James Galbraith spent eight days in February traipsing around Europe with Yanis Varoufakis.
“I stayed with the tech teams, from the 11th to the 17th, including the Brussels meeting,” says Galbraith. “I was in the boiler room with the Greek guys, the working stiffs.”
He’s shared the experience via an article in Fortune. The frequent lack of professionalism and coordination on the European side shocked him.
At the Eurogroup conclave, Pierre Moscovici, the EU commissioner for economic and financial affairs, presented Varoufakis with a draft communiqué that allowed Greece to apply for an extension of its loan agreement while granting time to discuss a new growth program for Greece. As Varoufakis stated at the press conference after the meeting, he was poised to sign the Moscovici communiqué, which he praised as a “splendid document” and a “genuine breakthrough.”
But the chief of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, was working on his own document. “Yanis said, ‘I have a text,’ and Dijesselbloem said, ‘No, this is the text.’”
Galbraith and the Greek team then attempted to combine portions of the two drafts into a document acceptable to both sides. “My day from that point, along with some other people, was taken up with trying to turn either of those texts into something that could be signed. In another half hour, we could have done it.”
Then, according to Galbraith, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble closed the meeting. “He was saying ‘no’” to fashioning a joint statement as a prelude to a compromise, says Galbraith.
Nor was this the only occasion when the European negotiating side seemed to have their wires crossed.
On February 18, Varoufakis presented a formal request for an extension of Greece’s loan agreement with the Eurogroup. Once again, the divergent responses left Galbraith confounded.
“Jean-Claude Juncker [president of the European Commission] said it was a good start,” says Galbraith. He also notes that Germany’s vice chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, said that the loan extension letter was a “starting point” for negotiations. But Schaeuble contradicted Gabriel, dismissing the request as “not a substantial position.”
“My eyes are bugging out watching this,” says Galbraith. “This is Germany, the most powerful government in Europe!”
We only have his word for it, of course. Still, lying about such critical matters for someone with such a high professional profile would seem suicidal.
He certainly has the highest regard for Varoufakis, seeing him as a bracing, iconoclastic truth teller let loose in enclaves where such behaviour is somewhere between rare and unknown. One comment was particularly interesting.
As an example of Varoufakis’ unvarnished honesty, he cites his friend’s statement that among those with whom he’s negotiated, Schaeuble, a staunch opponent, is “the only one whom I have found to have intellectual substance.”
Nor does he think his friend is for turning.
“That’s impossible,” says Galbraith. “He’d get on his motorcycle and drive off. He gnashed his teeth to take the job. He wanted to put his ideas into practice.”
Whether he’s right or wrong, it seems this most unlikely match will be played out to the end.
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1 He and Varoufakis met as colleagues at the University of Texas, hit it off and became “intellectual soul mates”. With Stuart Holland they authored a treatise on resolving Greece’s problems within the Eurozone entitled “A Modest Proposal“.
2 Despite hailing from somewhere near the other end of the ideological spectrum I think Varoufakis has considerable logic, and justice, on his side.