Thursday, November 03, 2011

Not such a surprise

UPDATE: (16:06 hrs) From the horse's mouth, addressing parliament his parliamentary group. He is most definitely not going to resign, and is ready for the vote of confidence on Friday. The referendum has achieved its purpose, he says, in pulling all the political groups behind the bailout, and achieving "unity".

We'll wind up our coverage there, and pick up any further developments at the end of the evening. Thank you all for feeding me links, for supporting the coverage and keeping up the commentary on the forum. We have been topping one reader every six seconds in what may be another of those turning points in history.

UPDATE: (14:58) Kostas Yeitonas, Pasok member, is saying on Mega TV that Papandreou has abandoned the referendum. Associated Press is saying the same thing and the Financial Times agrees. Nevertheless, this is not an official statement - it is a "leak" from Cabinet now an official statement.

There is no word on where that leaves the chances of Papandreou winning his vote of confidence but, apparently, talks are underway over the creation of a National Unity government.

UPDATE: (14:28 hrs) The Boy blathers about "unity" while the Evening Standard continues to run the resignation meme, while The Failygraph is at last admitting: "... it seems like reports George Papandreou was on his way to see the President to hand in his resignation and ask for a coaltion government were slightly premature".

UPDATE: (14:19) Reuters is still offering, Greek government "on the brink of collapse". The political turmoil in Greece and uncertainty over the euro zone sent stocks and commodity prices lower in Asia, it reports, and fuelled a rush into safe-haven German bonds. But financial markets rallied in nervous trading as the likelihood grew that Greece would not hold the highly risky referendum.

UPDATE: (14:10 hrs) Papandreou may not be resigning ... statement later tonight. No planned meeting with the president, says The Guardian, but no MSM yet breaking out from the resignation meme. The Failygraph is still reporting: "The Greek Prime Minister will resign, report says, after a split over holding a referendum on staying in the euro, and G20 leaders gather in Cannes to push for a resolution". I wonder if the BBC is going to have to change its headline as well?

UPDATE: (13:52 hrs) Take away the Greek euro … Mrs Merkel, we want a referendum (as well) says Bild. There is a virus spreading throughout Europe.

UPDATE: (13:15 hrs) Obama speaks in Cannes ... he says that the most important task at the G-20 summit is to resolve the European financial crisis and urges EU leaders to flesh out details of their ambitious plan to rescue Greece and stabilize financial markets. But it's not so much, "yes we Cannes" as "no we can't".

UPDATE: (12:57 hrs) The EU commission is racking up the anguish. Any nation that exits the euro zone must also leave the EU, spokesthing Karolina Kottova says. The commission's interpretation of EU law remains that "the treaties don't foresee an exit from the euro zone" without a country also exiting the EU.

UPDATE: (12:43 hrs) Resignation is "just one of the many scenarios circulating in an atmosphere of "great confusion". There is huge confusion, and a sense of rising panic, in Greece, says The Guardian. However, there is the "bubble-effect" to take into account ... the closed loop between the media and the politicians feeding off each other, stoking up hysteria that is not always rooted in reality.

UPDATE: (12:37 hrs) Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou is expected to offer his resignation within the next half-hour, according to the BBC. Papandreou will meet Greek President Karolos Papoulias immediately after an emergency cabinet meeting, currently in progress, has finished. There is talk of forming a "national unity" government.

UPDATE: The Greek Government was on the brink of collapse today as Cabinet ministers fought over how to keep their ailing country within the eurozone, says The Times. The country is set for a general election rather than the referendum, says The Guardian. With the Daily Wail getting all excited about Papandreou preparing to resign, are we looking at brinkmanship, theatre, or what?

UPDATE: The extruded verbal material (EVM) doth flow. Because a referendum is a democratic process does not necessarily make for a democratic outcome, any more than a saw will necessarily cut straight and true. How much of this is political theatre, designed to achieve a pre-ordained result?  How much are people in Greece being manipulated, and to what extent are they to be given a real choice?

And whatever the question on the ballot paper, the "colleagues" are clearly aiming to turn this into an in/out referendum. Am I the only one to see a parallel with 1933?

UPDATE: Of the referendum question, Papandreou says, "It's not the moment to give you the exact wording, but the essence is that this is not a question only of a programme, this is a question of whether we want to remain in the euro zone".

Quite evidently, this man is playing "games". It this was to have even the pretence of a straight contest, the question would already have been published. Papandreou is playing this for the advantage it gives him, skewing the debate in an attempt to achieve the desired outcome. As far as we understand it, there is no equivalent of an electoral commission in Greece, to veto the text of a question or to monitor (however imperfectly) the conduct of the referendum. Perhaps the EU should send in "independent" observers?

UPDATE: Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelosa says that Greece's position within the euro area is "a historic conquest of the country that cannot be put in doubt. This achievement by the Greek people cannot depend on a referendum".

Notwithstanding that he opposes a referendum, what does he mean by "historic conquest"? Who conquered whom? Has something been lost in translation?

UPDATE: The opposition New Democracy party has blasted Papandreou for suggesting there are any serious doubts in Greece about the country's membership of the euro.

The comments made by Mr Papandreou, as well as those by Sarkozy and Merkel, "revealed that he suggested to them that in Greece there is a supposed questioning of whether Greece should remain in the eurozone and the European Union", says ND spokesman Yiannis Michelakis. He adds: "It is clear that no such problem exists and that Mr Papandreou – through sudden and despicable misinformation – is trying to create it himself".

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras avers that his party does not question Greece being part of the euro but wants the austerity programme to be "overhauled". "The only problem that exists is Mr Papandreou remaining as prime minister", says Michelakis. "He is dangerous and he has to go".

UPDATE: Says Papandreou, at Cannes: "The Greek people want us to remain in the eurozone. We are part of the eurozone and we are proud to be part of the eurozone. Being part of the eurozone means having many rights and also obligations. We can live up to these obligations. I do believe there is a wide consensus among the Greek people and that's why I want the Greek people to speak".

UPDATE: Luxembourg premier Jean-Claude Juncker has in Cannes announced the date of the Greek referendum, following a meeting with Papandreou and other European leaders. He says it would be the 4th or 5th December. Juncker says: "it comes down to the question if yes or no, Greece wants to stay as a member of the euro area or not." Sarkozy says the next tranche of the bailout cannot be paid until after the referendum.

UPDATE: On the other hand, the referendum will address the new EU plan to rescue Greece and not whether the country will remain or not in the eurozone, said a Greek government spokesman today - according to ekathimerini. You pays yer money and you takes yer choice.

UPGRADE: The theatre continues: the Financial Times says that Greece has decided on the referendum question. The people will not be asked whether they accept the bailout terms, but whether they want to remain within the EU and the eurozone. It is shaping up very much as expected, with Papandreou heading for a clear win. British referendum enthusiasts take note.

UPDATE: In the war of the constitutions, who is right? Helen has a look at what the Greek constitution actually says. Can Papandreou have his referendum or not?

UPDATE: The Guardian is just beginning to catch up with this blog, conveying a "theory" to explain Papandreou's decision to call a referendum. He is forcing the opposition's hand and hopes to gain from a "yes" vote justification and moral authority in carrying out the reforms.

As regards the procedural details, Article 44 of the Greek constitution stipulates that a referendum can be called for so-called "national issues" with the support of a simple majority of at least 151 MPs out of 300 total, or any proposed law with a supermajority of 180 MPs but with the caveat that the proposed law cannot refer to fiscal matters. Thus, Papandreou will call for a "national issues" referendum – slender though it is, with 152 out of 300, he still has a majority and can carry the day.

Greek people, says the paper, are extremely likely to vote "no". Recent polls by the To Vima newspaper have shown that 59 percent of respondents do not agree with the deal struck on Thursday the 27th at the same time as a large majority (73 percent) want Greece to remain a part of the Eurozone.

Thus it is possible, the paper concludes, that the ruling party will link the two issues in an attempt to force the outcome. And that is exactly what you read here on Tuesday (written Monday night), and elaborated on below. The Failygraph still hasn't got it. It thinks that this is about Greece extracting itself from the euro, and is flapping around listening to The Boy, as if he had anything intelligent to say.

Although the exact timing of the Greek referendum has been a huge surprise to the international media, it was widely reported in mid-June that Papandreou was signalling an intention to hold a referendum this year. His announcement, made on 19 June at the start of a three-day parliamentary debate, was ostensibly aimed at seeking approval for "changes to the political system," including to the country's constitution.

Even then, opposition leader Antonis Samaras was calling instead for early elections, condemning Papandreou's referendum proposal as "an evasive manoeuvre masking his inability to govern". Analysts were interpreting the move as an alternative to early elections which Papandreou had repeatedly rejected.

The immediate intention then was to set up a committee to collate and work through reform proposals. Papandreou pledged the government would "immediately afterwards to go for a referendum". "In another words", he said, "in the autumn. In the autumn we will go for a referendum about the big changes needed for the country".

In fact though, that was not even the first time he had made that promise. On 25 May, George Papandreou, seeing that a consensus with the head of the main opposition party was not possible along with the very strong objections to new tough measures within (ruling socialist party) PASOK, was reported to have decided to put on the table the possibility of a referendum.

On 6 June, he held a marathon informal Cabinet meeting that ran for more than seven hours. He was reported to have told his ministers that he would "consider holding a referendum on further cutbacks essential for the loan-dependent country to continue drawing on funds from an international bailout, amid persistent anti-austerity protests".

In statements delivered during the meeting and released by his office, Papandreou said he had called on the Interior Minister, Haris Kastanidis, to set up the necessary legislative conditions that would allow such a move "when it is needed." He gave no further details.

Working to his instructions, Kastanidis on 7 October was telling parliament that there was a need "for the Greek people, at this critical moment, to take a position on the fiscal problem". Kastanidis did not specify when such a call would be made, or the exact phrasing of the question.

However, the Greek parliament was very much in the loop as – by way of a preparatory measure - it approved a bill making a referendum result binding on the government if at least 50 percent of registered voters participate on a social issue vote and 40 percent on a national issue.

Thus, by the beginning of last month, the stage had been set for the current drama. It came as a surprise simply because we were not listening. And, despite the huffing and puffing, Papandreou today won the backing of his cabinet for the referendum move, as he knew he would.

Furthermore, this veteran politician is confident he will succeed when it comes to the vote. "The referendum will be a clear mandate and a clear message in and outside Greece on our European course and participation in the euro," he told his ministers. "No one will be able to doubt Greece's course within the euro".

Thus, what we are seeing is a long-calculated ploy to head off opposition calls for a general election. Papandreou is making an appeal direct to the people in the expectation that, despite the intense unpopularity of the bailout conditions, they will hold on to nanny for fear of something worse.

Those who are parading this as an exercise in democracy might need to think again. Reminiscent of the use of plebiscites in the Germany of the 1930s, this is old-fashioned survival politics, with a skilled manipulator using a referendum to avoid certain defeat in the polls. He is circumventing rather than supporting the democratic process.

Merkel may not entirely approve, but she will understand the strategy ... and go along with the theatre. We will see highly publicised but meaningless "concessions" made in Cannes today. Papandreou will bring forward the referendum to December and, responding to a rigged question, the Greeks will vote to stay in the euro.

Armageddon will have been delayed until after Christmas. It will come ... but not just yet.