PARIS, France – European leaders reacted with a mix of dismay and caution Sunday, July 5, after Greek voters defied their warnings of a possible “Grexit” by saying a resounding ‘No’ to creditors’ harsh bailout terms.
Jeroen Dijsselbloem, leader of the Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, who had warned ahead of Sunday’s crunch referendum a ‘No’ vote would likely lead to Greece exiting the single currency, termed the result “very regrettable”.
“I take note of the outcome of the Greek referendum. This result is very regrettable for the future of Greece,” the Dutch finance minister said in a statement.
Germany’s vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel took an even dimmer view of the message sent by austerity-addled Greeks after they rallied to a call by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for a boosted mandate to pursue a more lenient debt deal that includes debt forgiveness.
Leading the reaction from Germany, Gabriel, who heads the center-left Social Democratic Party that shares power with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, accused Tsipras of having “torn down the last bridges which Europe and Greece could have crossed to find a compromise.”
“By saying ‘No’ to the eurozone’s rules… negotiations over billions of euros in bailout programs are difficult to imagine,” Gabriel told his country’s Tagesspiegel newspaper, referring to Greece’s request for a new bailout program.
A German government spokesman said in a later statement that Merkel had discussed the outcome of the vote with French President Francois Hollande in a telephone call.
The chancellor, an advocate of austerity, and Hollande, who spoke Sunday night by phone with Tsipras, were “in agreement that the vote by the Greek people be respected,” the spokesman said.
The leaders of the eurozone’s two biggest economies also called for a summit of eurozone leaders on Tuesday, July 7 – a request rapidly granted by EU Council President Donald Tusk.
The European Commission issued only a terse statement on the vote, saying it “respects” the result and that Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker – who had lobbied for a ‘Yes’ vote – would hold a teleconference Monday, July 6, with Dijsselbloem and Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, whose emergency loans have been keeping Greek banks afloat.
While most EU leaders refrained from repeating their pre-referendum warnings about the uncertain fate facing Greece, Slovakian Finance Minister Peter Kazimir declared Athens had moved closer to leaving the eurozone.
“The nightmare of the ‘euro-architects’ that a country could leave the club seems like a realistic scenario after Greece voted No today,” tweeted Kazimir.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini of Finland’s eurosceptic Finns Party told his country’s MTV television that Greece’s future in the eurozone depended on European taxpayers “willingness to pay”.
“It cannot be that when they vote in Greece, they vote to have other eurozone members’ tax euros for themselves,” said Soini, whose country is part of a staunchly pro-austerity club of eurozone members.
Baltic states within the single currency, and non-eurozone member Poland, also voiced dismay at the outcome.
Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite said the Greek vote has “further complicated the situation”, while Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas tweeted: “Does not look good for the future of Greek people…”
Latvian PM Laidmota Straujuma, also on Twitter, wrote that a Greek ‘No’ “will make any further negotiations very difficult”. But her spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga later told Agence France-Presse that “Europe keeps the door open for negotiations if the Greeks are willing to return”.
Russia also weighed in, with deputy economy minister Alexei Likhachev seeing the Mediterranean country – whose prime minister has been accused of cozying up to President Vladimir Putin – as having taken “a step towards a eurozone exit”.
But anti-austerity and eurosceptic parties were heartened by the Greek rebuff to the EU.
“EU project is now dying. It’s fantastic to see the courage of the Greek people in the face of political and economic bullying from Brussels,” the leader of Britain’s eurosceptic UK Independence Party Nigel Farage wrote on Twitter, praising the Greeks for “calling the EU’s bluff”.
Spain’s radical left Podemos party, an ally of Greece’s ruling Syriza party, also cheered the result, which comes ahead of a general election later this year in Spain in which the left is tipped for gains.
“Today in Greece democracy won,” Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias posted on his Twitter page.
In a sign of the nervousness of Spain’s conservative government about the possible political contagion from Tsipras’ victory Sunday, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called an emergency meeting on Monday with senior officials including his economy and finance ministers. – Clare Byrne, AFP / Rappler.com