Germany's rejection of Greece's request to extend its current aid program has surprised and even worried many in Brussels. The radical left-right coalition in Athens had finally deigned to lodge its vital application to request the extension - and thus ensured there would be some hope for an agreement with its creditors. But conservative German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble immediately pounded the table with his fist. He exposed the application as sham: Greece said it was committed, at least in principle, to meeting many demands of the Eurogroup, but Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis remained too vague about the details. Too many loopholes. Rejected!
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Eurogroup head Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who had mediated over the past few days and helped the Greeks to formulate the application, are somewhat perplexed about Berlin's harsh No, which Helsinki has since come out in favor of. It would have been better to consult only once within the Eurogroup and then ask Greece for improvements. Even within the German government coalition in Berlin, Schäuble's negotiation tactics have faced criticism. However, Social Democratic leader Sigmar Gabriel says Schäuble is right: Athens' application will be rejected in its present form. Ahead of what will now be the third meeting of the Eurogroup on the latest Greek drama, the mood is as bad as can be imagined.
Last Friday is probably the last chance for the radical coalition led by Alexis Tsipras to come to its senses. And it's probably the last chance for the tough guys in the Eurogroup to find common ground with the Greeks and do something to protect the cohesion of the euro, which is still the heart of European integration. The fact that the Greek side has ruled out making changes to its application suggests that negotiations will be protracted and difficult. Results are by no means guaranteed. Greek insolvency is moving inexorably closer.
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi has lost patience with Varoufakis' wild financial ideas. Greeks are putting their money into safe havens, tax revenues are plummeting and economic development is paralyzed. But the Greeks seem to have their pride back. That was a bad swap. Greece already totally depends on life support from the ECB. Without emergency aid for Greek banks, Greece's exit from the euro area and all existing sources of finance is only a matter of days.
The application to continue the ongoing aid program, the object of so much conflict, really only addresses one minor problem. Extending the program only ensures that the last installment, amounting to nearly 7 billion of the total 240 billion euros in loans, can be paid in accordance with long-agreed terms over the next six months. First, the troika - which isn't supposed to be called that any more - must examine the books.
The application was therefore not about the great new restructuring, reform and welfare program the Greek government promised its constituents without any idea how it could be financed. It didn't address the larger issues of debt restructuring and debt relief. That discussion is yet to come!
After six months, a new deal with the Eurogroup and the International Monetary Fund would have to be negotiated. From today's perspective, that seems almost impossible. It is more likely that Greece would finally go bankrupt in the interim. The Syriza-Anel team should fail as soon as possible on the basis of their own campaign promises. Their magic should disappear and they should be voted out democratically. That too would be hard for Greece, but still better than being ruled by a left-wing radical bigmouth, an economic dilettante and a nationalist switch-hitter and being ejected from the EU.