by Tony Barber
ATHENS. The spotlight opens on George Papandreou, who is at home in bed, tossing in his sleep.
Papandreou (waking up): Great gods! Will these nights never end? Will daylight never come? I heard the cock crow hours ago, but my indolent and totally corrupt people are still snoring away! Curses on this debt crisis! Curses on Pasok! I can’t even sack my own public servants.
The spotlight switches to the top floor of Papandreou’s home and reveals the Troika of Creditors, who are armed with iPads and studying a pile of dusty Greek ledgers.
First Creditor: It really is quite remarkable. Until last month more than 1,000 dead pensioners were receiving payments from Greece’s biggest pension fund.
Second Creditor: And what about this? The Greek state considers 637 types of job to be so arduous that the people doing them get early retirement.
First Creditor: What sort of people?
Second Creditor: Steam bath attendants. Radio technicians. Hairdressers.
First Creditor (thoughtfully): One could look at things another way. International civil servants such as us get generous pensions and early retirement, too.
Second Creditor (stiffly): We’re not in Athens to look at things another way.
Third Creditor: Absolutely right. We’re here to look into the questions that really matter. For example, the difference between who owns swimming pools and who declares ownership of swimming pools in their tax returns. (He displays a Google Map.) The two categories do not exactly overlap – at least, not in the suburb of Ekali.
Second Creditor: Let me guess. Ten thousand swimming pools and only 1,000 owners.
Third Creditor: You underestimate the addiction to fiction of the pool-loving Greek. Ekali has 16,974 pools. But according to the tax returns there are only 324 owners.
The spotlight switches to Papandreou.
Papandreou (despairingly): Who do we owe all this money to? How much do we owe? Let me add up the interest … It’s a nightmare, these debts are deeper than the Bay of Salamis! Sometimes I wish I were back at Amherst, playing Bob Dylan songs on my guitar. But I mustn’t give up! It was Andreas, that father of mine, who got my country into this mess. I’m not like him. I’m not really a socialist at all. But it’s my duty to save Greece. I know! I’ll call a referendum!
The spotlight switches back to the Troika of Creditors.
First Creditor: Did someone say the word “referendum”?
Second Creditor: No, we’re not in Ireland.
FRANKFURT. Jean-Claude Trichet and Mario Draghi are seated at a table. The Chorus of the Clouds watches from above.
Leader of the Chorus: Oh, mortal central bankers, you who wish to instruct yourselves in our great wisdom, take heed that you must know how to hold your own, how to withstand extreme market pressures, and how to press on without admitting to fatigue. Then you will enjoy the greatest of blessings, to live and think more clearly than the common herd and to shine in the contests of words.
Trichet (briskly, to Draghi): So, we’re clear about the first rule of central banking.
Draghi: Buy Greek bonds and call it the removal of impediments to the transition mechanism of a price stability-oriented monetary policy.
Trichet (stares at Draghi): All right, then, the second rule. It is, mon cher Mario, that one should never speak ill of one’s colleagues, especially at the European Central Bank. Here in Frankfurt we have done more than any institution in Europe, or in the entire world, to keep the euro alive. Every single one of us deserves credit.
Draghi: With that sentiment I am in complete, utter and total agreement.
Trichet: All the same, I have my doubts about old Axel.
Draghi: Me, too. What on earth is he playing at?
Trichet: I don’t mind him opposing the bond purchase programme. You expect nothing less from a Bundesbank president.
Draghi: It’s natural.
Trichet: But he shouldn’t express his opposition in public.
Draghi: It’s unnatural.
Trichet: He’s having a terrible effect on German opinion. He’s making our job twice as difficult.
Enter a slave bearing a tray.
Slave: A letter from Axel Weber, master.
Trichet (opens letter and reads): Well, he has solved our problem. He’s resigning.
Draghi: Not before time.
Trichet: He’ll be lecturing in America before you can say Schuldenbremse. (Thinks.) Of course, this will clear the way for someone else to step into my shoes here.
Draghi (innocently): What’s your size?
Leader of the Chorus (to Draghi): Tell us boldly what you want of us. Then you cannot fail to succeed. When we have finished teaching you, your glory among mortals will reach even to the skies.
Draghi: Well, there is a rather delicate business in Rome …
ROME. Silvio Berlusconi is hosting his last bunga bunga party as prime minister. A throng of television personalities and showgirls surrounds him. Enter a slave.
Slave: The nurses’ uniforms are ready, master.
Berlusconi: Grazie. Here, Vlada, you’re good with figures. Answer me a question.
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: What is it, Papi?
Berlusconi: Why is the number eight so significant in my life?
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: Well, you once said you did eight of us in one night.
Berlusconi: Brava! But tonight that’s not what I have in mind. The reason is that there were eight traitors in my party who deserted me in parliament. My enemies are like bedbugs, advancing on me from all corners. They are biting me, they are gnawing at my sides, they are drinking my blood, they are yanking at my coglioni, they are digging into my backside! Now I must make the supreme sacrifice for the good of my nation. Now I must fulfil my destiny as the Jesus Christ of politics. Now the curtain will fall on the greatest premiership that Italy has known.
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: Come, come, Papi, no giving up! The thing to do is to find an ingenious way through.
Berlusconi: A way through? I only wish one would come to me.
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: Are you holding something?
Berlusconi: No, nothing whatever.
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: Nothing at all?
Berlusconi: Nothing except … The Italian people know what I have done for my country. The restaurants, the beauty salons and the private jets are all full. I’m not finished yet. Mark my words, if my enemies think they can destroy my entire career, they will be sorely disappointed. I am the most persecuted man in the history of the world, but they will never get me.
Enter the Chorus of the Clouds.
Leader of the Chorus: Old man, we counsel you, if you have a successor, send him to us to learn in your stead.
Berlusconi: He’s called Mario Monti.
Leader of the Chorus: Can you make him obey you?
Berlusconi: If he refuses, I’ll turn him out. I’ve got the numbers in the Senate.
Vlada the Heart-Stealer: Eight?
Berlusconi (wearily): Not tonight, Vlada.
BRUSSELS. Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron are finishing dinner at a summit.
Merkel: What delicious cheese!
Sarkozy (to himself): That’s her second helping.
Merkel: You really should try some, David, it will calm you down.
Cameron: I tell you, I will not hold a referendum, I will not agree to a new treaty, I will not support a financial transactions tax, and I will not listen to lectures from that ventriloquist’s dummy of yours!
Merkel (producing dummy from her handbag): Oh, I think Herman’s rather sweet. (To dummy). Give us one of your haiku.
Herman Van Rompuy (speaking through Merkel):
The fiscal compact
Is agreed. But Belgium still
Lacks a government.
Merkel (puts dummy back in bag): We’ve been practising all week.
Sarkozy (fawningly): He has a most accommodating nature, Angela.
Merkel (pleased): Even when he was quite little, he amused himself at home with making horses, carving boats and constructing small chariots of leather. He had a wonderful understanding of how to make frogs out of pomegranate rinds.
Cameron: I tell you, I will not hold a referendum, I will not join the eurozone and I will not give money to the European rescue fund! (Sighs.) It was a lot more fun with Boris in the Bullingdon Club. Killing foxes with chilled bottles of Taittinger Brut …
Merkel (to Sarkozy): You and I need to get down to business. So tell me the truth, Nicolas, was DSK set up?
Sarkozy (sweetly): As you have put it so eloquently, Angela, there is no Europe without the euro. (To himself.) Merde, she must have been gossiping with Carla.
Merkel: Well, that’s that, then, I’m glad to say we have an agreement. Europe will have a fiscal union in 250 years’ time, and I’ll have a bit more cheese.
Cameron: I tell you, I will not hold a referendum, I will not …
Merkel (turning to Cameron): What, are you still here?
ATHENS. Merkel, Sarkozy and Draghi are playing cards in the House of Thoughts. The Chorus of the Clouds watches from above.
Sarkozy (pausing before he deals): What about your ante, Mario?
Draghi: Oh, sorry.
Draghi places a €10 note on the table. Sarkozy inspects it.
Sarkozy: The serial number begins with a Y.
Merkel: Mein Gott, it’s Greek!
Sarkozy: Throw it away.
Draghi: How can I? They’re still in the eurozone, you know.
Merkel: Tell me about it.
Leader of the Chorus: What a thing it is to love making mistakes! For this old Europe, having loved its mistakes, now wishes to withhold the money that it borrowed.
Sarkozy continues dealing.
Merkel (to the Leader of the Chorus): Why didn’t you warn us earlier?
Leader of the Chorus: We always do this to those whom we perceive to be lovers of mistakes. We precipitate them into misfortune, so that they may learn to fear the gods.
Draghi (folds hand): I’m out.
Merkel (aghast): You can’t be!
Sarkozy: It’s you and me alone, Angela. What’s it to be? Eurobonds or the end of the euro?
Merkel (to Draghi): I sometimes think he’s worse than Chirac.
Enter Cameron, running wildly.
Cameron: Oh, Europeans, do not be angry with me! Do not destroy me! Pardon me, I’ve gone crazy through babbling. Bring me a torch, someone!
Sarkozy and Merkel: In the name of the gods, what are you doing?
Cameron: What am I doing? What does it look like? (Cameron sets the house on fire.)
Merkel: You’ll destroy us!
Sarkozy: He’ll never destroy us. I’m raising you a million euros, Angela.
Merkel (slowly folding her hand): You’ve won this round, Nicolas. But I’ll win the war.
The House of Thoughts is ablaze.
Leader of the Chorus: Lead the way out, for we have sufficiently acted as Chorus for today.