After five months of tense negotiations, Europe’s leaders are finally ready to show Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras— and his entire nation— the exit.
Behind the doors of the Justus Lipsius building in the heart of the political district in Brussels, the euro-region’s leaders rounded on the Greek prime minister for destabilizing the currency union before Germany’s Angela Merkel emerged to deliver an official ultimatum.
“There’s only a few days to go to taking a decision,” said Merkel. “That shows how serious it is.”
In a tense and at times emotional meeting, Tsipras’ European peers told him he’d failed to appreciate the efforts the continent’s voters and taxpayers had made to help the Greek people and blamed him for escalating tensions across the region.
Numerous officials shared their experiences of the meeting.
“Our inability to find agreement may lead to the bankruptcy of Greece and the insolvency of its banking system … This is the most critical moment in our history,” said Donald Tusk, the president of the European council who chairs the summits. “The stark reality is that we have only five days left to find the ultimate agreement. The final deadline ends this week.”
“Party time at the expense of others in Greece has come to an end,” Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said. “Europe and the euro area are surely unprepared to pay for the irresponsible behavior of the new Greek government.”
Afterward in public comments, the leaders competed to find the harshest language to describe Tsipras’s approach and its likely consequences.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said a “miracle” would be needed to keep Greece in the euro-region, while Malta’s Joseph Muscat said the 40-year-old Tsipras had created an “enormous trust-gap” with his European counterparts.
“We have a Grexit scenario prepared in detail,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, using the shorthand for expulsion from the now 19-nation currency area.
That bookended a day that began with a meeting of the region’s finance ministers, and a welcome for Greece’s new man in that role, the 55-year-old economist Euclid Tsakalotos. At first Tsakalotos won the acceptance of his colleagues.
But the mood soured quickly. Many of his new colleagues were irritated that Tsakalotos had failed to present concrete plans to bridge the nation’s financing gap, prompting some to question the purpose of interrupting their vacations to show up in Brussels if the Greek side had nothing new to present.
“I expected so much from the new minister who, yes, gave us a good presentation on the situation in Greece but still no proposals,” Belgian Finance Minister Johan Van Overtveldt said. “I only wish the Greeks realize the same urgency and seriousness of the situation as much as the rest of the Eurogroup.”
Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble demanded that officials from the European Central Bank and the European Commission detail their plans to protect the rest of the bloc from the fallout from a Greek exit. A long-held taboo against discussing such plans had been cast aside, officials said, when “Grexit” was discussed openly and loudly.
As European leaders arrived to meet Tspiras, the rhetoric built. Muscat said the meeting would probably be a “waste of time” as the Greeks had arrived “empty-handed.”
“You can’t have one country enjoying a feast, overspending and having everyone else pay for it, including our citizens with much lower pensions and wages,” said Grybauskaite.
During the subsequent meeting, Muscat and Grybauskaite led the attacks on Tsipras, according to a European official.
Grybauskaite’s adviser didn’t respond to requests for comments. Muscat said in an interview that leaders had been angered by Tsipras’s decision to call a snap referendum when a deal seemed to be within reach last month.
“The referendum has practically antagonized public opinion across the EU,” Muscat said after the summit. “So we wanted to be tougher more than ever with him in our requests.”
That became clear as soon as leaders left the meeting rooms in Justus Lipsius and began speaking to reporters. After a briefing from ECB President Mario Draghi, the leaders gave Tsipras five days to accept the terms of their financial support or face ejection from the euro region.