Pulling the strings – democracy as a plaything for the elites


Shocking revelations from the Financial Times in London have revealed how Greek democracy was sidelined and humiliated by the European and financial elites. In the first part of a series that looks at how Europe almost unravelled during the 2011 financial crisis, the spotlight has been cast on the bludgeoning the then Greek Prime Minister, aided and abetted by his then Finance Minister, who used the crisis to steal his job.

That is how democracy was managed in 2011 – a political mugging, a betrayal from within the Greek leadership and a puppet technocrat installed to round out the political theatre of the absurd.

As with nearly everything in the eurozone crisis, it started in Greece.

“Everybody was saying that the government are traitors,” Mr Papandreou recalled. “I realised the situation was getting out of control.”

That weekend, he gathered a small group of advisers and unveiled his plan: he would call a national referendum on the new €172bn bailout programme.

 “I remember the first thing that went through my mind: ‘I hope he’s told Merkel,’” said one minister.

So when Mr Sarkozy learnt that Mr Papandreou had decided to put their carefully crafted bailout deal up for a vote, he exploded. “He was ballistic,” said an aide. “He was ballistic.”

Mr Sarkozy summoned his fellow leaders to the Palais at 5.30pm on Wednesday, an hour before they were due to meet Mr Papandreou, to agree on how to confront him. Those invited included Ms Merkel; Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who chaired the eurogroup of finance ministers; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and the EU’s two presidents, Jose Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy.

When the group assembled in a small, bland conference room, seated on rococo Louis XV chairs around a long table, Mr Sarkozy passed around a single sheet, titled “Position commune sur la Grèce” – common position on Greece. “The idea was to put Papandreou against the wall, in the corner,” said one person in the room.

Unbeknown to Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel, Mr Barroso had called Mr Samaras, the Greek opposition leader, from his hotel before the meeting. He knew Mr Samaras was desperate to avoid the referendum.

Mr Samaras told Mr Barroso he was now willing to sign on to a national unity government between his New Democracy party and Pasok – something he had assiduously avoided for months in the hopes he could secure the premiership on his own.

‘We have to kill this referendum’– José Manuel Barroso

Mr Barroso summoned his cabinet and other commission staff to his suite at the art deco Hotel Majestic Barrière to plot strategy. He decided he would not tell Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel of the conversation but according to people in the room, they began discussing names of possible technocrats to take over from Mr Papandreou in a national unity government. The first person to come to Mr Barroso’s lips was Lucas Papademos, the Greek economist who had left his post as vice-president of the ECB a year earlier. Within a week, Mr Papademos would have the job.

Watching Mr Venizelos assert himself hours later inside the Palais, Mr Barroso saw his opportunity. Mr Sarkozy brought the meeting to a close, rereading his six-point plan and telling Mr Papandreou to go back to Athens to “take a decision”, and Mr Barroso pulled Mr Venizelos aside.

“We have to kill this referendum,” Mr Barroso said. The finance minister agreed almost immediately. Killing the referendum idea would also be the end of Mr Papandreou.

 See the full report here in the Financial Times

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