Act I. OUT OF CONTROL
After joining the eurozone, Greece believes it has become rich and goes on a ten year spending spree. Understandable. New currencies can be confusing. Ten years on and it finds out it’s not as rich as it thought and needs a bailout loan of €110 billion, an average of €100,000 for every man, woman and child on the islands, or the bailiffs will be called. Greece is not alone. Other Europeans overspend too but they hadn’t hosted the Olympics.
Act II. THE PRESSURE MOUNTS
Greece’s credit rating is cut when its true economic situation is better understood by the moneymen. This increases the interest rate Greece pays on its borrowings. It faces making the same progress paying the debt off in monthly instalments as Aristotle would make drying his toga in a rainstorm.
Act III. THE PLOT THICKENS
Twelve months later, it becomes clear that someone has under-counted. The bailout loan is €130 billion short. People got cross, very cross. The French and Germans are particularly livid.
ACT IV. THE NEIGHBOURS FROM HELL
To the Palais du Luxembourg in Paris. “Sacrebleu. Grecs putain,” screams Nicolas Sarkozy, the French Prime minister to his cabinet colleagues. Meanwhile at home in the German countryside, Angela Merkel chops a bratwurst she has nicknamed ‘Hades’ with a knife someone brought back from a holiday in Crete. Newspapers lead with headlines that the eurozone and the single currency are in jeopardy and that the global banking system has a noose around its neck.
ACT V. THE DEAL
The world’s smartest bankers and politicians cook up a recovery plan. Fears for the Greek economy and the euro fade. Foreign visitors arrive in Athens bearing gifts – a 50% write down of Greece’s national debt in return for a promise they’ll go easy on the spending for a while. World leaders applaud the banking system’s magnanimity.
ACT VI. THE REFERENDUM
But then, like the man who brought a knife to a gunfight, George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, is troubled. He wants needs a second opinion on whether to accept the gift. Without telling the bankers or politicians, he announces a referendum. The financial markets react badly to his ingratitude.
Papandreou argues that his people are rioting in the streets after earlier austerity steps and argues his people need a say in further spending cuts. The EU decides to hold on to an €8 billion cheque it has waiting, ready to send, as an incentive to reconsider.
ACT VII. THE BETRAYAL
Evangelos Venizelos, Papandreou’s finance minister and deputy PM, returns from an awkward meeting with Sarkozy and Merkel. He’s impatient, unable to wait for his ballot paper. He announces to the world’s press that he’s not prepared to risk Greece’s membership of the Euro and calls on Papandreou to reconsider the referendum. The Greek cabinet splits and the world holds its breath.
ACT VIII: THE GREEK PARLIAMENT RECONVENES
Papandreou calls his ministers together for an emergency chat. He offers his resignation, but then takes it back when they’re nice to him. He cancels the referendum. The moneymen, relieved, open a bottle and drink from the neck. “That was a close call,” they say.
Papandreou goes home and walks into his dimly lit office, pours a glass of Ouzo and wonders what the next day’s headlines might be. He calls his bookie and bets €130 billion they’ll say his political career is over.
The narrator returns to the stage. The audience looks particularly stressed. “Don’t worry,” he says in soothing tones. “It’s only a play. It would never happen in real life …”