Sunday 20 October 2019

Amid the egos and insults, Noonan helped keep the show on the road

Wolfgang Schauble
Wolfgang Schauble

Niall O'Connor

With an exasperated look on her face, the EU official painted a scene that was of box-office material.

There were egos. There was fighting. Insults were exchanged. People left the room in order to plan their next move.

There were leaks of secret documents. There was talk of a government collapsing. Like a perfect novel, there was a fresh twist every time the page was turned.

But the issue being discussed by eurozone foreign ministers in Brussels was as far removed from fiction as one can get. It was about people and their futures and their children's futures.

It was about a country which is quickly running out of cash and is on the cusp of a humanitarian disaster.

Amid all the hype, speculation and drama, there was a burning question on the minds of EU leaders this weekend.

At the end of these critical talks, would a member of the eurozone be cut off for the very first time?

Positioned on one side of the negotiating table were those who have simply had enough with Syriza.

Spain, Germany, Slovakia and Finland were prepared to let Greece go, weather the storm caused by a Grexit and slam the door shut for least a number of years.

Five years to be precise, if one newspaper report was to be believed.

The Frankfurt publication claimed to have sight of a document from the finance ministry, led by the colourful Wolfgang Schauble, which said Germany was preparing for a temporary Grexit.

Whether true or not, the emergence of the report on Saturday evening paved the way for some bitter and hostile exchanges as nightfall set in.

Back behind closed doors, the Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Stubb was becoming particularly anxious. Word seeped through that his government was on the verge of collapse because a far right coalition party refused to back the prospect of bailing out Greece for a third time.

But as Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos peered away from the faces of those pressing for a Grexit, he realised that things were not all that bleak.

Greece had not been abandoned entirely.

Italy and France were among those who extended the hand of friendship at the most critical time.

The French stuck by the Greeks through thick and thin and, like their Italian counterparts, insisted that a Grexit simply was not an option.

"Enough is enough," was the message coming from the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

Perhaps the most important players in negotiations are those who adopt a cool head and take on a neutral role.

One EU official was quick to throw Michael Noonan into this category.

The claim was backed up by Irish officials who insisted Mr Noonan was at the forefront of keeping the show on the road, when others simply didn't have the patience any more.

As the talks went on late into the night, trouble broke out again. Mr Schauble, a figure who has a lot to lose in these talks, took issue with remarks made by ECB President Mario Draghi.

"Don't take me for a fool," he snapped.

It was time to call it a night. And so, the curtain was drawn on one of the most dramatic days of European politics seen in years.

But as the Syriza government faces into its most difficult and uncertain period, one can only wonder when the issue of a Grexit will be discussed yet again around the negotiation table in Brussels.

Greece may have been thrown a life jacket.

But even life jackets aren't immune to the perils of the rough seas.

Irish Independent

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