George Papandreou is not wrong to want to put to a referendum the latest bail-out deal that Greece has been offered by its eurozone partners. But he is wrong to act on the impulse, which he should have restrained. He is right that economic policy cannot be confined to an ivory tower – or to the glass-and-concrete office blocks in Brussels. The eurozone should not be patched up and restructured without receiving, at some point, the consent of its citizens. The deal agreed, after much delay and agonising, in the early hours of 27 October will have consequences not just for bond-holding bankers, but also for humbler citizens. It is their jobs, their pensions, their hospitals, their schools that are at stake. To pretend that the eurozone’s debt crisis is unrelated to the social fabric would be dishonest. So the eurozone’s leaders have to bridge the gap between their agreed policy and the citizenry. If they fail – or neglect – to do so, then taxpayers, voters and demonstrators will draw their own conclusions and, feeling the pain of austerity, will retaliate. So Papandreou is right that popular consent is required. He is painfully aware that pushing through economic and social reform is immensely contentious and that he will be confronting many vested interests. Clearly, he believes that a popular endorsement of the bail-out deal would strengthen his government in its negotiations with opponents. It might also serve to quieten the dissenting voices in the ranks of his own party, Pasok, which has taken a hammering as Papandreou and successive finance ministers have grappled with Greece’s unwieldy public finances. However, the timing of Papandreou’s referendum announcement borders on the suicidal. The deal that the 17 countries of the eurozone emerged with on Thursday morning had what might euphemistically be called a difficult birth. Indeed, it was so hard to put together, both politically and technically, that it was incomplete, with many details left to be filled in. So what was presented to the financial markets on Thursday and Friday was not much more than the bare minimum that might plausibly persuade the bond market to give the eurozone another chance – and more time. The eurozone’s bail-out fund then went cap-in-hand to seek help from the likes of China. This was the fragile context into which Papandreou lobbed his referendum grenade on Monday evening. If he had sought deliberately to derail the eurozone’s recovery plan – the additional Greek bail-out, the re-capitalisation of banks and the enhancement of the bail-out fund – it is hard to see how he could have been more effective. The eurozone summit had sought to provide reassurance; Papandreou replaced assurance with uncertainty. The eurozone leaders had made commitments and promises, but Papandreou rendered those commitments and promises worthless. Worse, Papandreou has reinforced the impression that the EU is incapable of conducting serious business. For the EU to hold a 27-nation negotiation, or even a 17-nation negotiation, and then, five days later, for one of those nations to announce that the outcome is dependent on a referendum, looks cack-handed at best – and borders on bad faith. It also suggests that Papandreou does not see the need for urgency. Sadly, the eurozone does not have time to let Greece organise a referendum, let alone campaign over one. The flames are already playing around Italy, even before Papandreou has phrased a plausible referendum question. It is not as if there is a pause button that will permit the Greek prime minister to indulge his desire for a referendum without cost. The markets are in too febrile a condition to wait on his agonising, and all the while the cost of government borrowing rises, for both Greece and Italy, making what was already a high-risk bail-out strategy even riskier. Whether or not Papandreou survives tomorrow’s confidence vote in the Greek parliament, he has recklessly damaged the trust of his eurozone partners.