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Greece's Financial Rescue: A Blow To European Unity?


It was one of the toughest weekends in the history of the 19-member European currency union. This morning, after bitter wrangling and a sleepless night, leaders of the eurozone finally agreed to the outlines of a three-year bailout for Greece worth nearly a hundred billion dollars. The new deal depends on Greece agreeing to strict conditions and major changes in how the Greek economy is run in the future. In a moment, we'll hear how Greeks have reacted to the agreement. But first, this crisis has raised questions about whether the ideal of European political and economic unity can ever really work. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has this report from Brussels.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Just how tense things were during the eurozone leader's summit here in Brussels was evident before the talks began. German Chancellor Angela Merkel didn't smile as her Greek counterpart, Alexis Tsipras, approached. He tried to speak to her and extended his hand which she shook briefly before turning to walk away. By the time the summit ended 17 hours later, it was the Greek prime minister who looked unhappy. Caving to the lenders, he agreed to hand over control of $55 billion in state assets and implement a new wave of austerity measures and privatization, concessions which some analysts say could cost him his job. Tsipras offered this grim assessment.


ALEXIS TSIPRAS: (Speaking Greek).

NELSON: "Greece will keep fighting so we can return to growth," he said, "so we can win back our lost national sovereignty." But elsewhere at the summit, Merkel made it clear Athens creditors weren't done yet.


ANGELA MERKEL: (Speaking German).

NELSON: She said "helping Greece out of its quagmire requires modernizing the Greek government and how it handles assets." Merkel added "that's something Athens creditors will be discussing next week. This kind of intervention and the perception that Germany and its allies were ramming tough fiscal demands down Athens throat left many around the world crying foul. Thousands complained about the perceived bullying on twitter overnight under the hashtag #thisisacoup. Some called on Greece to give up the euro and send creditors packing. It's the kind of reaction that worries European Parliament president, Martin Schulz, who met with eurozone leaders last night.

MARTIN SCHULZ: (Speaking German).

NELSON: "It's not just about Greece's future," Schulz said, "but whether the European Union, as a political and economic power, is to be taken seriously and can solve its own problems." Daniela Schwarzer, who heads the German Marshall Fund's new Europe Program, says political governance of the eurozone has been debated for years, but there hasn't been enough political will among member states to change it.

DANIELA SCHWARZER: The Greek case really is the wake-up call the eurozone needed in order to talk about those questions in a more serious way.

NELSON: Schwarzer says proposed changed that are being talked about include getting the European and individual parliaments more involved in joint economic policymaking. There's also a proposal to make the rescue program used for bailouts, which is known as the European Stability Mechanism, more independent and with its own source of funding. Schwarzer says the idea is that decisions on who gets a bailout wouldn't be dominated by countries that are owed money. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Brussels. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.