The relationship between Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his German counterpart Wolfgang Schauble resembles that of an estranged couple who can only manage to communicate through their lawyers. Any form of agreement between them is tedious and can only be managed thanks to mediators such as International Monetary Fund Chief Christine Lagarde and Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Schauble points that there is a “matter of trust” at stake and he felt betrayed by Varoufakis’ tactics for the “bridge deal” that he views as a “Trojan horse”.
The days prior to Friday’s Eurogroup meeting found the two sides involved in a Greek-German war of words. Schauble appeared disgruntled by Varoufakis’ bold negotiating style with these feelings resulting in rumors of the German’s side interest in the replacement of the Greek Finance Minister. In public, however, his poker-face makes it hard for someone to truly fathom his dislike of his Greek counterpart.
The relationship started off on a good foot from initial compliments and references to “Yanis” that the German media views as the “Greek Bruce Willis”, “game player”, “savior” etc.
Reporters who often come into contact with Schauble state that despite his image as a poker-faced man, he has a strong sense of humor and is, strangely enough, a philhellene. Since 2009, he has watched the parade of Greek finance ministers come and go, none of them managing to exacerbate him as much as Varoufakis. Evidence of this comes by the fact that it only took two hours for the German side to reject the Greek request for a six-month extension to the loan. A chief EU official told the French Agence France-Presse that there is a personality clash between the two men, with Schauble particularly outraged by some of the statements made by Varoufakis.
Schauble is the personification of discipline and seriousness and has a western view of what progress and prosperity is like. He is a veteran politician and views his counterparts as his children. On his part, Varoufakis enters crucial meetings with the fury of a teenager, with a spirit of revolt and the viewpoint of an academic who feels no reason to conform.
Despite Varoufakis’ kind words in relation to Schauble the foreign media speaks of a man who is condescending to his counterparts, and who often turns meetings into political economy lectures. He often consciously avoids talking in numbers, preferring instead to refer to the political vision of a future Europe. Such visions are hard for technocrats like Schauble to fathom, oftentimes wondering how little Greece, stuck in the mire of debt with one foot over the cliff could refer to grand visions.
Schauble is unwilling to discuss the social consequences of austerity because he is unyielding regarding the renegotiation of the Greek program. Schauble was taken aback by Varoufakis’ daring rhetoric and references to the neo-nazi elements entering Greek society, a huge taboo for Germans. Despite the rhetoric, Schauble was not swayed.
“Yanis, you may be a master of game theory, but your bluff won’t work with me,” Schauble appears to be saying.