Another high-stakes week looms for Greece. The debt-crippled country has to make a €460m repayment on a loan from the International Monetary Fund on 9 April and is racing to find the money. Prime minister Alexis Tsipras has been doing the equivalent of searching down the back of the sofa for spare cash – raiding the coffers of the Athens Metro and the public health service, and seizing EU subsidies destined for Greek farmers.
Nevertheless, there have been increasing suggestions that, if push comes to shove, Greece will choose to miss the IMF payment in order to be able pay pensions and salaries due to government workers a few days later.
Interior minister Nikos Voutsis was the first to raise the prospect of a missed payment, followed by a Greek Treasury official in German news magazine Der Spiegel. On Friday Nikos Filis, Syriza’s parliamentary spokesman, made the same suggestion. There is also speculation that Athens is preparing a new currency and is ready to step in to nationalise the banks to stem the inevitable capital flight that would follow non-payment.
Each suggestion was shot down by government sources, who are engaged in the ultimate game of brinkmanship. The Greeks have proposed a series of economic reforms – while easing austerity measures – in the hope of seeing the final €7.2bn tranche of their last bailout. So far, to no avail.
Greece’s position is made more difficult by the progress of near neighbour Cyprus. Bailed out two years ago, the island has seen its fortunes transformed to such an extent that President Nicos Anastasiades will tomorrow remove all the capital controls put in place at the time. He made matters worse for Tsipras by admitting that Cyprus is preparing for a Greek exit from the eurozone.
We have been here before. Since January there have been two possible default days. Every time Tsipras found the cash, but one day soon, with declining in tax revenues and goodwill all but exhausted, his luck will run out.