As of Monday, it seemed as if the Greek crisis was finally hurtling toward a conclusion, or at least a meaningful inflection point. With its bailout deal expiring and negotiations for an extension logjammed, the government in Athens had called a national referendum for July 5 on whether it should accept the austerity plan its European lenders had demanded in return for a new rescue package. A “yes” vote, and Greece would get another round of loans to pay its existing debts but would be doomed to keep slogging through the depression that has left unemployment above 25 percent. A “no” vote, and European leaders insist Greece would be forced to leave the eurozone, with potentially calamitous consequences, at least in the near term.
Today, that choice is a bit less clear-cut. According to Bloomberg, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has told lawmakers behind closed doors that “Greece would stay in the euro for the time being” even if its people vote “no” in the referendum. Should that come to pass, he added, Greece “may be able tap about 32 billion euros ($36 billion) in European Union support funding to boost its economy.”
Given that Germany is by far the most important of Greece’s creditors, Schäuble’s reported comments strongly suggest that this weekend’s vote might not resolve anything. Even if Greeks say no to Europe’s last offer, negotiations could continue. And the fact that this information is leaking probably makes it a bit more likely that the Greek people will in fact vote “no.”
Theoretically, there is still at least one hard deadline lying ahead for Greece. On July 20, the country owes the European Central Bank 3.5 billion euro. If it misses that payment, the ECB could be forced to cut off the emergency lending that has kept Greece’s banks from imploding, a move that would almost certainly set a Grexit in motion. Then again, if there is yet another pot of money available to Greece as Schäuble seems to be hinting, it’s not altogether clear that date means anything, either.
“But wait!” you may be thinking. “Didn’t I just read on Slate.com that Greece is already about to default on its debts.” Well, yes, some of them. It looks like the country will miss a $1.7 billion payment to the International Monetary Fund. But while that means Greece likely won’t be able to receive further loans from the group, it doesn’t have much bearing on its ability to stay in the euro. So, talks continue on.
In short, nobody has any damn idea what’s going on with Greece.