The the post-meeting press conference was pretty dispiriting, but behind closed doors there was a clash of weltanschauungs. I’m privy to everything and can report it as it was.
YV: On behalf of my government and from my own personal, deep respect, I’d like to say hello and convey my wishes for collegial, constructive work.
WS: Please pull up a chair.
YV: Before we get down to business I want to make it clear that, while I come here as a representative of the Greek government, I am not interested in trying to reach a deal that’s good for Greece but not Europe as a whole. In fact, I think we can find a solution that is really in the interest of the German people as well as the Greek people.
WS: That’s good.
YV: So let’s begin.
WS: Yes, I was hoping I’d hear that.
YV: As you already know, my government has a clear mandate from the Greek people to seek a new debt arrangement, one that can allow our country to emerge from an economic nightmare. Of course, we don’t expect that this will be quick or easy.
WS: This discussion may be quicker and easier than you expect.
YV: This isn't a meeting to find a solution. I just want to put some ideas on the table and talk about how we can go from here to set up a constructive dialog.
WS: Young man, take that smile off your face.
YV: All right, this is not the tone I was hoping for, but we won’t let that get in the way. As I was saying—
WS: I know all about your ideas. You tell them to the whole world in your blog.
YV: Yes, but now we are going to discuss the ideas of the Greek government, which are not exactly the same as mine, but which I am going to express as well as I—
WS: I don’t think the answer will be any different for your ideas or the ideas of Tsipras or anyone else in your party. Let’s get to the point.
YV: As you wish. The point is that Greece cannot repay the loans under the terms it faces. We can’t afford any longer to pretend that this program is working; it’s not working for us, and it’s not working for you.
WS: We disagree. Greece is repaying the loans as we speak. You are making payments. You have a program to follow.
YV: We are taking on ever more debt to maintain the illusion that we can repay the existing debt.
WS: Yes, and you will have to repay that debt too.
YV: We cannot repay what we cannot repay.
WS: You are not at the end of your means. Your government chose to borrow the money, and now you must live with the consequences. It is the same for everyone. No one is allowed to escape the responsibility of repaying their debts.
YV: Do I have to remind you of the wise decision the Allies made to release Germany from—
WS: Don’t give me lectures on German history, young man. That was different. I don’t think it’s such a good idea for the Greek finance minister to come here to request special favors and then give us speeches about something we know far better than you do.
YV: Well then—
WS: I told you not to smile.
YV: Right. Where were we? Oh yes. Let’s not talk about the debt right now. As you know from reading my blog, I think that Europe as a whole can take responsible actions to pull all of our economies forward and reduce debt burdens through growth. I’m talking about a substantial expansion of the European Investment Bank financed by bond purchases by the ECB.
WS: I know. You think wealth can be created by printing money. We think wealth is created by hard work and frugality. When you start saving your own money you can talk about making investments.
YV: I take this as a signal you aren't interested....
WS: You’re getting better.
YV: Well, let’s try something else. Syriza, as you know, was elected on a platform of radically reforming the Greek state and subjecting the oligarchy in our country to the rule of law. We want to make it possible to collect taxes on the wealthy, to have honest bidding for government contracts, and to—
WS: Yes I know. We will help you collect these taxes, but you didn't come here for that. I want to know right now: are you going to go through with the privatizations you've agreed to, with further reductions in public employment, rescind these ridiculous wage increases—
YV: Sir, we were elected. We have a mandate. This is democracy.
WS: We know something about democracy too, Dr. Varoufakis. And people are free to express whatever opinion they want. That’s the democratic way. But voting for this party or that one doesn't change reality. And the reality is that you have to follow the program.
YV: If we have to do what you tell us no matter how we vote, what’s the point of voting?
WS: As I said, voting does not change reality.
YV: But voting has already changed reality, and not only for Greeks but Germans as well. Germany’s economy depends on its exports to us and to the other indebted countries. In fact, these are two sides of the same coin: our debts financed your exports. It’s basic macroeconomics, surely you can agree with that. Our economies are intertwined, what happens to Greece—
WS: No, you’re wrong. German exports have nothing to do with Greece; they are due to the productivity, the hard work of the German people and their willingness to save for the future. There are no shortcuts, Dr. Varoufakis. When Greeks learn how to work hard and save they will have a successful exporting economy too. And it’s the same for every country. And if you don’t like listening to us telling you this, you are perfectly free to refuse our generous support and let your economy go to hell. We will sell our goods to someone else who is more responsible. And one more thing. You have a lot to do in Athens. Don’t bother scheduling any more meetings in Berlin. If you noticed the little message you got from the ECB, your days are numbered. You will be heroes for another week or two, and then I can schedule a meeting with the finance minister of the next Greek government.
YV: This isn't going anywhere, is it? What are we going to tell the press in a few moments?
WS: We agree to disagree.
YV: I don’t think we even got to that.
WS: Do your job. This is what we always tell them. Oh, and one more thing.
YV: What's that?
WS: Tuck in your shirt.