision of the Prime Minister surprised both PASOK and Minister of Finance at the time Evangelos Venizelos, as Papandreou had sought only the opinion of his close associates.

None of the European leaders remembered having been informed in time by George Papandreou nor had they considered this option possible. According to sources, when Sarkozy had heard about the intentions of the Greek Prime Minister he had lost his temper. He had initially intended to suggest to Papandreou that he withdraw his proposal but later decided to accept the holding of a referendum, its aim however being not to pledge the memorandum but for Greece to remain in the eurozone.

The talks between Sarkozy and Merkel

Many discussions between the French President and Angela Merkel followed and her associates, including Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schaeuble, were telling her that maybe the eurozone would do better if Greece exited it, especially if it happened voluntarily by a referendum.

On the day when Sarkozy met with Papandreou in Cannes, within the context of the G20 summit, he handed out a document with 6 points, in which he had included a proposal for a referendum on Greece’s remaining or exiting the eurozone. A senior officer who was there at the time explains that "the idea was to corner Papandreou."

Sarkozy’s attack against Papandreou

The French President vehemently attacked the Greek Prime Minister, accusing him of betraying his European partners who had supported Greece. The other leaders did not react to Sarkozy’s words, though Papandreou later announced that the German Chancellor was on his side.

George Papandreou was surprised by the fierce attack on the part of the French President and according to Evangelos Venizelos, the position of Sarkozy was "very offensive" and "It was not polite", as indicated by the Financial Times. The newspaper also notes that the Greek Prime Minister was obviously tired during the negotiations and Venizelos, who had always had premiership ambitions, took the matters in his hand at some point.

The secret telephone conversation between Barroso and Samaras

According to the article, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso spoke by phone with opposition leader at the time Antonis Samaras, who "was desperate to avoid the referendum." Samaras told Barroso that he was ready to participate in a government of national consensus along with PASOK, "something he had assiduously avoided for months in the hopes that he could secure the premiership on his own."

Barroso kept this conversation a secret from Sarkozy and Merkel but he was the one to offer Lucas Papademos a possible head of an expert government composed of technocrats.

The last words of Sarkozy and Papandreou

At the end of the controversial meeting with Papandreou, Sarkozy told him to go back to Athens and take a decision whereas Barroso pulled Venizelos aside and told him that the referendum should be "killed." The Minister of Finance of the time immediately agreed. On the way to the airport, as the article reads, George Papandreou told Evangelos Venizelos that in the end, "things had not gone as badly as he had feared", which bewildered the Minister of Finance.

What happened on the flight home while Papandreou was sleeping?

While George Papandreou was sleeping on the flight home, Evangelos Venizelos ordered the preparation of a statement to be released upon landing. It pointed out "the historic conquest" of Greece’s position within the eurozone and annulled the referendum in practice. As the Financial Times writes, "Mr Papandreou's referendum was dead. As was his premiership."

Why did Angela Merkel cry?

Tags: George PapandreouReferendumEurozoneAngela MerkelNicolas Sarkozy
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