A stealthy route to Grexit

In Berlin, the belief is hardening that no deal can be reached with a government led by Tsipras.

I admire Alexis Tsipras’s sense of humour. By replacing Yanis Varoufakis as finance minister with Euclid Tsakalotos, the Greek prime minister swapped a supposedly Marxist economist trained at the University of Essex for a supposedly Marxist economist trained at the University of Oxford. Surprisingly, a few people see this as a reason to be optimistic.

What we know about Mr Tsakalotos is that he is a tough negotiator who believes in debt relief just as his predecessor did. So does Mr Tsipras himself. The fundamental obstacle to a deal thus remains unresolved: Greece continues to say No to the old agreement, and Germany says No to everything else. The Germans clearly did not replace their finance minister yesterday. On the contrary, Berlin on Monday reaffirmed its position that, at present, there is no basis for a deal.

A new agreement between Greece and its creditors would require a series of political shifts to happen simultaneously over the next few days. For starters, the Greeks would need to accept an austerity programme and structural reforms very similar to the one they rejected in the referendum. And the Germans would need to accept debt relief. On the former, agreement may be easier now Mr Varoufakis is gone. When you compare the final offer of the creditors, now rejected by the Greek electorate, with Athens’ last offer, you would struggle to spot the actual differences. If everyone wanted a deal, I am sure an agreement could be fudged, and sold at home.

The trouble is I am no longer sure whether all the creditors — specifically Germany — still want a deal. In Berlin, the belief is hardening in official circles that no deal can be reached with a government led by Mr Tsipras. Some of the most aggressive comments come from the leadership of the SPD, Angela Merkel’s junior coalition partner, until recently a moderating influence in German politics. They are now a leading pro-Grexit force because they see an opportunity to mark out a populist political territory as their own.

Lees Wolfgang Münchau verder op The Financial Times