No one was more surprised by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s call for a referendum than his team of negotiators in Brussels.
Shortly before midnight on Friday in the Belgian capital, the Greeks and representatives of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, tucked away in the EU Commission’s Charlemagne building, learned via Twitter that their efforts were in vain, according to an EU official.
It was the first they’d heard about it. They soon left the room, their attempts to thrash out a compromise in tatters.
Commission negotiators called their president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who had spent recent weeks in face-to-face talks with Tsipras. He hadn’t known about the vote either, the official said. A Greek government spokesman wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Up until then, the mood on both sides had been fairly positive, the official said. They were reaching agreement on a joint proposal to be presented to a meeting of finance ministry officials set for the next morning.
The document being prepared included new concessions by the creditor institutions; they had dropped a demand that Greece raise sales tax for hotels.
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was interviewed by local television at about 8:30 p.m. in Athens, sounding an optimistic note about a deal.
All the talk was preempted four hours later by the stunner Tsipras delivered upon his return from weeklong negotiations in Brussels. He announced the referendum for July 5 and advocated a “no” vote, describing the last proposal made by creditors as a violation of EU rules. Greek lawmakers cleared the way for the ballot in the early hours of Sunday.
“Not only has the Greek government rejected the last proposals by the institutions, you have to realize that those proposals already took advantage of the maximum flexibility,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, told reporters on Saturday after a euro-area finance ministers meeting that he chaired. It reconvened later without Varoufakis as finance ministers started to work out what to do next.
“There are always two negotiating partners,” Austria’s Hans Joerg Schelling said. “If someone wants to help, the other one has to accept the help. Greece didn’t do that.”