The Greek bailout referendum: Voters said “no,” now it’s time to make a deal

Most people believe that the “no” vote won in the referendum in Greece’s bailout terms on Sunday. But on Monday morning, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sent ousted finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to sound off outside the confines of government, called a meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties, and said publicly that he is determined to close a deal in 48 hours. I know what you are thinking: We’ve heard this before. But even the extreme-left and extreme-right parts of the coalition government appeared on television coolly telling audiences that they really want a deal.

A “yes” vote would have helped Tsipras agree to a painful deal easily by saying that the people had decided in favor of what he calls austerity (and what I call reforms for the sake of the country, not least the youth). But by voting “no,” the angry youth voters dancing in the Syntagma Square on Sunday evening told the prime minister that they do not want the responsibility for the decision, and sent him back at the table with the order to negotiate and reach a deal. Even Tsipras stated on live television on Sunday evening that he received the voters’ message: a “yes” to Europe, and a call to continue negotiations to reach a deal. 

So here we are. French President Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have decided to give Tsipras a few hours to agree to the deal and stop the farce of (no) negotiations. Tsipras only needs a paragraph on what he calls “debt restructuring.” After all, he has to go back and say something to the “no” voters, who will surely be surprised to hear their prime minister has revived the “Junker proposal,” at best (which is, by the way, a good deal for the country, but that is another story). Thus, it is important that Tsipras’ European counterparts give him a way to survive, and enough time to implement the package forced by the creditors. And, of course, keep the banks afloat and the depositors intact.

But, the creditors should also give him something because they too bear some responsibility for the current mess. They left narrow-minded technocrats to run the country for five years without taking care of the political market. The result is that they have created a meat grinder that kills every politician trying to pass the reforms demanded by the troika, paving the way for more radical politicians to take center stage.

Nobody knows for sure what the result will be from today’s big meeting. The Europeans have already discredited the oral proposal by the Greeks in today’s Eurogroup, despite the fact that these are very close—if not identical—to what European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker proposed last week. At the same time they have saturated the media with negative statements about Greece’s future in the Eurozone, emphasizing the Greek delegation’s recklessness and incompetence. One thing is sure: European leaders must recognize this is a critical moment in the eurozone’s history. They should try to think long term, leaving aside their justified frustration with the Greek government. It is time for Europe to show leadership.