To the astonishment of almost everyone in the room, Angela Merkel began to cry.
“Das ist nicht fair.” That is not fair, the German chancellor said angrily, tears welling in her eyes. “Ich bringe mich nicht selbst um.” I am not going to commit suicide.
For those who witnessed the breakdown in a small conference room in the French seaside resort of Cannes, it was shocking enough to watch Europe’s most powerful and emotionally controlled leader brought to tears.
But the scene was even more remarkable, those present said, for the two objects of her ire: the man sitting next to her, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, and the other across the table, US President Barack Obama.
It would be the low point in a brutal, recrimination-filled night, one many participants would recall as the nadir of the three-year eurozone crisis. Mr Sarkozy had hoped his leadership of the Group of 20 summit would cement his standing on the global stage en route to re-election. Instead, everything was falling apart.
Greece was imploding politically; Italy, a country too big to bail out, appeared just days away from being cut off from global financial markets; and Ms Merkel, try as Mr Sarkozy and Mr Obama might, could not be convinced to increase German contributions to the eurozone’s “firewall” – the “big bazooka” or “wall of money” they believed had to grow dramatically to fend off attacks by panicking bond traders.
Instead, a cornered Ms Merkel threw the French and American criticism back in their faces. If Mr Sarkozy or Mr Obama did not like the way her government ran, they had only themselves to blame. After all, it was their allied militaries that had “imposed” the German constitution on a defeated wartime foe six decades earlier.
“It was the point where clearly the eurozone as we know it could have exploded,” said a member of the French delegation at Cannes. “It was the feeling [that with] the contagion, at this point, you were on the brink of explosion.”
And yet less than a year after that November 2011 night, the existential crisis for Europe’s single currency would, for all intents and purposes, be over. The markets that once threatened to tear the euro apart would be tamed and the seemingly endless series of all-night emergency summits would come to an end.
When the history of the eurozone crisis is written, the period from late 2011 through 2012 will be remembered as the months that forever changed the European project. Strict budget rules were made inviolable; banking oversight was stripped from national authorities; and the printing presses of the European Central Bank would become the lender of last resort for failing eurozone sovereigns.
Next week, European voters will go to the polls to render a verdict on what EU leaders created over those 12 months. If opinion polling is any indication, their judgment will be harsh: anti-EU parties are poised for unprecedented gains from France to Finland, Athens to Amsterdam.
Over the course of the past six months, the Financial Times has interviewed dozens of participants in those decisions to tell the full story of how this new eurozone was created. From mid-level bureaucrats to prime ministers, they tell an unsettling tale of accidents, near misses and seemingly foolhardy brinkmanship. But in the end, these same leaders appear to have prevailed. The euro has been saved. The Europe they have created, for good or for ill, will be their legacy.
‘I hope he’s told Merkel’
As with nearly everything in the eurozone crisis, it started in Greece.
George Papandreou, the lanky scion of Greece’s most famous political dynasty, had returned to Athens from one of the most consequential EU crisis summits to find his country in upheaval. On October 27 in Brussels, he had agreed to the largest sovereign default in history – a ￠200bn debt restructuring that cut what Athens owed private bondholders in half. But at home, he was being vilified.
For the son and grandson of Greek prime ministers arrested on the same night by a military junta in 1967 – Mr Papandreou can still recall arming himself aged 14 with a double-barrelled shotgun when authorities arrived at his childhood home – what happened the day after his return from Brussels was particularly unnerving.
During a military procession in Thessaloniki to mark the anniversary of Greece’s entry into the second world war, thousands of anti-austerity protesters, including rightwing radicals and anarchists, stormed the parade route, forcing Karolos Papoulias, Greece’s president, to flee. Mr Papandreou would later tell his fellow prime ministers he felt the incident was a sign his country was on the verge of another coup.
“Everybody was saying that the government are traitors,” Mr Papandreou recalled. “I realised the situation was getting out of control.”
That weekend, he gathered a small group of advisers and unveiled his plan: he would call a national referendum on the new ￠172bn bailout programme. Those criticising the agreement, including opposition leader Antonis Samaras and rebels within his own party, would be forced to pick sides, Mr Papandreou reasoned, and most would back the rescue – particularly since without EU bailout funds, disorderly default and euro exit was the likely outcome. Victory would give him the mandate for the reforms that bailout lenders were demanding.
But Mr Papandreou did not consult outside his tightly knit inner circle. Instead, he presented his plan as a fait accompli to parliamentarians from his centre-left Pasok party the following evening. Those in the room were in shock, including Evangelos Venizelos, Mr Papandreou’s finance minister. “On Sunday evening, during our last meeting in person, in private, Papandreou [spoke] only on a proposal of [a vote of] confidence, not at all about the referendum,” Mr Venizelos said, adding that he suffered acute abdominal pains in the following hours, forcing him to go to hospital. “This was the result, the medical result, of the stress.”
Others had a different, non-medical worry. “I remember the first thing that went through my mind: ‘I hope he’s told Merkel,’” said one minister.
Mr Papandreou later claimed he had tipped off fellow EU leaders. Some acknowledge vague recollections but others remember nothing. “I never took it seriously,” said a fellow leader. “It sounded a little bit desperate.”
So when Mr Sarkozy learnt that Mr Papandreou had decided to put their carefully crafted bailout deal up for a vote, he exploded. “He was ballistic,” said an aide. “He was ballistic.”
Eurozone bond markets, which had briefly rallied after the Greek debt restructuring was agreed, sold off in a panic. Yields on Greece’s benchmark 10-year bond spiked by 16.2 per cent in a single day. More worryingly, borrowing costs for bigger eurozone governments began to approach levels where others had been forced into bailouts: yields on Italy’s 10-year bond jumped to more than 6.2 per cent.
She was torn over Grexit
Mr Sarkozy summoned his closest advisers for an emergency meeting at the Elysée Palace. According to a person in the room, the French president’s initial reaction was to force Mr Papandreou to reverse course: that either he accept the new bailout conditions immediately or Greece would be forced out of the euro.
But Henri Guaino, a Sarkozy confidant and speech writer, noted Charles de Gaulle himself preferred referendums to parliamentary politics. Asking Mr Papandreou to cancel a plebiscite would go against their Gaullist traditions, he argued. So Mr Sarkozy came up with a compromise: Mr Papandreou could go ahead with a referendum – but not on the bailout.
Mr Sarkozy called Ms Merkel and agreed a strategy. They would summon Mr Papandreou to Cannes, where the G20 was to get under way in just 48 hours, and persuade him to hold a referendum on whether Greece would remain in the eurozone.
In Berlin, Ms Merkel was torn over the issue of “Grexit”, with several advisers – particularly Wolfgang Sch?uble, her powerful finance minister – arguing that it would bind the 16 remaining eurozone members more closely, allowing them to pull themselves out of the crisis.
“She was very keen on it being a clear ‘in or out’ question,” said a German official. “For her?.?.?.?a key issue was whether the Greeks themselves wanted to be in or out, and if there would have been a referendum and the Greeks would have decided that they want out, that would have made the path easier.”
Many EU officials still wonder why Mr Papandreou agreed to show up in Cannes to be hauled over the carpet. While he was stunned by the outpouring of anger from EU leaders that Tuesday morning, the Greek prime minister said he relished the chance to win international support for his referendum idea on a global stage.
Although famous for hosting the glamorous Cannes Film Festival, the Palais des Festivals is a charmless hulk of stone and glass jutting into the Mediterranean. In an effort to give the Palais’ long, beige halls some panache for the G20 summit, French organisers decorated them with fluorescent green bunting and carpets. But a chilly drizzle cast a pall over the meetings. Soon the carpets began turning a muddy brown.
Mr Sarkozy summoned his fellow leaders to the Palais at 5.30pm on Wednesday, an hour before they were due to meet Mr Papandreou, to agree on how to confront him. Those invited included Ms Merkel; Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who chaired the eurogroup of finance ministers; Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund; and the EU’s two presidents, José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy.
When the group assembled in a small, bland conference room, seated on rococo Louis XV chairs around a long table, Mr Sarkozy passed around a single sheet, titled “Position commune sur la Grèce” – common position on Greece. “The idea was to put Papandreou against the wall, in the corner,” said one person in the room.
‘Italy has no credibility’
Mr Sarkozy’s six-point plan, obtained by the FT, was clear and tough: Mr Papandreou must accept the bailout plan agreed the week before, and no further aid would be forthcoming until his parliament voted its assent.
“We are always ready to help Greece, despite the unilateral decision to announce [the referendum] without any prior notification,” point two read, a clear reflection of Mr Sarkozy’s anger. Point six was clearest of all: “The referendum shall be only on the membership of Greece in the euro area and the European Union.”
Mr Papandreou would later claim it was primarily Mr Sarkozy who fought with him to change the referendum’s wording to “in or out” of the euro, and that Ms Merkel was on his side. But those in the room said there was little dissent from any of the leaders, including the German chancellor.
With the Greek lines agreed, Mr Sarkozy turned to the subject weighing more heavily on their minds: Italy. Mr Papandreou’s referendum had created a dilemma for Greece but it also gave rise to a much greater fear that contagion from Athens would spread across the eurozone. No country posed more of a contagion danger than Italy.
With nearly ￠2tn in sovereign debt – the fourth-largest debt pile in the world – Italian finance ministry officials estimated a three-year bailout programme would cost about ￠600bn. There was not enough money in the EU or IMF to foot that bill. Italy was simply too big to bail.
“We could not afford Italy,” said a French finance ministry official. “No one could afford Italy, so that was the end probably of the eurozone.”
Ms Lagarde arrived in Cannes with a plan to put Italy into an ￠80bn “precautionary programme”, a line of credit that could be used in emergency but would also come with intensive monitoring to ensure Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister who had lost the confidence of his EU peers, would implement economic reforms. Only then, she argued, would markets begin lending again at sustainable rates. “Italy has no credibility,” Ms Lagarde told the group.
But any Italian decision would have to wait. Mr Papandreou was about to arrive.
‘The full Sarkozy’
The meeting would leave many participants shell-shocked. In his journal, Fran?ois Baroin, Mr Sarkozy’s finance minister, would call it “psychological warfare”. Others, particularly the EU’s two presidents, would later tell associates they were extremely uncomfortable with a small group of European leaders forcing the hand of the elected prime minister of a sovereign country. “For me, I have never seen a meeting so tense and so difficult,” said another aide.
Once Mr Papandreou and Mr Venizelos arrived in the conference room, Mr Sarkozy began what one official called “the full Sarkozy”: a pointed, angry denunciation of Mr Papandreou’s referendum decision.
“Clearly the feeling was: We’ve done everything to help you, we’ve done everything to keep you in the eurozone, we’ve taken financial, political risk,” said a member of France’s delegation. “It’s the biggest debt restructuring in the world, ever, and now what you do is you betray us.”
Mr Papandreou was taken aback. “He goes there and he starts ranting and raving on the referendum,” he said of Mr Sarkozy. Added Mr Venizelos: “The position of Sarkozy was very offensive. It was not polite. Very, very strong and very offensive, in order to put Greece in a dilemma: in or out.”
The Greeks attempted to fight back. Mr Papandreou laid out his plan: the referendum would be in a month’s time, and it would force Mr Samaras and his own Pasok rebels to fall into line, since even his most virulent mainstream critics could not oppose the country’s only lifeline to staying in the eurozone. Then Mr Papandreou read his proposed wording for the referendum. “I had a slightly long paragraph,” Mr Papandreou conceded.
Ms Merkel was the first to respond, and she was not happy. “We either solve this among ourselves here, or we will fail in the eyes of the world,” she said. “Wir müssen entscheiden” – we must decide. “Either you want to stay in the euro or go out.”
Those in the room said Mr Papandreou visibly deflated as the fight continued. As he fatigued, Mr Venizelos took up the battle, a sign many saw as the sudden realisation by the Greek prime minister that he had become a spent political force – and Mr Venizelos, who had long coveted the premiership, was moving to exploit the change in circumstances.
It was a shift in body language that caught the attention of Mr Barroso, who had sat quietly through most of the fireworks. The European Commission president would later tell associates that the scene playing out in front of him was making him increasingly alarmed. On top of the loose talk of a Greek euro exit, which commission officials long believed would trigger uncontrollable market panic throughout southern Europe, the prospect of a month-long referendum campaign would have sown weeks of uncertainty – exactly what they were trying to avoid as Italian bond yields were rising to dangerous levels.
Unbeknown to Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel, Mr Barroso had called Mr Samaras, the Greek opposition leader, from his hotel before the meeting. He knew Mr Samaras was desperate to avoid the referendum.
Mr Samaras told Mr Barroso he was now willing to sign on to a national unity government between his New Democracy party and Pasok – something he had assiduously avoided for months in the hopes he could secure the premiership on his own.
Mr Barroso summoned his cabinet and other commission staff to his suite at the art deco Hotel Majestic Barrière to plot strategy. He decided he would not tell Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel of the conversation but according to people in the room, they began discussing names of possible technocrats to take over from Mr Papandreou in a national unity government. The first person to come to Mr Barroso’s lips was Lucas Papademos, the Greek economist who had left his post as vice-president of the ECB a year earlier. Within a week, Mr Papademos would have the job.
Watching Mr Venizelos assert himself hours later inside the Palais, Mr Barroso saw his opportunity. Mr Sarkozy brought the meeting to a close, rereading his six-point plan and telling Mr Papandreou to go back to Athens to “take a decision”, and Mr Barroso pulled Mr Venizelos aside.
“We have to kill this referendum,” Mr Barroso said. The finance minister agreed almost immediately. Killing the referendum idea would also be the end of Mr Papandreou.
After brief remarks to the press in which he said the referendum would be “a question of whether we want to remain in the eurozone”, Mr Papandreou headed back to Nice airport. In the car, he turned to Mr Venizelos and said that things had not gone as badly as he had feared. Mr Venizelos was incredulous. As Mr Papandreou slept on the flight home, Mr Venizelos, emboldened by Mr Barroso’s admonition, ordered an aide to write up a statement to be released when they landed, at 4.45am on Thursday. “Greece’s position within the euro area is a historic conquest of the country that cannot be put in doubt,” the statement read. “This acquis by the Greek people cannot depend on a referendum.”
Mr Papandreou’s referendum was dead. As was his premiership.
但在场的人士表示，令这一幕显得更加不同寻常的是默克尔怒火指向的两个对象：坐在她身边的法国总统尼古拉?萨科齐(Nicolas Sarkozy)和坐在桌子对面的美国总统巴拉克?奥巴马(Barack Obama)。
但萨科齐的密友和演讲撰稿人亨利?瓜亚诺(Henri Guaino)指出，法兰西第五共和国第一任总统夏尔?戴高乐(Charles de Gaulle)也更倾向于公投，而不是议会政治。他辩称，要求帕潘德里欧取消公投，将与法方的戴高乐主义传统相悖。于是，萨科齐想出了一个折中方案：帕潘德里欧可以推进公投计划，但不能以纾困为主题。
虽然戛纳影节宫(Palais des Festivals)以举办群星荟萃的戛纳电影节(Cannes Film Festival)闻名，但它其实只是一栋用石材和玻璃建成的伸入地中海的建筑物，毫无情调而言。为了使影节宫长长的米色大厅在G20峰会期间有些派头，法国主办方用荧光绿色彩旗和地毯进行了装饰。但阴冷的蒙蒙细雨给会议蒙上了一层阴影。地毯很快就开始变成泥泞的棕色。
萨科齐召集其他领导人周三下午5时30分到影节宫开会，比众人计划会晤帕潘德里欧的时间早一小时，以便商定如何对付他。应邀与会的人包括：默克尔；欧元集团（Eurogroup，欧元区财长们的月度例会机制——译者注）主席、卢森堡首相让-克洛德?容克(Jean-Claude Juncker)；国际货币基金组织(IMF)总裁克里斯蒂娜?拉加德(Christine Lagarde，见右图)；以及欧盟的两位主席，若泽?曼努埃尔?巴罗佐(José Manuel Barroso)和赫尔曼?范龙佩(Herman Van Rompuy)。
萨马拉斯告诉巴罗佐，他现在愿意接受由他的新民主党(New Democracy party)和泛希社运党组成一个民族团结政府——这是之前几个月他竭力回避的安排，因为他曾希望总理一职能由自己来出任。
巴罗佐把他的内阁班子和欧盟委员会其他工作人员召集到他在艺术装饰风格的巴里耶尔马捷斯蒂克酒店(Hotel Majestic Barrière)的套房，来策划战略。他决定不向萨科齐或默克尔通报商谈情况，但据当时在场的人士透露，他们开始探讨能接替帕潘德里欧执掌一个民族团结政府的技术官僚的人选。巴罗佐最先提到的人选是一年前卸任欧洲央行副行长的希腊经济学家卢卡斯?帕帕季莫斯(Lucas Papademos)。不到一周后，帕帕季莫斯就走马上任了。