Bloomberg News

Europe’s Collision Course With Greece

 Photographer: Carsten Koall

Photographer: Carsten Koall

The brinkmanship over Greece and its debts continues. A meeting of finance ministers in Riga on Friday is likely to pass, like many previous make-or-break moments, without resolution. The European Union isn’t deviating, and neither is Athens. Before much longer, though, something really will have to give — and it seems ever more probable that, when it does, the news will be bad.

Confidence has firmed across Europe that a Greek default won’t much harm any other country — indeed, that the rest of the EU might actually be stronger if the Greeks are taught a lesson. This theory is wrong. If it’s pressed into action, Europe will come to repent its biggest miscalculation since the creation of the euro.

EU governments are hardening their insistence on an overt Greek surrender. The terms of the existing bailout program, they say, must be honored in full before talks on a new one can start — and meanwhile, there’ll be no more money. In plain terms, the Syriza government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras must not only break its promise to voters but be seen by all to have broken it.

Tsipras, to be sure, commands little sympathy. He has served his country poorly. His government’s initial take-it-or-leave-it posture looked calculated to offend. Having started badly, how to make matters worse? Press for war reparations from Germany — an altogether strange way for a distressed borrower seeking new debt relief to approach its creditors. Athens thought it was negotiating from a position of strength — that Europe wouldn’t dare call its bluff. This now looks like a losing bet.

So, yes, Syriza got every last detail of this negotiation wrong. The only thing it got right was the main point: The Greek economy, crushed by Europe’s economic crisis, cannot recover without relief from the self-defeating fiscal austerity imposed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The tactical incompetence of Tsipras and his ministers is a pitifully lame excuse for the failure of those institutions to achieve this outcome — a remedy, by the way, that’s in the interests of the wider EU.

Unless Athens is granted some of the 7.2 billion euros still pending in the existing bailout program, it can’t make payments falling due in May and June. The IMF has said that it won’t tolerate a delay. Default is staring Greece in the face. Exit from the euro system would likely follow default — if not explicitly, then tacitly, through the creation of a parallel currency that would enable the government to meet its domestic obligations.

Senate Democrats to Boehner on Immigration Move: No Means No

Speaker John Boehner after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol, on Feb. 25. Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Speaker John Boehner after a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol, on Feb. 25.
Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Senate Democrats refused for the fifth time to consider reversing President Barack Obama’s immigration orders by blocking Republicans’ attempt to create a House-Senate conference panel to negotiate the matter.

House Speaker John Boehner has until Friday to figure out how to fund the U.S. Department of Homeland Security without fanning a rebellion among the conservative wing of his party. Funding for the agency expires after Friday.

In a 47-43 vote with 60 needed, the Senate Monday rejected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s latest attempt to use a funding bill to pressure Democrats on immigration. McConnell had failed four times to bring up a House-passed bill linking Homeland Security funding to a reversal of Obama’s orders.

“This push by House Republicans to go to conference is the very definition of an exercise in futility,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in a floor speech before the vote. “I’ve been very clear for days now that we will not go to conference.”

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Feb. 26 that a partial shutdown of his agency would require 30,000 Homeland Security employees to be furloughed and 170,000 essential personnel to keep working without pay.

House Republicans want to use the Homeland Security funding bill, H.R. 240, to block Obama’s orders in November that eased deportations for about 5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. The Senate passed a funding measure Feb. 27 without the immigration language.

North Korea Dashes Hopes of Parents Over Abductees’ Fate

Akihiro Arimoto, left, and his wife Kayoko, reminisce about their daughter looking into albums full of Keiko’s pictures.

Three times a day, 88-year-old Kayoko Arimoto makes a ritual offering of food to the daughter she hasn’t seen for 31 years. On her birthday, it’s rice with red beans followed by cake.

Keiko hasn’t taken her place at the family table since being lured to North Korea in 1983 while studying English in London, becoming one of an uncertain number of Japanese victims of a North Korean kidnapping program. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to bring home the remaining abductees stalled last week when North Korea said an initial report expected this month wouldn’t be released and final findings may take a year.

“I can’t believe it’s going to take them a year to provide evidence,” Keiko’s father Akihiro, 86, said in a phone interview on Sept. 20 after abductee minister Eriko Yamatani met the families to tell them of the delay the previous day in Tokyo.

More than a decade after Abe accompanied then-premier Junichiro Koizumi on a trip to Pyongyang that achieved the return of some of the victims and their families, the prime minister remains convinced that there are abductees still alive and says he is committed to bringing them home. In a country where some of the victims remain household names three decades after their disappearances, a collapse in the talks could potentially hurt support for Abe’s government.

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