Do the Europeans finally accept Tsipras?
This May is a vital month for the survival of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ government. After months of protracted and difficult negotiations with its creditors, the Greek government finally put forward its reform package, expecting a decision for the release of the first tranche of 86 billion euros from the bail-out package agreed to last autumn. About 10 billion of it is destined to repay Greece’s external loans. However, the first meeting of Greece’s creditors earlier this month did not produce a concrete answer. It did, though, produce a change of mood.
For the first time since its coming to power, the attitude of the Europeans towards Tsipras’ government showed signs of leniency. It literally happened the day after the Greek government managed to pass through parliament a (first) tough package of additional pension and tax reforms (cuts). Hours after the vote on May 11, a special meeting of the Euro group in Brussels found the finance ministers of the 19 members in a “constructive mood,” claiming that the proposals of Tsipras’ government were “better than expected.” That was really a radical change, since everybody knew there was no love lost between Syriza and the hard core in Brussels. The leading team of the EU, especially the German finance minister, rarely missed a chance to show Greece as a lost cause and the Tsipras government as a freak oddity in the eurozone family.
Trying to decipher the change of atmosphere among the Europeans, some commentators in Greece claimed that Brussels and Berlin, after seeing Tsipras willing to change his self-deceptions (his words) on how to deal with his country’s serious problems and abiding by the conditions of their creditors, thought it would be better to keep Syriza in government rather than having them “outside throwing stones at parliament.”
May 24 has become something of a sacred date for the Tsipras government. It will be the first time that Greece’s creditors will demonstrate their concrete approval of a leftist- –at least nominally - political party that gathered unexpected strength during the years of economic crisis and made a full ideological U-turn after being elected into power a year ago in order “to save the country from bankruptcy.”
Still, even if a green light is given by the Europeans, the ordeal will not end soon. The so-called reforms expected by Brussels from the Greek government will continue to burden the already exhausted population. Right now Greeks are spending a large portion of their income on direct and indirect taxes. Even if the May 24 meeting goes well and the next tranche of money helps Greece survive in the immediate future, a new series of indirect taxes will be gradually implemented from July this year until January 2018 in order to expect the next tranche to be released.
The critics of the government say heavy taxes will just encourage people to tax evasion without creating new jobs. However, Tsipras, with the confidence of a leader who is no longer seen like the black sheep of Europe, believes that Greece may be able to come out of the bailout package before the end of 2018.
The problem for the opposition parties is that they all invested in one single motto - that the prime minister is a “dangerous liar” - basing their rhetoric on his spectacular backtracking last year. They were not able to offer a comprehensive alternative policy. So, for the moment, Tsipras retains his control, although there are many challenges ahead of him.