The soap opera in Greece continues with Germany and France tugging on opposite sides of the rope, and support for Golden Dawn, an alleged neo-Nazi party rising in the wake.
French president François Hollande is on the sidelines, not wanting another battle with German chancellor Angela Merkel who has her own set of problems.
However, the French Prime Minister says Give Greece More Time.
Jean-Marc Ayrault, the prime minister, taking a clear swipe at those in Germany insisting on a hard line against Athens, warned that a Greek exit from the eurozone would be “unmanageable” and could be “the beginning of the end of the European project”.
Speaking in an interview with the French news website Mediapart, Mr Ayrault said: “We can already offer [Greece] more time?.?.?.?on the condition that Greece is sincere in its commitment to reform, especially tax reform.”
France’s chief fear is that a compounding of the eurozone crisis would turn the spotlight of the financial markets on itself and the country’s public debt, which is set to exceed 90 per cent of GDP.
Greek media have called the negotiations – which have seen late-night sessions at the finance ministry and departures at short notice of senior EU and IMF officials – the “troika soap opera”.
“The troika had to put up with two previous governments’ attempts to delay, dilute and mislead on the reform programme, so the pressure is quite understandable,” said a former government economic adviser.
Yannis Stournaras, the finance minister, had what Greek officials called a “shortlived confrontation” with the troika last week, refusing to make further cuts in pensions and salaries. After that, the heads of mission left, giving Athens an extra week to wrap up the alternative measures.
Meanwhile, Antonis Samaras, the prime minister, has been unofficially seeking a two-year extension in talks with European leaders, hoping to promote a modest economic recovery by 2016. The country’s recession is deeper than forecast – with the economy projected to shrink by almost 7 per cent this year and another 1.5 per cent in 2013 – and he argues that is causing unprecedented hardship for ordinary Greeks.
Opposition to the latest round of cuts, which will knock another 20-30 per cent off pensions and public sector salaries, is already mounting, with public sector unions due to hold a 24-hour strike on Wednesday.
One opinion poll published at the weekend showed the leftwing Syriza coalition, which calls for abandoning the reform programme, narrowly ahead of Mr Samaras’s conservative New Democracy party for the first time since the June general election. Several polls put the far-right Golden Dawn party, which is steadily making gains among newly impoverished voters, in third place.
Golden Dawn, which won 7 per cent of the vote in June’s election and entered parliament for the first time, is on a roll, pulling established parties to the right – including Corinth’s socialists.
Polls suggest the party has gained ground since the election as anxiety deepens over a possible Greek expulsion from the euro. A poll this week showed a near doubling in the number of people expressing “positive opinions” about Golden Dawn, up from 12 per cent in May to 22 per cent now.
In Corinth, where immigrants sacked from jobs in local vineyards and wineries because of the recession are blamed for a rise in crime against property, the party polled almost 10 per cent – one of its highest scores across the country.
“They went round the villages saying that if they got into parliament they’d call for every immigrant to be deported,” says Panos Damalos, an activist with Anti-Racist Initiative, an immigrant support group.
“There is no such person as a legal immigrant,” says Mr Kassidiaris, a former Greek army commando whose approval rating soared after he slapped a female Communist parliamentary candidate on a breakfast television talk-show.
Yet Golden Dawn has also tried to build an image of social responsibility, through regular food distributions to needy Greeks registered with the party and by providing a service to accompany pensioners to the bank in neighbourhoods where muggings – which they blame on immigrants – are frequent.
Maria Tsalpatura, a 75-year-old retired schoolteacher, says she calls Golden Dawn every month before she goes to collect her pension. “They come on time and they’re very polite, I think they offer a real service,” she says.