One of the main arguments made by Alexis Tsipras for a No vote in the Greek referendum was that it would strengthen his government’s bargaining power. But a day after the country’s decisive rejection of the previous eurozone offer, there is little sign that it has done so. At her joint press conference this evening with François Hollande following their meeting, Angela Merkel emphasised that the onus was on Greece to come forward with “very specific proposals” (offering no immediate concessions of her own) and even went as far as to describe the previous package as “generous”. Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s vice chancellor and the leader of Merkel’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats, has declared that “The ultimate insolvency of the country seems to be imminent”.
Hollande, as before, took a more accommodative stance. But while stating that “the door is open” (though not as open as he would like), he warned that “There’s not a lot of time left. There is urgency for Greece and there is urgency for Europe”. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for the euro, similarly concluded that “The no result unfortunately widens the gulf between Greece and other eurozone countries … There is no easy way out of this crisis. Too much time and too many opportunities have been lost.”
It is time that is indeed the biggest obstacle to a deal. Greek’s banks are close to running out of cash (one of the four biggest is reported to be on the brink). But the European Central Bank, the institution keeping them afloat, has again capped the level of emergency liquidity at €89bn. Rather than offering greater relief, it has tightened the noose by forcing the banks to provide more assets to the Bank of Greece as security against the loans. Robert Peston reports that this has reduced the spare cash-raising capacity of the banks from €17-20bn to between €5-7bn. By acting in this way, the ECB has opened itself to the charge that it has exceeded its mandate by intervening in a political dispute.
The danger is that unless Greece makes immediate progress with the troika in the next two days, the banks will no longer able to function even at their current limited level (with ATM withdrawals limited to €60 a day and overseas transactions banned). Such a financial collapse would force Greece to leave the euro in order to allow its banks to issue a new and heavily devalued currency. Few are confident that it will be able to make a scheduled payment of €3.5bn to the ECB in two weeks’ times.
Of the three main possible outcomes to the crisis – a long-term deal to keep Greece in the euro, another short-term financing arrangement (“kicking the can down the road” as it has become known) or Grexit – it is the third that appears ever more likely.