There is a strange confrontation, and tension is growing, between Ecofin Commissioner Olli Rhen (acting on the behalf of the Eurogroup) and the leader of the Greek opposition New Democracy party Antonis Samaras over the issue of the written guarantees required by the commissioner over the policies to be introduced for the implementation of the Decision of the EU Summit of 27 October.
In practical terms, Rehn is blackmailing Samaras, implying that without his signature, the sixth €8 billion tranche of the loan for Greece that is so desperately needed for the country to avoid bankruptcy will not be paid.
Over several days, the confrontation has grown tougher, with both sides showing no signs of taking steps backwards – so far, all that has been secured from Samaras is his support for a three-month transitional government, to pass through parliament with a large majority the Agreement of the 27 October Summit and his call for a general election on 19 February 2012, to elect a new government to implement the Agreement and introduce the much-needed legislation.
The question of signing any letter was not raised or discussed during the four-day negotiations which resulted in the appointment of Loukas Papadimos as temporary prime minister.
This complication, which has arrived after everything was seemingly agreed between all interested parties, is likely to bring the situation back to square one, allowing Samaras to harden his stance and step back from the initial agreement. This would be catastrophic, and the responsibility will lay with Rehn insisting on getting Samaras's signature.
It should be remembered that, in Samaras's past, we witnessed the case of Macedonia – in an unexpected and tough fashion, while he was foreign minister, he raised the issue of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia which ended in the more-than 20-year isolation of an entire country in the “soft underbelly of Europe” outside NATO.
According to Greek experts, it seems that in assessing the political outlook after the appointment of the new prime minister, New Democracy understands that with its compromise, it will lose votes in the next election, which is already being reflected in opinion polls.
If there is an insistence to seek the signed commitment of Samaras, one cannot rule out that he may take the opportunity to wriggle out of the compromise that he agreed to a week ago, acting under the tremendous pressure he was subjected to by many European leaders, in particular the EPP party.
Last but not least, it should be remembered that Commissioner Olli Rehn is a top Brussels personality, yet he comes from within the Commission system. Conversely, Antonis Samaras is a risk-taking “political animal” who began his career in the youth of his party and takes quick decisions based on his own impressions.
And it is also worth recalling once again the Macedonian (FYROM) deadlock that began in 1992 and the overthrowing of his own party's government under Constantine Mitsotakis in 1993.