Zegt Je­roen Dijs­sel­bloem te­gen Ya­nis Va­rou­fa­k­is: “You just kil­led the Troi­ka…”

30 ja­nu­a­ri 2015, Je­roen Dijs­sel­bloem en Ya­nis Va­rou­fa­k­is vlak na de ge­za­men­lij­ke pers­con­fe­ren­tie die werd ge­ge­ven na hun eer­ste ont­moe­ting op het Griek­se mi­nis­te­rie van Fi­nan­ci­ën, drie da­gen na­dat Va­rou­fa­k­is als mi­nis­ter werd be­ë­digd. Het voor­af­gaan­de over­leg, waar Dijs­sel­bloem het dic­taat van de Eu­ro­pe­se Troi­ka – om meer be­zui­ni­gin­gen te re­a­li­se­ren en het Griek­se volk ver­der uit te per­sen – aan Va­rou­fa­k­is wil­de op­leg­gen, mis­luk­te van­we­ge Ver­ou­fa­k­is’ te­rech­te wei­ge­ring om de oe­ka­ze uit te voe­ren.

Het is al een tijd­je ge­le­den en ei­gen­lijk wil ik het niet meer. Ik zou een boek moe­ten be­spre­ken om de ge­meen­te in te lich­ten over het go­re spel dat de Eu­ro­pe­se Unie in het al­ge­meen, de Eu­ro­groep in het bij­zon­der en zeer spe­ci­fiek de be­ruch­te Troi­ka heb­ben ge­speeld om Grie­ken­land dis­pro­por­ti­o­neel op te za­de­len met de ge­vol­gen van de mon­di­a­le kre­diet­cri­sis en met de ge­van­ge­nis van de ui­terst gam­mel ont­wor­pen Eu­ro.

Het boek heet “Adults in the Room” (2017) en het is ge­schre­ven door de be­kla­gens­waar­di­ge zon­de­bok en ex-mi­nis­ter van fi­nan­ci­ën van Grie­ken­land on­der het “link­se” roer van de (nu nog) vi­ge­ren­de Sy­ri­sa-re­ge­ring van Alexis Tsi­pras. Ge­luk­kig hoef ik niet, want het is al ge­daan door ie­mand die dat goed kan. Lees gul­zig en on­be­heerst Hans van Wil­li­gen­burgs ar­ti­kel (link on­der­in):

Ya­nis Va­rou­fa­k­is biedt in ‘Vol­was­se­nen on­der el­kaar’ in­tie­me en ont­hut­sen­de blik op Eu­ro­pe­se ap­pa­ratsjiks

Met Je­roen Dijs­sel­bloem (Pv­dA) als hor­ror­clown van de sys­teem­ban­ken

En daar­na wil je het boek le­zen, om­dat je be­nieuwd bent naar de ver­hef­fen­de mo­res die on­der die vol­was­sen po­li­ti­ci gel­den… Ik geef toe, het is moei­lijk om niet cy­nisch te wor­den. Een tref­fend voor­beeld geef ik hier­on­der, ge­leend uit het boek van Va­rou­fa­k­is, waar­in hij zijn ont­moe­ting met on­ze bra­ve Dijs­sel­bloem be­schrijft. Een waar­schu­wing is op zijn plaats: Je­roen heeft geen ma­nie­ren en braak­nei­gin­gen zijn te ver­wach­ten. Ik wens de le­zer­s­ter suc­ces.

Ge­ci­teerd uit “Adults in the Room, My Batt­le With Europe’s Deep Es­ta­blish­ment‎” (2017) door Ya­nis Va­rou­fa­k­is; frag­ment uit deel 2, hoofd­stuk 6: “Ul­ti­ma­tum”

On Fri­day, 30 Ja­nu­a­ry, three days af­ter I had as­su­med the mi­ni­stry, the pre­si­dent of the Eu­rogroup, Dut­ch fi­nan­ce mi­nis­ter Je­roen Dijs­sel­bloem, drop­ped in. He ca­me with a lar­ge en­tou­ra­ge that in­clu­ded Tho­mas Wie­ser, pre­si­dent of the Eu­rogroup Wor­king Group and the true po­wer bro­ker within the eu­ro­zo­ne. I wai­ted for them by the six­th­floor lift. We met, shook hands warm­ly and pro­cee­ded to my of­fi­ce for so­me re­fresh­ments be­fo­re mo­ving to an ad­ja­cent con­fe­ren­ce room, the two teams fa­cing each other across a lar­ge rec­tan­gu­lar ta­ble.

On my si­de of the ta­ble I had my two al­ter­na­te mi­nis­ters plus Chou­li­a­ra­k­is, chair of my Coun­cil of Eco­no­mic Ad­vi­sers, Stat­ha­k­is, eco­no­my mi­nis­ter, who­se of­fi­ce was one floor abo­ve mi­ne, and Eu­c­lid. Among the hea­vy­weight troi­ka of­fi­ci­als on Dijs­sel­bloem and Wieser’s si­de was De­clan Co­s­tel­lo, an Irish­man fa­mous even in Ire­land for his hard­line po­li­cy to­wards in­deb­ted na­ti­ons, now the Eu­ro­pean Commission’s mis­si­on chief for Gree­ce, plus the Dut­ch am­bas­sa­dor to Gree­ce. Dra­gas­a­k­is ma­de a short wel­co­ming speech then left the room im­me­di­a­te­ly. I fol­lo­wed up with a wel­co­ming speech of my own be­fo­re Je­roen Dijs­sel­bloem said a few words on be­half of the Eu­rogroup. Ni­ce­ties we­re ex­chan­ged and good in­ten­ti­ons we­re ai­red in what can on­ly be de­scri­bed as a ten­se en­coun­ter. Then the mo­ment of truth ar­ri­ved when I in­vi­ted Je­roen in­to my of­fi­ce for a tê­te-à-tê­te.

With the door clo­sed be­hind us, I at­temp­ted to melt the ice by sha­ring the words of op­ti­mism with which I had clo­sed my in­au­gu­ral press con­fe­ren­ce a few days ear­lier. Let’s de­fy the prop­hets of con­fron­ta­ti­on, I pro­po­sed. Let’s pro­ve wrong the me­dia who ima­gi­ne this to be so­me High Noon en­coun­ter. I as­su­red him that our new govern­ment was on­ly in­te­rested in com­pro­mi­ses on a path lea­ding to a mu­tu­al­ly ad­van­ta­geous agree­ment. But to as­sist the birth of this new part­ner­ship, we would need to work out a bet­ter ne­go­ti­a­ti­on pro­cess, one that was not in­ju­rious to the Greeks’ sen­se of pri­de. The troika’s me­thods in Gree­ce over the past fi­ve ye­ars had been coun­ter­pro­duc­ti­ve.

Yes,’ he agreed. ‘The troi­ka has not left the best im­pres­si­on he­re.’

That’s a ma­jor un­der­sta­te­ment, Je­roen,’ I said with a smi­le. I ur­ged him to see it from the per­spec­ti­ve of the pe­o­p­le on the ground. For ye­ars now groups of tech­no­crats dis­pat­ched by the IMF, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­si­on and the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral Bank had ar­ri­ved at Athens air­port, from which they had been dri­ven at high speed un­der po­li­ce es­cort in a con­voy of Mer­ce­des-Ben­zes to the va­rious mi­ni­s­tries, whe­re they had pro­cee­ded to in­ter­ro­ga­te elec­ted mi­nis­ters and dic­ta­te to them po­li­cies that af­fec­ted the li­ves of mil­li­ons. Even if the­se po­li­cies had been won­der­ful, they would ha­ve been re­sen­ted. ‘We must find ano­ther way to work to­gether,’ I said, one that would al­low our pe­o­p­le to em­bra­ce wha­te­ver po­li­cies he and I agree upon. At the very least, Greece’s elec­ted mi­nis­ters should not be ex­pec­ted to con­duct their bu­si­ness with an­y­o­ne other than their elec­ted equals; tech­no­crats could pre­pa­re the ground, es­ta­blish the facts and the fi­gu­res, but should not con­duct the mi­nis­te­ri­al ne­go­ti­a­ti­ons.

I was hap­py to hear him say that, yes, he agreed that the pro­cess would ha­ve to be re­con­si­de­red, alt­hough in hin­d­sight I sus­pect his ac­com­mo­da­ting at­ti­tu­de was less to do with an ap­pre­ci­a­ti­on of what I had been saying and mo­re to do with his evi­dent ea­ger­ness to chan­ge the sub­ject and re­turn to the sa­me ques­ti­on he had po­sed on the te­lep­ho­ne a few days ear­lier: ‘What are your in­ten­ti­ons for the Greek pro­gram­me? Are you plan­ning to com­ple­te it?’ he as­ked.

I re­pe­a­ted the ans­wer I had gi­ven him over the pho­ne: our new govern­ment, I re­plied, re­cog­ni­zed that it had in­heri­ted cer­tain com­mit­ments to the Eu­rogroup whi­le at the sa­me trusted that its part­ners would re­cog­ni­ze in re­turn that it had been elec­ted on­ly a few days be­fo­re in or­der to re­ne­go­ti­a­te key ele­ments of this pro­gram­me. His res­pon­se was ab­rupt and ag­gres­si­ve. ‘This will not work!’ he de­cla­red.

I re­min­ded him that when I had gi­ven the sa­me ans­wer to the sa­me ques­ti­on three days ear­lier, he had re­plied, ‘This is very good.’ Je­roen brus­hed my re­min­der asi­de. The Greek pro­gram­me, he mu­sed, was li­ke a hor­se. It was ei­ther ali­ve or it was dead. If it was ali­ve, we had to climb on it and ri­de it to its des­ti­na­ti­on. If it was dead, then it was dead. Not kno­wing what to ma­ke of his metap­hor and un­wil­ling to adopt it, I tried to rea­son with him.

The­re was a rea­son, I ex­plai­ned, why the pre­vious govern­ment had fal­len on its sword and cal­l­ed elec­ti­ons so ear­ly in its term. And the­re was a rea­son why An­to­nis Sa­ma­ras had been sent to the op­po­si­ti­on ben­ches by the vo­ters who had elec­ted us in­stead. And the rea­son was sim­ple: it was sim­ply im­pos­si­ble to com­ple­te the se­cond Greek pro­gram­me, and the vo­ters un­der­stood that. ‘If it could ha­ve been, Je­roen, you and the pre­vious govern­ment would ha­ve com­ple­ted it,’ I re­mar­ked.

For a mo­ment he see­med lost for words, so I con­ti­nued: the troika’s own num­bers showed that even if the pro­gram­me was com­ple­ted and Gree­ce re­cei­ved the few bil­li­ons left in the se­cond bailout kit­ty, we would still be €12 bil­li­on short. Whe­re would I find a mis­sing €12 bil­li­on? Think of the ef­fect this unans­we­red ques­ti­on is ha­ving on pri­va­te in­ves­tors, I ur­ged him: it rein­for­ces their re­sol­ve not to lend to the Greek sta­te again un­til a se­rious re­struc­tu­ring of our debt has been ef­fec­ted. And think of the broa­der pic­tu­re too, I im­plo­red him: the government’s debt re­pay­ments in 2015 alo­ne amoun­ted to 45 per cent of all the taxes it ho­ped to col­lect; me­an­w­hi­le, na­ti­o­nal in­co­me, me­a­su­red in eu­ros, con­ti­nued to fall, and eve­ry­o­ne was an­ti­ci­pa­ting an in­crea­se in taxes to meet the re­pay­ments. No in­ves­tor in their right mind in­vests in an eco­no­my whe­re de­mand is shrin­king and taxes are ri­sing.

The­re we­re on­ly three op­ti­ons avai­la­ble to us, I said. One was a third bailout to co­ver up the fai­lu­re of the se­cond, who­se pur­po­se was to co­ver up the fai­lu­re of the first. Ano­ther was the new deal for Gree­ce I was pro­po­sing: a new ty­pe of agree­ment bet­ween the EU, the IMF and Gree­ce, ba­sed on debt re­struc­tu­ring, that di­mi­nis­hed our re­li­an­ce on new debt and re­pla­ced an in­ef­fec­ti­ve re­form agen­da with one that the pe­o­p­le of Gree­ce could own. The third op­ti­on was a mu­tu­al­ly dis­ad­van­ta­geous im­pas­se.

You do not un­der­stand, Je­roen told me, his voi­ce drip­ping with con­des­cen­si­on. ‘The cur­rent pro­gram­me must be com­ple­ted or the­re is no­thing el­se!’

It was an as­to­nis­hing sta­te­ment. The head of the eurozone’s fi­nan­ce mi­nis­ters was re­fu­sing to en­ga­ge with a sim­ple fun­ding is­sue. He was ma­king it im­pos­si­ble for me not to ask, ‘But whe­re will the mis­sing €12 bil­li­on co­me from, Je­roen? Am I wrong that the se­cond pro­gram­me can on­ly be com­ple­ted if a third one is first ne­go­ti­a­ted? Can you see any way that would ren­der its com­ple­ti­on fi­nan­ci­al­ly fea­si­ble wit­hout a new pro­gram­me that can on­ly be agreed to af­ter ex­haus­ti­ve ne­go­ti­a­ti­ons bet­ween all ni­neteen fi­nan­ce mi­nis­ters [in the Eu­rogroup]? Is the­re any doubt that I will not be ab­le to com­ple­te this pro­gram­me even if I we­re wil­ling to vi­o­la­te the man­da­te that the Greek vo­ters ga­ve me to re­ne­go­ti­a­te it?’

Je­roen re­fu­sed to en­ga­ge with my ques­ti­ons and the un­der­ly­ing facts. Ap­pa­rent­ly he had not co­me to Athens to dis­cuss num­bers or fi­nan­cing. One could on­ly as­su­me that he had co­me in­stead in the ex­pecta­ti­on that I would per­form an in­stant U‑turn – a quick vic­to­ry al­lo­wing him to board his jet at Athens air­port with my oath of al­le­gi­an­ce to the pro­gram­me, to the Eu­rogroup and to the cre­di­tors in his brief­ca­se.

The fact that the pre­si­dent of the Eu­rogroup was so de­lu­ded as to think this was a pos­si­bi­li­ty is a fas­ci­na­ting com­ment on the re­cent his­to­ry of the Eu­ro­pean Union. It re­veals how ex­pe­rien­ce has taught func­ti­o­na­ries ope­ra­ting on be­half of Europe’s deep es­ta­blish­ment to ex­pect new­ly elec­ted govern­ment mi­nis­ters, pri­me mi­nis­ters, even the pre­si­dent of Fran­ce, to buckle at the first whiff of an ul­ti­ma­tum back­ed by the ECB’s big guns. Sin­ce 2008, when the on­ly thing kee­ping most eu­ro­zo­ne mem­ber sta­tes’ com­mer­ci­al banks open was the Eurogroup’s good­will – which Ma­rio Draghi’s ECB nee­ded in or­der to is­sue the of­fi­ci­al wai­ver that al­lo­wed him to ac­cept the banks’ junk col­la­te­ral in re­turn for cash – se­ve­r­al govern­ments had suc­cum­bed to po­li­cies they de­te­sted: the Bal­tic sta­tes, Ire­land, Cy­prus, Spain, Por­tu­gal, all had been be­a­ten in­to sub­mis­si­on. In fact, Dijs­sel­bloem had boa­sted that the way Cy­prus had been tre­a­ted in 2013, soon af­ter he had ta­ken over the Eu­rogroup pre­si­d­en­cy, was the ‘tem­pla­te’ for fu­tu­re cri­ses. It was the th­re­at of bank clo­su­res that had do­ne it – this was the ace he car­ried in his slee­ve on the day of his vi­sit to me – and now he play­ed it.

The­re was an al­ter­na­ti­ve to com­mit­ting to com­ple­ting the pro­gram­me, he told me. I was glad to hear it, I re­plied ho­pe­ful­ly. Turning his ey­es to meet mi­ne, he said pur­po­se­ful­ly, ‘You and I hold a joint con­fe­ren­ce whe­re we an­noun­ce that the pro­gram­me has cras­hed.’

I re­plied that the word ‘crash’ was not exact­ly soothing for mar­kets and ci­ti­zens. What do we re­pla­ce it with? I en­qui­red.

A shrug of his shoul­ders and a look of faux puzz­le­ment was his res­pon­se.

Are you th­re­a­tening me with Grexit, Je­roen?’ I as­ked calm­ly.

No, I ha­ve not said this,’ he pro­tested.

Can we plea­se be frank he­re?’ I said. ‘The­re is too much at sta­ke to pus­sy­foot around. You did say that if I in­sist on re­ne­go­ti­a­ting the pro­gram­me, the pro­gram­me cras­hes. This means one thing and one thing on­ly. And we both know what that is.’

It was of cour­se that the ECB, ei­ther cen­tral­ly or through the Cen­tral Bank of Gree­ce, wit­hdrew its wai­ver and re­fu­sed to ac­cept the col­la­te­ral of Greek banks any mo­re, for­cing them to clo­se. At that point our govern­ment would ha­ve no op­ti­on but to is­sue its own li­qui­di­ty. And if the im­pas­se con­ti­nued our no­mi­nal­ly eu­ro-de­no­mi­na­ted li­qui­di­ty would, at so­me point, turn in­to a new cur­r­en­cy. This was Grexit.

So, you are gi­ving me an ul­ti­ma­tum,’ I con­ti­nued. ‘You are in ef­fect tel­ling me: com­mit to a pro­gram­me that can­not work or you crash out of the eu­ro­zo­ne. Is the­re any other rea­ding to what you just said?’

The pre­si­dent of the Eu­rogroup shrug­ged his shoul­ders again and grin­ned.

It is a sad day for Eu­ro­pe when the Eu­rogroup pre­si­dent pre­sents a fresh­ly elec­ted fi­nan­ce mi­nis­ter with an im­pos­si­ble ul­ti­ma­tum,’ I said. ‘We we­re not elec­ted to clash with the Eu­rogroup, and I am not in­te­rested in clas­hing with you. But nor we­re we elec­ted to ab­di­ca­te du­ring our first week in of­fi­ce by es­pou­sing an im­pos­si­ble pro­gram­me that we ca­me in with a man­da­te to re­ne­go­ti­a­te.’

Our ey­es met in mu­tu­al re­cog­ni­ti­on of the im­pas­se. The on­ly thing left to do was to agree on what each of us would say du­ring the press con­fe­ren­ce sche­du­led to fol­low our mee­ting, so as to con­ce­al the dead­lock and thus pre­vent it af­fec­ting the fi­nan­ci­al mar­kets. He pro­po­sed a first draft; I ma­de a cou­ple of cor­rec­ti­ons; we agreed. I sug­ge­sted that, af­ter the spee­ches, it would be best to ta­ke no ques­ti­ons. He coun­te­red that we had bet­ter ta­ke a cou­ple. Ans­we­ring jour­na­lists’ poin­ted ques­ti­ons would gi­ve him the op­por­tu­ni­ty to jan­g­le the mar­kets’ ner­ves just a litt­le – en­ough to ac­ce­le­ra­te by a notch or two the bank run that the troi­ka had kick-star­ted weeks be­fo­re. Lo­ath to be port­ray­ed as muzz­ling the press, I agreed.

The press room was pack­ed. On­ce the TV feeds had been es­ta­blis­hed and the noi­se sub­si­ded, I be­gan with pre­dic­ta­ble ni­ce­ties con­sis­tent with my nar­ra­ti­ve of a new be­gin­ning in Greece’s re­la­ti­ons­hip with its cre­di­tors and the Eu­rogroup. Eve­ry word had been agreed be­fo­re­hand. He too res­pec­ted our agree­ment and did not stray from the script as we laid a ve­neer of bo­ring nor­ma­li­ty over the mee­ting. Then ca­me the ques­ti­ons.

The first was ad­dres­sed to Je­roen. Would he be agree­able to the con­ve­ning of an in­ter­na­ti­o­nal con­fe­ren­ce on Greece’s debt, si­mi­lar to that in Lon­don in 1953, which had re­sul­ted in sub­stan­ti­al debt re­lief for Ger­ma­ny? He res­pon­ded flip­pant­ly that Eu­ro­pe al­rea­dy had a per­ma­nent debt con­fe­ren­ce – the Eu­rogroup! I smi­led at his ans­wer, ma­king a men­tal no­te to use it my­self if an op­por­tu­ne mo­ment pre­sen­ted itself.

The se­cond ques­ti­on was ad­dres­sed to me. Would I coo­p­e­ra­te with the troi­ka? My ans­wer was ful­ly in li­ne with what I had told Je­roen in my of­fi­ce: ‘We must be clear in our minds about the gre­at dif­fe­ren­ce bet­ween the pro­per­ly in­sti­tu­ted in­sti­tu­ti­ons of the Eu­ro­pean Union, such as the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­si­on and the Eu­ro­pean Cen­tral Bank, as well as in­ter­na­ti­o­nal in­sti­tu­ti­ons such as the IMF – or­ga­ni­za­ti­ons and in­sti­tu­ti­ons to which Gree­ce proud­ly be­longs – and a tri­par­ti­te com­mit­tee that is as­so­ci­a­ted with the im­po­si­ti­on of a pro­gram­me that our govern­ment was elec­ted to chal­len­ge and to dis­pu­te. Our govern­ment will pro­ceed un­der the prin­ci­ple of maxi­mum coo­p­e­ra­ti­on with the well-con­sti­tu­ted legal in­sti­tu­ti­ons of the Eu­ro­pean Union, and of cour­se the IMF. But with a tri­par­ti­te com­mit­tee who­se ob­jec­ti­ve is the en­for­ce­ment of a pro­gram­me who­se lo­gic we con­si­der to be an­ti-Eu­ro­pean, with that com­mit­tee, which even the Eu­ro­pean par­li­a­ment con­si­ders to be flim­si­ly con­struc­ted, we ha­ve no in­ten­ti­on to coo­p­e­ra­te.’

It was the sa­me point that I had just ma­de to Je­o­ren in my of­fi­ce and with which he had re­luct­ant­ly agreed: yes to wor­king clo­se­ly and well with the in­sti­tu­ti­ons, but no to the hu­mi­li­a­ting troi­ka pro­cess. As he lis­te­n­ed in his ear­pie­ce to the trans­la­ti­on of my res­pon­se, an ex­pres­si­on of in­cre­a­sing dis­ap­pro­val ap­pe­a­red on his fa­ce. When the trans­la­ti­on fi­nis­hed, he angri­ly re­mo­ved his ear­pie­ce and lea­ned over to whis­per in my ear, ‘You just kil­led the troi­ka!’

Wow!’ I ans­we­red. ‘This is an une­ar­ned com­pli­ment.’

Turning away, Je­roen jum­ped to his feet to storm out. But I had ma­na­ged to stand up at the sa­me ti­me and of­fer him my hand. So­me­what thrown by my ge­stu­re, and as he had to walk past me to reach the exit, he aw­k­ward­ly took my hand in his wit­hout stop­ping. The pho­to­grap­hers poun­ced. Their pic­tu­res showed an ill-man­ne­red Eu­rogroup pre­si­dent ru­de­ly brus­hing past me be­fo­re the cus­to­ma­ry hands­ha­ke had been com­ple­ted.

Ein­de ci­taat. Dit zijn de woor­den van Ya­nis Va­rou­fa­k­is zelf. Zo is het dus ge­gaan en dit werd er ge­zegd. Wor­den we al een beet­je on­pas­se­lijk? Ik moest na het le­zen hier­van wel even wat weg­slik­ken en kon slechts te­gen mijn ka­mer­ge­noot van dat mo­ment ver­zuch­ten wat een on­voor­stel­ba­re hork die Dijs­sel­bloem is en hoe sme­rig het spel­le­tje dat hij en zijn Troi­ka-kor­nui­ten speel­den. Lees dan nu het ar­ti­kel van Van Wil­li­gen­burg