It is easy to see why Syriza put debt repudiation at the heart of its electoral campaign. John Paul Getty once opined that “if you owe the bank $100, that’s your problem; if you owe the bank $100m, that’s the bank’s problem”. Greece’s predicament may ultimately force creditors to the negotiating table. To service its debt burden would require Greece to operate as a quasi slave economy, running a primary surplus of 5 per cent of GDP for years, purely for the benefit of its foreign creditors. Even the IMF has dropped hints in favour of some debt forgiveness.
But Greece’s EU creditors have equally strong reasons for refusing. Caving to Syriza’s demands would come at a high political cost, particularly for Germany’s Angela Merkel, who is harried by the eurosceptic AfD on her right. Other struggling countries would find their own radical parties emboldened by Syriza’s success. No country deserves to live beyond its means indefinitely.
Back in 2011, Greece posed an existential threat to the eurozone. Today, Berlin and Frankfurt are no longer as frightened by the prospect of Greece leaving the single currency. Yet for the Greek people this would be a catastrophe: a giant economic step backwards and a blow to living standards just as severe as any endured under austerity.