The Greek Dilemma / Ma cedere ai ricatti è sempre un errore

Article written for the Italian Magazine L’Espresso.
Qui l’articolo originale sul sito de L’Espresso.

Sunday the Greeks will choose, but from what choices? Listening to Prime Minister Tsipras, they could say no to the humiliating conditions imposed by Troika or yes to eternal austerity. Listening to the opposition they could say yes to Europe and no to the Euro. Both affirmations are true, but they conveniently omit part of the truth, or rather what will truly happen after the victory of either front. Tsipras omits saying that if the No wins, less than a radical change in Europe’s behavior towards Greece, little can allow Greece to stay in the Euro, a result preferred by the majority of Greeks. The opposition omits saying that this plan of austerity pushes away the risk of bankruptcy, but doesn’t eliminate it. If they don’t change things, after this plan there will probably be another, and another still, because the Greek debt is not sustainable, less than a radical change in Europe’s behavior towards Greece.

It is clear that a Greek that wants to leave the Euro will vote No and one who is okay with the politics imposed by Europe will vote Yes. But these represent the minority. The majority of Greeks wants concessions from Europe, but also wants to stay in the Euro: how should they vote? What makes this referendum unusual is exactly this. In the choice between monarchy and republic, between abortion or not, the consequences of their choice is clear, because they are predetermined. In this referendum they are not. It is asked of citizens that they vote on a negotiation strategy and the main difference between the Yes front and the No one is in the hypotheses that are assumed about how Europe will react. Syriza’s belief is that Europe is more afraid of losing Greece than Greece is of losing Europe. If it were the case, a No victory would force Europe to yield in negotiations so as to avoid Greece’s exit. On the contrary, the beliefs of the opposition are that more is obtained from Europe with good manners than with bad. In this case, a Yes victory, with the probable fall of Tsipras, would bring along the formation of a new government, more in synchrony with Europe. Knowing that the survival of the new government depends on concessions that it manages to obtain from Troika, the latter would be essentially forced to make generous compromises.

But if we analyze the incentives of the involved parties, the two hypotheses are equally probable. If European leaders look at their short-term election incentives, there is no doubt that for them, in particular Merkel and Schäuble, it is more costly to give in to Greece’s blackmail than to be considered co-responsible for Greece’s exit from the Eurozone. In the first case, they would risk losing a considerable slice of their own electorate in favor of the AfD anti-euro, in the second case they wouldn’t (they could maybe even gain votes).

If instead European leaders look at a more long-term prospect, the result doesn’t change. With a long-term prospect, the negotiation between Europe and Greece must be analyzed even for the consequence it will have on the future negotiations with other countries. To give in to black mail would only increase the incentives to blackmail. For this – shortsighted or not – at this point European leaders cannot give into the blackmail from a Greece that votes No but also wants concessions.

This means that the Yes victory is granted? Absolutely not. My analyses assume that all the voters are perfectly informed and act in a rational manner. With only five days left of campaign, in a tense climate, with closed banks, both the hypotheses are not realistic. At the end the winner will be he who manages to dump responsibility for the current situation on the adversary: for Syriza banks are closed by fault of Europe, for the Yes front by fault of Syriza. I am only a fervent supporter of a more democratic Europe, where the people decide and not the bureaucrats in Brussels or Frankfurt, but is this true democracy?