You are here

From 'Greferendum' to possible 'Grexit': failed talks stun Brussels

Greek Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis (top) enters his car as he leaves the Eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on June 27, 2015.

[BRUSSELS] There is shell-shock in the eurozone as officials slowly wake up to the idea that a meeting of ministers on a balmy Saturday night in Brussels may have been the tragic moment when the euro, and a certain idea of Europe, fell into tatters.

It all began with a tweet, in the late hours on Friday.

"We were in the Charlemagne building talking with Greek negotiators when they looked down to their phones. There was a referendum. No one had told them. They saw it on Twitter," said an exasperated EU official.

As it is the way in the EU capital, officials who work behind the scenes refused to speak on the record.

"We are very, very disappointed," one visibly exhausted negotiator said, worn out after the nearly six-month struggle to keep Greece in the eurozone.

"There was surprise on every side," another European negotiator said, as news of the referendum on the creditors' reform proposals spread amongst the officials who thought a final deal with Athens was almost there for the taking.

The belief was that we were "98 or 99 per cent there", an official said, describing the overwhelming feeling that a deal between Greece and its creditors would in the end be clinched.

But the meeting of the Eurogroup, the fifth in ten days, instead began like a wake with ministers grim-faced in dark suits oblivious to the Saturday sun.

The referendum thunderbolt was "baffling", "negative" and left Europeans "no choice", he said.

"This is not the first time the Greek government creates more drama again and again," said Slovakia's finance minister Peter Kazimir, moments before the meeting started.

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's controversial finance minister, sat alone in the meeting room, snubbed by his counterpart until one of his hardset critics, Finland's Alexander Stubb, tapped him politely on the shoulder.

But ministers mostly were wallowing in disappointment.

"When we left on Thursday evening there was two papers on the table," Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said, referring to the previous round in a marathon of talks.

"I thought we would continue to bridge the gap... And then I found at 12 o'clock last night that the Greeks unilaterally discontinued negotiations." "I thought we had arrived to a good place, but that's not to be," Mr Noonan said.

It did not take long for the 18 ministers of the eurozone to refuse a request from their 19th member Greece for a bailout extension beyond June 30.

"However regretful, the programme will expire Tuesday night," Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said in a press briefing.

"It's actually a good thing," a eurozone diplomat said moments after Mr Varoufakis left the meeting.

"No one wanted to deal with them anymore. Mr Varoufakis is in an alternative reality. He and Tsipras are leading their country out of the eurozone," the official said as the remaining ministers continued to meet.

The jilted Mr Varoufakis, leaving the building, said: ""It's a sad day for Europe but we will overcome it."


Read more on the Greek crisis here