If ever there was a sadder manifestation of the old saying that, even in despair, hope springs eternal, it was the ecstatic Greeks on the streets of Athens, celebrating the election of the motor-cycling Marxist, Alexis Tsipras, as their prime minister.
He should enjoy his moment in the sun while he can, for it is unlikely to last. There are only three possible outcomes to the confrontation he promises with the hated "Troika", the combination of EU, IMF and European Central Bank policymakers blamed for years of crippling Greek austerity.
One is that Mr Tsipras compromises and further moderates his demands for debt forgiveness and an end to EU-imposed structural reform. Another is that he holds his ground, and is therefore forced to go through with unilateral default, thereby putting Greece on the path to eventual exit from the euro. And the third is that Angela Merkel in Berlin and Brussels roll over and let their tummies be tickled and, by giving in to Mr Tsipras, effectively agree to a European-wide programme of debt forgiveness and to a reversal in the "cruel" austerity policies of the past five years.
It scarcely needs saying that the third of these scenarios is the least likely. Indeed, it is so unlikely as to be a virtual non-starter. One can only admire Mr Tsipras for the tenacity with which he is taking on the eurozone high command, yet there cannot be much doubt about the ultimate outcome. As it currently stands, European monetary union is incapable of giving him the outcome he demands - both the advantages of a German-style hard currency, and the freedom and fiscal flexibility of a conventional sovereign state. The moment Greece signed up to the former, it surrendered the right to the latter. The promise on which Mr Tsipras has been elected is therefore little short of a lie.
There may admittedly be room for a little tweaking around the edges, just to show willing, but as for the main proposal - a further write-off of up to half of Greece's €317bn national debt - the chances are close to zero. Popular anger in Germany over the ground already ceded last week in agreeing to the European Central Bank printing money will have further hardened attitudes in Berlin against additional concessions.
Underpinning this intransigence is an obvious question: if Greece, why not Ireland and Portugal, which have already had considerably less favourable debt relief than Greece, or the much more heavily indebted Spain and Italy?
Where would it stop?
What Mr Tsipras's party, Syriza, is demanding is regarded in much of northern Europe as a form of blackmail; give us what we want or we will blow up the euro. Increasingly, Greeks are met with a blanket answer: never mind that the cost of Greek debt forgiveness is a pittance compared to the likely bill for the rest of the eurozone of a Greek exit, the response is "do your worst".
For Mr Tsipras, the other two outcomes scarcely look any better. If he compromises, and in essence carries on much as before, beneath the boot of the Troika, he dashes the hopes of the alliance of discontents who make up his support. If he turns out to be all talk and no action, what's the point of him? Politically he would soon be as dead as his predecessor, Antonis Samaras. Simply buckling under may in any case not be an option, given the nature of the coalition formed with the "Independent Greeks", a hard-line right-wing nationalist party of anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant leanings whose only apparent point of agreement with Mr Tsipras is its demands for debt forbearance. If these fail to make headway, the new government would soon collapse.
This leaves the option of un-negotiated, unilateral default, a course of action which would soon lead to Greek departure from the euro. The sequence of events would unfold much like this. As things stand, the European Central Bank is forced to provide lots of liquidity support to the beleaguered Greek banking system - some €50bn at the last count, a sum amounting to nearly a third of annual Greek GDP. This money is provided against collateral that the ECB wouldn't normally accept under a dispensation to bailed-out countries. The moment Greece repudiates the conditions of the programme, the assets provided would cease to be legal collateral.
Some kind of fudge might be found to deal with these faintly-technical impediments, but the bottom line is that without access to Troika funding, Greece would pretty soon run up against problems meeting debt redemptions.
Tax receipts have further slumped since polls began to signal a Syriza victory, making it more difficult still. Greece has also seen a renewed surge in capital flight, with some €20bn - more than 10pc of GDP - leaving the country since December. Just lately, Greece had shown tentative signs of starting to grow again. Now it is all too likely to slump back into recession.
In any case, the moment Greece starts to default, it will be denied further Troika support and, perhaps more importantly, ECB funding for its banking sector. Some two-thirds of Greece's national debt is in the hands of other eurozone nations and the IMF, either directly or indirectly.
If Mr Tsipras defaults, he'll be cut off without a cent.
Denied euro funding, Greece would at this point be forced to print drachmas to fund both the banks and continued government spending. To all intents and purposes, Greece would be out of the euro. However it was done, the value of everything would plummet. It would be financial carnage. (© Daily Telegraph London)