Greece: "The PIGS fight back"
"We're the national version of Enron," says Liana Kanelli, a Greek communist MP, as we shelter under the portico of the parliament building from the rain. In the background tannoys blare out speeches and songs from the workers' demonstration that has surrounded the place. "They took our money, gambled it on the markets and now its gone."
"Can you stop the austerity plan?" I ask.
"You call it austerity, I call it war," she says. "And we refuse to be the collateral damage for the bomb dropped by Lehman Brothers."
For the Greek labour movement today was supposed to be day one of a campaign to stop the austerity measures imposed by the Pasok (social-democratic) government. The public sector strikes have been large: some ferries have been stopped, the airports are quiet and customs officers at the docks are absent.
But this is nowhere near, yet, a movement that could derail the Greek government's deficit reduction plan. As I've written before, some of the hyperventilating about this in the financial press has been misplaced. There is a serious chance of social unrest in Greece, but it depends how much further the government is forced down the route of attacking its own voting base.
I meet George Papaconstantinou, the Greek finance minister, in the economics ministry: for a while, his team have been unable to gain access to their own offices today but now, with the reception staffed only by security guards, and ringed by riot cops, they're busy with a string of interviews designed to bolster confidence.
The question of the day is: will Germany and maybe France step forward to guarantee Greece's future loans, allowing the cost of borrowing to fall and greater certainty that it will roll-over the debts in a couple of months time.
"I will evade the question," Mr Papaconstantinou warns me, before we begin, adding "tomorrow will be crucial". Right now, in Paris, the Greek PM, Mr Papandreou, is meeting President Sarkozy. At tomorrow's informal summit of EU leaders in Brussels, ringfencing the Greek crisis will be high on the agenda. Already the spreads on Greek debt - the geiger counter of instability - have fallen back in expectation of a deal.
Yesterday Greece announced new tax laws designed to recoup the equivalent of 2% GDP. The 40% tax bracket will begin at E60k, and there's the traditional promise to crack down on evasion.
But that leaves another 8% of GDP to find if the Greek deficit reduction plan is to work - and Mr Papaconstantinou believes he can do it without attacking essential services. Though painful, the 10% wage cuts, 12 year rise in the pension age and other measures, he says, can and will be borne by the people the trade unions represent. The markets have, for some two weeks now, begged to differ, and placed a massive $8bn bet on the Euro's collapse against other currencies.
Mr Papaconstantinou told me the EU countries needed "solidarity" against such speculative attacks. When I reminded him that no national government had ever been able to resist such attacks before, he said that there were fairly simple financial reforms that could be brought in, including "a ban on short selling". He rowed back from the idea of an outright ban on short selling the Euro, but said there were a number of options under discussion.
So what happens next?
There are several crucial stages to Greece avoiding a fiscal meltdown that could trigger a full-blown Euro-crisis. First, they will have to execute the measures they have announced. Though today's strikes were big, it's yet to be seen whether they will grow into a strike wave big enough to crack the parliamentary coalition Pasok has assembled around the cuts package. To me it looks unlikely.
Second, there is the question of transparency: the EU team currently going through the books, Mr Papaconstantinou insisted, would not find any new big nasties: the 13% budget deficit that emerged after Pasok took power was bad, and has given Greece a "credibility problem" he admitted, but they need to get over the hurdle of the Ecofin meeting next week, to ratify their plans and their published information.
Third, however, is what the markets see as over-optimism in the budget plans: there are no significant service cuts, there is rhetoric and some demonstrated intent to crack down on high earners, but this is not the austerity package Wall Street or London or Frankfurt would have designed. It includes fewer overt service cuts, for example, than Alistair Darling's current budget plans. Since Greece is the worst-case example among developed countries, many commentators believe the budget - even if executed - will simply fail to stem Greece's fiscal losses. Add to that they believe Pasok has over-estimated future growth.
I expect, in the next few days, possibly even tomorrow, a deal to be put together that does staunch the Euro crisis. Whoever it was that invented the acronym "PIGS" - for Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain - was prescient, as over the past few days there has been the real possibility of contagion and a sovereign debt crisis across Southern Europe.
But then the EU leaders have to get their act together and defend their currency: further speculative attacks are inevitable given the structural weakness in the Eurozone arrangements this crisis has revealed.
For here's the paradox: If Germany sponsors a bailout that looks in any way soft on the structural problems that have got Greece into this mess, it will weaken the credibility of the Eurozone. The Maastricht Treaty rules - 3% deficits, 60% debt - will look like a dead letter.
Yet, having looked Mr Papaconstantinou in the eye it seems to me that Pasok's whole strategy is to achieve such a deal. They can just about implement an austerity programme that raises tax but does not slash services and infrastructure spend. But if the EU ends up sending plenipotentiaries in to demand much tougher cuts, then the cuts themselves - and the factor of outside interference - will enrage people like the public sector workers I met on the demo today, whose anti-Euro rhetoric was matched only by their dislike for Britain and the BBC.
The wildcard remains how the less organised, much more disparate urban youth will react to all this. The Greek government knows this too and is watching the streets, not the workplaces, for signs of discontent. Trade unions they understand - probably much better than those hedge fund traders who had staked money on some kind of union-led upheaval. The youth they have little traction with - and it's the young who will get hit strategically: their working lives will be 12 years longer than their parents' generation, their wages will be lower, the economy they live in will feel less vibrant, their access to the shambolic education system will be constrained.
And - as the youths wearing pig's head masks on the demo today were keen to point out - there are young people like them all across Southern Europe. Longer term it's a contagious youth unrest from Thessaloniki to Lisbon that Europe's leaders may have to watch out for: "The PIGS fight back," said the banners today.
Instead of a straight class divide this crisis has fuelled a more complicated generational one: older workers have been poor before and, some of them will privately admit, can survive being poor again. But for those in their early 20s to see all the aspirations fostered during the noughties cancelled indefinitely is a pretty hard pill to swallow.