It was a small room with a plain wooden table a few feet wide. The Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras sat on one side, along with a translator and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. On the other sat President Francois Hollande of France; around were a handful of officials.
In this modest Brussels setting last Friday morning, key players in the great Greek debt drama tried to avert a meltdown that could threaten the future of the euro and even the European Union (EU). Merkel and Hollande made a final offer of billions of euros in aid for bankrupt Greece – if Tsipras would sign up to economic reforms demanded by his country’s creditors.
The participants looked tired, their body language was stiff. The meeting did not last long. Tsipras, according to Greek officials close to the negotiations, had already decided to call an emergency meeting of his cabinet in Athens for that evening. Even as he spoke with Merkel and Hollande, he was preparing to hand the decision over Greece’s fate to the nation’s voters. The day before he had decided, after months of talks, that he and Greece’s creditors were unable to agree a deal.
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