When Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided to unilaterally abandon negotiations over Greece’s so-called ‘bailout programme’ and to propose a referendum on the latest offer that Greece had been made, he employed a tactic that is common in negotiations in the European Union (EU): using difficulties with domestic ratification of EU agreements to extract concessions. Paradoxically, no agreement was reached in this particular case, but Mr. Tsipras believes that once the Greek people have rejected the latest offer of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the three ‘institutions’ will have to make them a better one. As he put it: ‘The day following the democratic choice, and a proud “No” to subjugation and to indignity, our country will have a much stronger negotiating position, and it will be the moment of truth for the creditors. They will finally understand that Greece is not going to surrender, that Greece is not a game that is over’.
Prior to Mr. Tsipras’ announcement regarding the referendum, the ratification difficulties that he has tried to use were real. The constituency in favour of the policies that Greece’s two bailout programmes included was never particularly large. The (partial) implementation of the two programmes reduced its size further. Many of those whom the two programmes have left worse off and supporting Mr. Tsipras’ Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) used to feel that they have nothing left to lose and that anything would be better than the continuation of austerity. As one of them put it: ‘[A choice] between more austerity or chaos? Chaos’.
The irony for Mr. Tsipras is that as soon as he made his announcement regarding the referendum, ratification of any agreement on any offer that the three ‘institutions’ might make Greece became less difficult. Ratification difficulties diminished as the Greek people caught a glimpse of the alternative to non-agreement/non-ratification. Queues outside banks, in supermarkets and at petrol stations and living in fear of banks running out of money and of shortages of food and fuel. ‘Chaos’, it seems, is no longer preferable to austerity. Opinion polls showing the ‘Yes’ vote ahead have already been reported. Mr. Tsipras has hinted that he will resign if the Greek people vote ‘Yes’. Rightly so. A ‘Yes’ vote will mean either that Mr. Tsipras has failed to implement the mandate that he has been given or that the Greek people have rescinded their mandate. If this proves to be the case, the announcement regarding the Greek referendum will have been the beginning of the end for Mr. Tsipras.
Kyriakos Moumoutzis is a Lecturer in European and International Politics at King’s College London.