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Quartz deciphers Europe’s jargon-laden plans for Greece so you don’t have to

Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, right, arrives for a meeting of eurogroup finance ministers in Brussels on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015. Eurozone finance ministers meet for a crucial day of talks Friday to see whether a Greek debt relief proposal is acceptable to Germany and other nations using the common currency.
AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
You don’t need to ask Christine Lagarde anything—it’s all in her letters.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Europe’s most abstruse pen pals were busy yesterday, locked in correspondence to seal a four-month extension of its bailout program for Greece. Let’s cut through the bureaucratic language to see how the continent is papering over the lack of consensus on its economic problems.

The letters all came in response to the new Greek government, which sent a plan to extend its bailout program to Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutchman who heads the group of euro-zone finance ministers known as the Eurogroup. The authors were the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission, which sent their tentative approval of Greece’s list of reforms, with an emphasis on tentative, to Dijsselbloem, who reluctantly did the same.

Here’s our translation of key passages in the letters from eurospeak into plain English:

Dear Jeroen,
Remembering how to spell “Dijsselbloem” is hard.
The Commission services have carefully reviewed the Greek government’s reform proposals sent to you yesterday as President of the Eurogroup. This has been preceded by constructive exchanges over the week-end between the Greek authorities and representatives of the European Commission and the other institutions.
Thanks for ruining our weekend.
European Commission
We would certainly be able to support the conclusion that the list ‘is sufficiently comprehensive to be a valid starting point for a succesful conclusion of the review,’ as called for by the Euro Group in the last meeting.
You all wanted to fudge this, so we’ll fudge this.
We therefore agreed to proceed with the national procedures with a view to reaching the final decision on the extension by up to four months of the current Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement.
We should probably give the Greeks some money to tide them over for a few months
It is important for me to emphasize that for the discussions on a completion of the review to be successful they cannot be confined within the policy perimeters outlined in the Government’s list.
But we’re not too happy about it.
In quite a few areas, including perhaps the most important ones, the letter is not conveying clear assurances that the Government intends to undertake the reforms envisaged in [the bailout program.]
The Greeks really don’t want any more austerity.
We note that the commitments outlined by the authorities differ from existing programme commitments in a number of areas. In such cases, we will have to assess during the review whether measures which are not accepted by the authorities are replaced with measures of equal or better quality in terms of achieving the objectives of the programme.
They better come up with something else fast.
We call on the Greek authorities to further develop and broaden the list of reform measures, based on the current arrangement, in close coordination with the institutions in order to allow for a speedy and successful conclusion of the review.
Or else it’s going to be a lot more austerity.
Further specification of the reforms in these and other key areas is expected to be provided and agreed before the end of April, in line with last week’s Eurogroup statement. The Commission looks forward to working with the new administration to elaborate what are at the moment still general commitments and transform these into clear policy actions.
Our language may be vague, but the Greeks should spell out everything in precise detail.
European Commission
We are encouraged by the commitment to combat tax evasion and corruption, inter alia through efforts to modernise tax and custom administrations, as well as to pursue reforms to modernise the public administration.
Like, how they’re going to make people pay their taxes.
European Commission
The Commission also notes the commitments in the area of statistics and considers it of vital importance that the institutional and operational independence of ELSTAT and its senior management be respected at all times.
And stop cooking the books.
European Commission
I would also again urge the Greek authorities to act swiftly to stabilise the payment culture and refrain from any unilateral action to the contrary.
Seriously, why can’t they just pay their taxes?
Thank you for all your efforts to get us to this point.
Pull a stunt like this again and it’s “Hello, Drachma!”

Now, parliaments in a handful of euro zone countries must vote to approve the four-month extension by the end of the month, or else the stress on the Greek financial system may lead to full collapse. Greece still won’t receive any further aid from its lenders until it gains final approval of its new reform packages, and judging by the above, the country has bought itself time to make its case, not confidence.

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