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After the Greek farce, Ireland has reason to be thankful to Germany


Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo


Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP Photo

The biggest threat to the stability of Europe is Vladamir Putin's Russia, not the Greek farce played out in real-time last week for the domestic political sensibilities of 19 eurozone member states.

In fact, a case could be made that the Greek situation is not even the second biggest threat: Isis, the Islamic fundamentalist group, last week turned red with blood the Mediterranean, 220 miles south of Italy. The terror organisation seeks to give the lie to what the late Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, once said - that Islam would conquer Europe without even firing a shot (whatever about severing a head).

Last week, the UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon warned that Putin, who has annexed a sizeable chunk of Ukraine, posed a "real and present danger" to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. He was speaking after RAF jets were scrambled to escort two Russian military aircraft seen off the Cornwall coast on Wednesday, a month after a similar incursion into Ireland's airspace.

These are major events, but they struggled to register in another week of jaded rhetoric related to water charges and so-called political policing.

Last week, the Sinn Fein President, Gerry Adams, advised supporters not to "play into the hands of the Establishment" on the water charge issue. His favoured political bedfellow, Paul Murphy, chose the Late Late Show to declare: "The Establishment is scared and wants people to get back in their box."

This is where the Syriza-led Greek government is at too, or was at - not playing into the hands of the Establishment, even as the Establishment reeled them in with a few home truths.

As predicted here two weeks ago, Greece has raised the white flag, for the time being, until we get another bout of brinksmanship in four months' time, at which point Greece will roll over again.

The Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is a student of "game theory", the mathematical study of decision-making, conflict and strategy in social situations. But he needed more than game theory to deal with Germany. He didn't have it.

The Greek "submission" was called out for what it was by the Germans - "a Trojan horse" intended to put an end to Greece's current programme.

Europe and Greece will resume negotiations this week. The stakes are high, as everybody seems to agree, but the outcome is still inevitable. The programme, in name or not, has been extended and make no mistake, Greece will continue to be held to the flame - and not just by Germany.

The Slovakian prime minister said last week: "It would be impossible to explain to the public that 'poor' Slovakia…should compensate Greece. To explain to people that we have to give money to Greece for their salaries and pensions? Impossible, impossible."

In the end, the Greek primary surplus target will be lowered, combined eventually with an extension of debt maturities and possibly an interest rate reduction. But there will be no debt write-down.

The Government here has long since come to realise that, which is why it no longer raises the issue in Europe, if it ever really did.

Four years ago, Enda Kenny barrelled in to his first European Council meeting with a fresh new mandate in his hands, like Syriza, and demanded a revised deal. His display annoyed both then French president Nicolas Sarkozy and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last week, the European energy commissioner, from Merkel's CDU party, said the Greeks had "behaved like elephants in a China shop". All of this must have sounded familiar to the Taoiseach.

In any event, the Greeks, like Enda, have also come to heel, as would Sinn Fein, or any combination of other parties here who still like to pretend they will not share power when the votes are counted. They all would, or will.

In return, Greece claims to have been given a free hand, but that free hand will involve further labour market and public administration reforms, to include privatisation; pension spending cuts and measurable efforts in relation to tax evasion and other forms of corruption.

In my view, such structural reforms will also take account of the country's huge military spending, an area where there is scope for a nuanced deal with Europe.

That brings us back to those clear and present threats from Russia and Isis: to counter such threats, Europe has to be firm and disciplined, not weak and chaotic as it now sometimes presents itself to be.

Europe's enemies, Putin in particular, are cultivating parties on the far right and left, anyone who might help to prise the EU apart, in Greece, but also France and Hungary. Isis, meanwhile, has threatened to send 500,000 asylum seekers from Libya to Italy, terrorists among them. Last week Italian security chiefs approved a plan to put 4,800 soldiers on the streets throughout the country to help guard against potential militant attacks.

Three years ago, the then Polish foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, said there was one thing that scared him more than German action and that was German inaction. Last week we saw German action - again.

The rest of Europe should take heed and be thankful.

Sunday Independent