That was dramatized Wednesday in Greece, where another day of political deadlock yielded no resolution on who would become the country’s next prime minister despite warnings from European leaders that Greece will not receive its desperately needed bailout money until it resolves its leadership stalemate and approves the bailout plans.
European leaders are “fooling themselves if they believe there will be a fundamental change if there’s a new prime minister or new elections” in countries that have troubled political systems, said Fredrik Erixon, who leads the Brussels-based European Center for International Political Economy. “The institutions don’t have that much power to make changes.”
In recent weeks, with time of the essence, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have used a take-it-or-leave-it approach with Greece: take a bailout plan that commits the country to years of unpopular austerity and international oversight, or leave the euro zone and deal with the consequences. In Italy, the International Monetary Fund team’s coming to the country is a public admission that Europe no longer trusts Italian politicians to do what is necessary.
“Does Greece want to stay in the euro, yes or no?” Merkel asked last week. Sarkozy said that “not a cent” would be given to Greece if it didn’t take the bailout. And Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of a group of euro-zone finance ministers, called Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou “disloyal” for suggesting a popular referendum on the rescue deal. Officials have been less publicly pugilistic about Italy, but behind closed doors, German officials have been deeply reluctant to extend any assistance to Italy so long as the prime minister remains in power.
For countries where old notions of pride still have deep roots, the pressure hurts.
A new leader in Italy would be “put in place to the disrespect of Italians,” Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Sunday, before he was forced to give assurances that he would step down after Parliament passes economic measures.
In Greece, the head of the opposition party, Antonis Samaras, spoke this week of “national dignity” in explaining why his statements, not his signature, should be enough to assure Europe that the austerity measures were “inevitable.” His resistance to acquiescing to European requests for written assurance are a major sticking point in the power transfer, Greek news reports have said.