Insight: Europe treads a thin line on Greece

Wed May 30, 2012 3:33pm EDT
 
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By Luke Baker

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Two weeks ago, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Union's top two officials, met for lunch in Van Rompuy's offices to discuss the deteriorating situation in Greece. Their immediate concern was an uncompromising letter.

On May 10, Alexis Tsipras, the 37-year-old leader of Greece's far-left SYRIZA coalition, had written to them to say that the 130-billion-euro bailout agreed between Greece and the EU/IMF was illegitimate and could not be honored.

Since SYRIZA had come second in Greece's May 6 election, a better result than expected, Tsipras's threat could not be ignored. Some opinion polls were already suggesting he could win a second election, scheduled for June 17, an outcome that would shunt Greece closer to a possible exit from the euro zone.

In talks that spanned a range of issues, Van Rompuy and Barroso discussed whether to respond to the two-page missive.

Sources present said Barroso initially proposed replying, but Van Rompuy was more cautious, concerned that whatever they wrote would be leaked, ran the risk of playing into Tsipras's hands, and that in any case they should not get into the game of replying to every letter they receive from a party leader.

"It was an open discussion and valid points were made on both sides," said an official familiar with the meeting.

Ultimately it was decided that they would not reply and none has been sent.

But the episode illustrates the delicate balance Europe's leaders are trying to keep between engaging in - or even influencing - Greece's political process and standing back to let it run its course, no matter what the consequences may be.   Continued...

 
Alexis Tsipras, head of Greece's radical left SYRIZA party, listens during an interview with Reuters in Athens in this May 20, 2012 file photo. Europe's leaders are trying to keep a delicate balance between engaging in - or even influencing - Greece's political process and standing back to let it run its course, no matter what the consequences may be. Get too involved and the EU runs the risk of being seen to meddle in Greek democracy, an interference that could turn frustrated voters ever more firmly against Europe and its institutions, exacerbating an already precarious situation. Maintain too much distance and leaders might be accused of fiddling while Athens burns - allowing the country to slide towards a fate that could include departure from the euro and the European Union, with vast and unpredictable repercussions for everyone involved in the 50-year European project. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis/Files