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The big fat Greek Drahma

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Yesterday, Giorgos Papandreou was at the center stage for a few dramatic hours   - with Greece and perhaps all of Europe's fate in his hands.

Like a modern Odysseus, he cruised between Scylla and Charybdis: with the wrath of the Greek people on the one hand, a furious EU on the other.

When the curtain fell last night, after the third act of the tragic novel, Papandreou was the hero who brought his ship into port. He won the confidence vote in Parliament - and saved the euro. For the moment.

First Act: A crafty move

On October 26th, Giorgos Papandreou caught a flight to Brussels. The reason for this trip was that Greece once cheated themselves into the euro, by falsifying statstics and thereby wiping out the deficit.

The trip was the culmination of a year of crises -  the country received an emergency loan by the EU and the IMF in order to survive - but still did not implement all the painful cuts that lenders demanded. The financial markets went into chaos and threatened the economies across the EU - and the whole world.

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy demanded that Papandreou would agree to a final solution. After tough negotiations they reached an agreement. Greece would be granted an additional EUR 100 bn or so in emergency loans against even tougher austerity. Without emergency loans the Greek treasury would be bankrupt in a space of 6 to 8 weeks.

The settlement was celebrated by the financial markets on Monday. Merkel, Sarkozy and other EU leaders exhaled. Finally, they could look forward to a period of relative calm they thought. Then came the turning point of this contemporary classic drama.

Behind the backs of Merkel and Sarkozy Papandreou announced, without warning, a referendum on the bailout plan that he had already promised the EU that Greece has approved. He sees it as a clever move. As the Greeks well standing on the edge of the abyss he does not believe that they dare to vote against the euro. All the signs of too good to be true was there - majority vote would be enough some people said, while the constitution says three fifth majority is necessary. Papandreou, the Prime Minister called the referendum, while the constitution says that the President calls. And the constutution says that only particular matters can be called for, not economical. And if a referendum, at least 45 days space between the day a referendum is called and the actual voting day - Papandreou announced in Cannes that it would take place exactly one month later, on the 4th of December (Jean Claude Juncker was the first to tell us this).

Both the Greeks and the EU reacted with anger and astonishment. Has the man suffered from hubris? How can he one week reach an agreement, and the next saying that first the people must be allowed to vote? And to think he can avoid nemesis, the gods' revenge?

Act 2: Everything falls apart

For long the summit was planned in Cannes with the world's 20 richest countries, the G-20. President Sarkozy had hoped that the deal from Brussels would result in pure stroll on the Riviera, and give him a lot of plus points for the presidential election next year. Instead, everything is ruined and he is forced to engage in damage control of the higher degree.

Together with Merkel he calls Papandreou to Cannes to explain himself. But the Greek Prime Minister is not just any politician. His father was a legendary Prime Minister a few years after the military junta was overthrown in 1974. Even his grandfather was Prime Minister. The family Papandreou, together with the right-wing family Karamanlis completely dominated Greek politics for a long time.

Giorgos Papandreou has until now had a very good reputation as a statesman. Reliable and responsible. During the junta period, he lived for some years in Sweden, where he studied sociology at Stockholm University. He is fluent in Swedish. He has held various ministerial posts and became Prime Minister after his election victory in 2009. Papandreou is known to be a risk taker. Accustomed to get his way. Now is he faced the most difficult task of his life.

Papandreou arrived in Cannes on Wednesday night. During dinner, he's been yelled at by the two powerful colleagues. The Greek Prime Minister tries to defend himself with the argument that the people are against him and just whines and demonstrates. The opposition appears irresponsible and stabs him in the back.

- If I can't have the people with me, I can't push through austerity, is Papandreou's statement.

But Merkel and Sarkozy have had enough. Although they had previously been fully behind Papandreou, and said that Greece must remain in the euro, they are now make a 180 degree turn.

- You will not get a euro cent until the referendum is conducted and the rescue package approved, Merkel and Sarkozy said. If your people vote no, you must leave the euro. We have reached the point of no return.

Act 3: Personal resolution

A relieved Papandreou applauds the outcome of the confidence vote. But Papandreou is shrewder than anyone can imagine. Talk of the referendum was only half the trick. After the meeting in Cannes, he now puts himself at stake in the Greek Parliament - does he have enough members behind him in his game on the euro? He requested a vote of confidence.

It's just before midnight on Friday when Papandreou enters the podium in the grand Greek parliament hall with Roman columns. The stands are full. A collection of serious men and a few women listen to his speech. Short but loud applauses sometimes interrupt the Prime Minister. Just like Odysseus Papandreouonce again uses its next trick. In order not to lose the vote, he promises to go to the President and ask to form a coalition government.

His move is successful. When voting begins, it soon became clear that although the critical party friends, who revolted earlier in the day, now give him their support. One by one, the members called up and answer yes or no. The slow process increases the tension. Papandreou seems at first nervous and often reaches for the water. When the votes in favor are in the lead he seems relaxed and a faint smile spreads over his mustache.

When the results are announced the applauses intensify and a long line of MPs are gathered to congratulate Papandreou. He won the confidence vote, lost part of his power but maybe he saved his country. This Greek drama continues after the third act.

Inspired by a Swedish article by Wolfgang Hansson mixed with my own material
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