Greece-EU: Compromise but how and when?

Greece-EU: Compromise but how and when?

An unusually high percentage – over 70 percent – of people support the tough stance adopted by the Alexis Tsipras government toward Greece’s creditors. And while the conservatives of the main opposition New Democracy are eagerly waiting in the wings to watch the new government perform a spectacular backpedalling action on its pre-election promises, the first steps of the Syriza-Anel government showed nothing of the sort.

On the contrary, the new government carried out its pre-election discourse with a stronger determination. This was evident not only by the much publicized European tour of Economy Minister Yanis Varoufakis but also by the statements of PM-elect Tsipras and the rest of his ministers at home.

The pace, the energy and the rhetoric of the election campaign continued after Jan. 25. Probably expressing a general impression, Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament, sounded worried in an interview with the newspaper Tagesspiegel: “Tsipras is a logical man with whom one can discuss. But he has to leave the role of the politician in an election campaign and realize that he has become a prime minister.”

The first post-election opinion poll, conducted by the University of Macedonia, showed that not only the governments’ voters approve of the tough government’s stance, but so do over 40 percent of those who voted for the opposition. 

Popular approval for the new government was shown last week when the European Central Bank announced it would not accept Greek government bonds until a new agreement on the management of the country’s huge debt is agreed. Large crowds chanted “We are not going to be blackmailed” outside the Parliament building in the absence of police, based on the orders of the new minister.

I asked around to my friends, my colleagues and my relatives. They all told me the same thing. That everybody’s morale is high or, at worst, that everybody has reached their limits of patience and resources. The sense of “hope” and “allegiance” in the society injected by the new government seems to have created a pad of “numbness” to the pain and suffering experienced by the dramatic worsening of people’s living standards.

 I hear from colleagues in Germany, that the visit to Berlin last week by the Greek economy minister may have generated enormous publicity for the international media, but it stumbled on an important obstacle that increased the tension between Varoufakis and his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble. The Greek side “did not have a specific plan with them,” a German colleague told me, who followed the events closely.

“The Germans are not known for their diplomatic skills, they need plans, numbers and figures. Varoufakis, came here, with his excellent command of English – unlike Tsipras – but he had no plan with him,” he said.

He was right; the first tour of the Greek Economy Ministry delegation in Paris, Rome, London and Paris last week may have put Greece in the international headlines, but it was rather a foretaste than the start of a negotiation process. The European leaders did not seem ready to commit themselves to anything before the new government gets an official approval for its program.

The real (difficult) dialogue between the Tsipras government and its European partners will start this week. The presentation of the government program in the Greek parliament, which started yesterday evening, is expected to end by tomorrow. Greek media report that Tsipras will announce a “two-stage” program where they will first seek to implement measures to alleviate hardship to the most needy. This is the period for which the government is seeking a bridging agreement with its creditors. The second stage would cover government plans for its remaining term of three-and-a-half years. 

The time table is extremely tight. After the expected approval of the Greek government program, the Greek side will have to present its plan to manage its faltering economy to an extraordinary Eurogroup meeting on Wednesday where the president of the ECB, Mario Draghi, and the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, will also be present.

Everybody understands that this is not going to be easy. Greece has committed itself to an austerity program which involves other European taxpayers’ money. And what this leftist government requires are changes that forego terms of the initial agreements. They will have to win the trust of their creditors to show that they mean business this time where their predecessors failed, i.e., on issues such as fighting tax evasion and corruption and finding novel ways to produce economic growth.

Sources talk of an eventual compromise where each side gives way. It will be important to see to what extent Syriza may need to step back from its election promises – if such thing happens – and to what extent the people will continue to support them, believing in an ultimately better future.