By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, in Athens 05 July 2015
Europe suffers biggest bloody nose since failed French and Dutch referenda a decade ago in Greek landslide revolt
Supporters of the 'No' vote react to the exit polls results in Syntagma square, Athens Photo: Petros Karadjias/AP
Greek voters have rejected the austerity demands of Europe's creditor powers by a stunning margin, sweeping aside warnings that this could lead to the collapse of the banking system and a return to the drachma.
Early returns in the historic referendum showed the No side -Oxi in Greek =- running at 61pc versus 39pc for the Yes side as the Greek people turned out en masse to vent their anger over six years of economic depression and national humiliation. A volcanic revolt appeared to have swept through Greek islands.
The shock result effectively calls the bluff of Eurozone leaders and the heads of the European Commission and Parliament, forcing them either to back down or carry out drastic threats to eject Greece from monetary union.
The European Central Bank faces an immediate decision over whether to continue freezing emergency liquidity assistance (ELA) for Greek banks at €89bn, a stance that would amount to liquidity suffocation.
"If they do that, the situation would be very serious. That would be pretty close to trying to bring down the government," said Euclid Tsakalotos, the country's chief debt negotiator.
The Bank of Greece (BoG) said on Sunday evening that it will make a formal request to the ECB for fresh support.
The EU's leadership was in utter confusion as it became clear during the day that support was swinging back to the "No" camp, despite blanket coverage from the private TV stations warning that a "No" meant Armageddon.
"The Greek people have proven that they cannot be blackmailed, terrorized, and threatened," said Panos Kammenos, the defence minister and head of the coalition's ANEL party.
French president Francois Hollande said he would bend over backwards to keep Greece in the euro despite voting no. He is to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris on Monday to draw up a joint response to what has turned into the biggest EU fiasco since the rejection of the European constitution by France and Holland in 2005.
Martin Schulz, head of the European Parliament, was still insisting on Sunday that a "No" vote must mean expulsion from the euro, but his view is becoming untenable.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission's chief, is equally trapped by his own rhetoric after warning last week that a No vote would be a rejection of Europe itself, leading to calamitous consequences.
Top Syriza officials say they are considering drastic steps to boost liquidity and shore up the banking system, should the ECB refuse to give the country enough breathing room for a fresh talks.
"If necessary, we will issue parallel liquidity and California-style IOU's, in an electronic form. We should have done it a week ago," said Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister.
California issued temporary coupons to pay bills to contractors when liquidity seized up after the Lehman crisis in 2008. Mr Varoufakis insists that this is not be a prelude to Grexit but a legal action within the inviolable sanctity of monetary union.
Mr Varoufakis and ministers will hold an emergency meeting tonight with the private banks and the governor of the Greek central bank, Yannis Stournaras, to decide what to do before the cash reserves of the four big lenders dry up tomorrow.
Louka Katseli, head of the Hellenic bank Association, said ATM machines will run out of money within hours of the vote. One official say that Eurobank was "flat out of money" late on Sunday, even though Greek depositors have been limited to €60 a day since capital controls were imposed a week ago.
There are mounting signs that the creditors are stepping back from the brink, conceding that they may have to renew talks with Syriza after all, though it is far from clear what this means. Senior German officials were briefing last week that Greece will not get another cent as long premier Alexis Tsipras and Mr Varoufakis remain in power.
There is now a clear rift between Germany and France, perhaps serious enough to cause long-term damage to the coherence of monetary union.
Sigmar Gabriel, deputy German chancellor, said a No vote means "the last bridges between Europe and Greece to move towards a compromise will have been torn away."
"With the rejection of the rules of the euro zone, negotiations about a programme worth billions are barely conceivable," he said. His hard-line position was echoed by Slovak finance minister, Peter Kazimir, who tweeted: "The nightmare of the "euro-architects" that a country could leave the club seems like a realistic scenario after Greece voted No today."
Such an approach appears irreconcilable with the views of the French economy minister, Emmanuel Macron, who said the EMU creditors are equally to blame for the crisis and must resist the temptation to "crush" the Greek people. "It is our responsibility to avoid a Versailles Treaty within the Eurozone," he said.
Italy's Matteo Renzi said the sight of pensioners weeping in front of banks was a black mark on the conscience of Europe. "We must start to speak to each other again, and nobody knows this than better than Angela Merkel," he said.
Yet matters will be decided by handful of people in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Brussels over coming days, with the ECB in the unwelcome position of having to decide by its actions whether or not to bring the crisis to a head.
Syriza sources say the Greek ministry of finance is examining options to take direct control of the banking system if need be rather than accept a draconian seizure of depositor savings - reportedly a 'bail-in' above a threshold of €8,000 - and to prevent any banks being shut down on the orders of the ECB.
Government officials recognize that this would lead to an unprecedented rift with the EU authorities. But Syriza's attitude at this stage is that their only defence against a hegemonic power is to fight guerrilla warfare.
Hardliners within the party - though not Mr Varoufakis - are demanding the head of governor Stournaras, a holdover appointee from the past conservative government.
They want a new team installed, one that is willing to draw on the central bank's secret reserves, and to take the provocative step in extremis of creating euros.
"The first thing we must do is take away the keys to his office. We have to restore stability to the system, with or without the help of the ECB. We have the capacity to print €20 notes," said one.
Such action would require invoking national emergency powers - by decree - and "requisitioning" the Bank of Greece for several months. Officials say these steps would have to be accompanied by an appeal to the European Court: both to assert legality under crisis provisions of the Lisbon Treaty, and to sue the ECB for alleged "dereliction" of its treaty duty to maintain financial stability.
Mr Tsakalotos told the Telegraph that the creditors will find themselves be in a morally indefensible position if they refuse to listen to the voice of the Greek people, especially since the International Monetary Fund last week validated Syriza's core claim that Greece's debt cannot be repaid.
"It would be a pretty extreme position for Europe to say that the vote didn't matter. That is not what they did when Ireland voted 'No' to the Lisbon treaty," he said.
Mr Tsakalotos said Syriza's mood hardened a month ago when the talks turned nasty. "A lot of people were outraged when we gave them a 47-page document and they gave us a 5-page document. It was a slap in the face. They were not even taking the negotiations seriously," he said.
Mr Tsakalotos said Syriza is now in a much stronger negotiating position and the creditors will gain nothing from digging in their heels. "The process has now gone for so long in Greece that we haven't got a hope in Hell of delivering on our promises unless there is a regime change, and by that I mean that people have to feel that Grexit is off the agenda," he said.
To those who complain that his government refuses to reform, he called this a canard. Syriza are the outsiders shaking up a fossilized system.
"Even if they forgave all the debt and gave us €300bn we would still be in deep trouble, if we didn't push through deep reform. No-one in Syriza thinks that everything was hunky-dory in 2008 and we all can go back to that," he said.