Greek Finance Minister Comes to Washington (04/17)     Print

mosettig sm-285x255By Michael D. Mosettig, former PBS News Hour Foreign Editor

It may have been a first for Washington, a visiting Greek cabinet minister filling two large onference rooms at a Washington think tank. But the appearance of Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was a widely anticipated event at the Brookings Institution, especially coming back to back with his principal interlocutor and sometimes adversary in debt and Euro negotiations, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble.

The immediate consensus among policy wonks in the audience was that neither minister offered many specifics in the talks that face a series of deadlines between now and June to determine if Greece can avoid debt default and remain in the Euro currency zone.

Bringing the ministers and a clutch of EU Commissioners to Washington was the Spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which in turn created a round of competing and sometimes conflicting think tank talk fests.

Schauble reiterated his stance that Greece has to stick to previous agreements and commitments on reform and insisted his disagreements with the new Athens government had no personal animus.

Varoufakis partly lived up to the image of his often-described radical Syriza government and persona, no necktie but a sport coat, but no signature motorcycle jacket. His pitch to a largely friendly audience was that the debt talks have ramifications beyond Europe to "larger problems in the fiber of a democracy." Perhaps resonating most strongly were his repeated assertions that previous austerity deals have not worked.

The minister said agreements between previous Greek government and their European and international creditors imposed "Ponzi austerity" and said his government would not sign up to another "pretend and extend" deal.

Varoufakis said his government made specific reform proposals to creditors in February, but those were rebuffed in demands for a comprehensive package.

But without elaborating on those or other specifics, he insisted his government "has firmly located itself in the European camp."

To several in the audience, that while both ministers may have taken a slightly less rigid public tone, the message was that real negotiations will not really happen in Washington but will go down to the wire in various European capitals closer to deadlines.