Tusk: we should have drawn harder lines in negotiations with Greece

Greece has been given too much room to keep negotiating incessantly with Europe on debt relief and diminished cuts and reforms. So says Donald Tusk: “I believe harder lines should have been drawn from the onset. The playing field was too elastic, leading the Greek government to quickly determine it was useful to stretch the negotiations.”

Donald Tusk Foto EPA

Greece has been given too much room to keep negotiating incessantly with Europe on debt relief and diminished cuts and reforms. So says Donald Tusk today in an exclusive interview with NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch national newspaper. “I believe harder lines should have been drawn from the onset. The playing field was too elastic, leading the Greek government to quickly determine it was useful to extend the negotiations.”

Only this week, after Greek banks have been closed for ten days, the eurozone leaders have set a real hard deadline for Athens. Tomorrow morning, Greece must submit a proposition meeting the European demands. If the country fails do to so, the EU threatens to shut down new financial assistance and to commence the Grexit during a decisive summit on the crisis on Sunday.

Power struggle with Juncker

According to Tusk, of all involved parties Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission (EU’s daily management), was most prepared to reach out to Greece. After Greek Prime Minister Tsipras announced a referendum on the latest European proposition at the last possible moment, Juncker interpreted the referendum as a choice for or against Europe during an emotional speech. Tusk hinted that he didn’t think this was a smart move by Juncker, with whom he is engaged in a power struggle about who’s managing the EU. “It’s not my job to reprimand someone else”, Tusk comments on this.

According to Tusk, this is “the most critical moment” in the history of the EU. Tsipras’ announcement of a referendum on the financial aid package has only limited the chance of a successful outcome.

“I am 100% positive that the Greek referendum has diminished the room to negotiate enormously. If he (Tsipras, ed.) wishes to receive emergency financial aid from the EU, he now has to make propositions that go against the referendum’s logic.”

Refugee quotas

Tsipras was met with great opposition yesterday in the European Parliament as well. In his introductory speech, the Greek prime minister asked for a fair deal that would “bring light at the end of the tunnel”. A dynamic debate ensued. German Christian Democrat Manfred Weber blamed Tsipras for not taking into account the interests of the common people in poor countries such as Slovakia, who will have to pay for Greece’s rescue. Liberal Guy Verhofstadt was visibly angry as he shouted to Tsipras, asking him when he would finally deliver some specific reform plans.

Yesterday, Greece filed a formal request for new financial assistance that should last three years. The country declared its willingness to implement far-reaching reforms. After being on the job for 7 months, Tusk says he’s “no natural born optimist”.

“In Brussels, I have met many people who believe the EU should be infallible and has to be successful all the time. I think that is somewhat naive.”

Tusk notes it’s becoming increasingly difficult to reach consensus within Europe. He opposed the mandatory quotas for the intake of migrants, as the Commission-Juncker wanted. The Polish functionary asks for more attention for Eastern-European countries such as Hungary and Bulgaria, which are dealing with major migration issues as well. “Nobody is talking about those issues.”