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23rd Apr 2021

Greek referendum question poses problems

  • Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is calling voters to reject the creditors proposal few of them will be able to read. (Photo: GUE/NGL)

"You must vote Yes, independently of the question asked”, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told the Greek people on Monday (29 June).

It sounds like a wild statement.

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But in fact, Greek voters will indeed not know precisely what they are voting on in the referendum on Sunday.

Shortly after Juncker spoke on Monday the Greek government published the referendum ballot, with a long question.

"Should the proposal that was submitted by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund at the Eurogroup of 25 June 2015, which consists of two parts that together constitute their comprehensive proposal, be accepted? The first document is titled 'Reforms for the completion of the Current Programme and beyond' and the second 'Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis'," the ballot reads on the left-hand side.



On the right are the two possible answers: "Not agreed/No" on top, and "Agreed/Yes" underneath.

The No is the answer Alexis Tsipras' government and Syriza party are campaigning for. "No, for democracy and dignity," reads the referendum poster issued by Syriza.

But the question asked to Greek voters itself raises two questions.

Firstly, what documents does it refer to? Secondly, how can voters take an informed decision on the content?

The two documents mentioned on the ballot are the agreement proposal put forward by Greece's creditors last week, and an analysis of Greek debt by the creditors’ institutions.

A commission press officer could not confirm to EUobserver on Monday whether the document "Reforms for the completion of the Current Programme and beyond" included the "List of prior actions - Version of 26 June" published by the commission on Sunday.

Meanwhile, "Preliminary Debt Sustainability Analysis", is an institutions' update on the situation and sustainability of the Greek debt that could have been the basis for a technical discussion on debt relief after the current bailout programme is concluded, according to the commission press officer.

Negotiations between Greece and the institutions ended on Saturday (27 June) after Tsipras announced the referendum and it is unclear whether the documents the Greek government is putting to the vote are still on the table.

"The two documents are part of several work-in-progress documents that the institutions submitted to the Eurogroup on Thursday," a EU source told EUobserver.

"The package of documents was never endorsed by the Eurogroup. They are therefore not a formal proposal."

But in his press conference on Monday, Juncker said that "if the Greek people say Yes to the proposal we published yesterday, so much the better.”

"If the Greek government … were to submit to the Greek people's vote the three institutions' proposal we wanted to discuss at last Saturday's Eurogroup, together with our Greek friends, I would ask the Greek people to vote Yes," he added.

The problem, however, is that these documents, even if considered still valid by the institutions, are not yet public, apart from the "List of prior actions" published by the commission, and therefore not available to the Greek voters who have to decide on them.

Atop this, they were produced in English - the language used in the technical talks between Greece and its creditors. Even if they are made public they would remain unfathomable to a large part of the Greek electorate.

"The interior ministry will certainly ask for a translation”, a Greek official told EUobserver. But he admitted that an eventual translation may not be sent in time in print to all the voters.

"There is internet”, the official said.

According to Eurostat, 66 percent of Greek households had internet access at home in 2014.

Whether voters with access to the documents in English or in Greek will be able to understand in a few days all the fiscal, financial, legal and economic niceties of documents made by and for experts is yet another question.

But in Athens, as in Brussels and other European capitals, the details of question seems less important than the overall meaning of the vote.

"We see the referendum as a continuation of the negotiations by other means”, the deputy minister for administrative reform, George Katrougalos, said on Sunday.

Meanwhile several EU politicians indicated that implications of the referendum result are wider than the question itself.

"A No vote would be a decision against staying in the euro," German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said on Monday at a press conference.

This article was updated at 19.42 on Monday 29 June 2015 with new details about the status of the documents mentioned in the referendum question

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