Alexis Tsipras and the hard times ahead
It lasted three weeks and it was tough. Perhaps it was the first time that Greeks witnessed such a “David and Goliath” type of battle unraveling in front of their eyes. A battle of mistrust, where most tactics were used; the humiliation of the opponent, wearing out his stamina, hitting below the belt, twisting arms and pushing to the farthest corner, just before the brink.
It was an uneven battle where “Goliath” was not the institutional leaders of the Eurozone, but German Federal Minister of Finance Wolfgang Schäuble, thus confirming that the Eurozone is far from being a platform of solidarity and equality among its members, bluntly demonstrating that the Eurozone cannot decide anything that Germany does not like. And if something came out of the painful Eurogroup of Feb. 20 was that the present German government does not like and does not trust Syriza.
So the battle that the new left-wing government has to win is primarily the battle of being heard and trusted as an alternative voice in a European environment; an environment where the only recipe for the ailing Eurozone economies is austerity and tough reforms that may cause suffering to the societies, but usually “succeed” in the end. Can Syriza be the first to challenge this philosophy if the main parameters of their election programs are based on such “anathemas” as “giving more power to the public sector, restoring labor rights, increasing lower wages, over taxing the rich?”
The deal that was achieved between Greece and Germany may have saved Greece – for the moment – by not leaving Greece out of the Eurozone and receiving an extension to its bailout program, and Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister, may have claimed victory by securing a breathing time of four months for Greece to implement its own alternative reform program.
But whatever “concessions” were seen as given to Greece by the Eurogroup meeting Feb. 20, were given on the condition that it can prove its trustworthiness at every step. It was as if they (Germany) told the Greek delegation “OK, you have not persuaded us about your genuine intentions or credible ideas to carry on the reforms that your predecessors have signed, but we are giving you a chance to prove that we are wrong; however, as we do not really trust you, we will give you a period of just four months to implement your program, at the end of which we will evaluate it and if we think it has been successful, then we can continue giving you the money to survive under a newly agreed bailout deal. Not until then.”
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras could not hide the precariousness of the current situation. In a carefully balanced address to the nation he referred to the “negotiating success of Greece into Europe,” he attacked the previous government and “outside circles” by saying, “We took a country on the brink with empty coffers and no cash, a plundered the country and we averted a plan of blind and conservative forces to suffocate Greece.” But in the same speech, he admitted that “a battle was won but not the war. The real difficulties are ahead of us.” And he appealed to the Greek people by saying, “Our only strength is your support and trust.”
The “conditions at every step” were put into action already since Feb. 20. The very agreement of giving Greece four months – instead of six as it was originally asked – is not yet valid unless Greece submits a first list of reforms to its creditors (the Eurozone, ECB and IMF) by this evening and that list has to be approved by them. The Greek government is optimistic that this stage is “not something complicated” yet, even if this list is approved, Greece’s triad of creditors will require a more specific list to be agreed upon at the end of April. This four month extension of the bail-out agreement has to be approved also by the parliaments of the member states of the Eurozone. And as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble stressed on Feb. 20 “no payment of new funds to Greece until the conditions of the deal has been met.”
So the ball is entirely in Greece’s court. Are they sufficiently prepared to change the course of the economy and go from austerity to grow in such an impossibly short period? It seems that the Greek government’s list of reforms will put its main emphasis on corruption and tax evasion, both promised by previous governments but never realized. If they manage to produce credible results in these two areas, there is a good chance that they may start gaining the trust of their partners and reverse the negative image about the “untrustworthy, corrupt Greece” among European voters.
It is a gigantic challenge, but the Tsipras government enjoys almost 80 percent of popularity, according to the latest polls, while the main opposition is in a free fall. Such a rate of public approval is crucial for a prime minister in fighting not only his opponents from the opposition parties, but the potential opposition from the radicals of his party.