Tsipras: Optimism both at home and toward Turkey
It is not a usual practice by politicians to accept their mistakes. The contrary is true: They do not, and when they do, there must be a strong reason why they have to. For example, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, two weeks after the 2016 failed coup, asked for forgiveness over his former view on Gülen, this was unexpected but understandable as it dictated the government policy that has been followed since.
So, when Alexis Tsipras was asked what his gravest mistake as prime minister was during an interview last Wednesday evening to a private Greek TV channel, his response was unusually direct and, most probably, honest.
“I made wrong choices in people,” he said. Although he accompanied his answer with a smile, one could sense his accumulated frustration piling up since the time that his leftist party came to power four years ago. From his first Economy Minister Yanis Varoufakis and his choice for the speaker of the parliament to the 25 of his hardcore leftist deputies who walked out from his party and government protesting his policy of bowing to the Eurozone directives, Tsipras has every reason to blame himself for choosing the wrong partners. The departure of his “comrades” and the real danger of the collapse of his government led him to his most controversial choice: To enter an ill-suited “marriage” with the small nationalist party of Panos Kammenos. Tsipras defended his move vigorously as a necessary foible that worked out well, but now Kammenos is holding the key for the survival of the Tsipras government.
These are tense and dense days in Greek politics. As Tsipras stated in the same interview, perhaps as early as next week, he is determined to bring to the parliament the Prespa Agreement, which aims at settling the outstanding issues between Athens and Skopje including the official name of the small Balkan republic. His counterpart, Zoran Zaev, hopes he will have secured the required majority in his parliament for the acceptance of the agreement as early as next week. NATO and the EU, as well as the U.S., are eagerly waiting to start the procedures to include “North Macedonia” - as the official name will be - in their structures. Yet, there is a snag in Athens. Kammenos has declared that he is not going to vote in favor of the agreement negotiated by the government of which he is a partner.
Some of Kammenos’ deputies have already declared that they will defy their leader, and vote in favor of the Prespa Agreement. Tsipras warned that “if we do not vote in favor of the agreement, our country will be “humiliated before the international community.” However, even if the Prespa Agreement passes through the Greek Parliament - as it is likely to - there is uncertainty over the survival of the Tsipras government should Kammenos decide to withdraw from the government altogether and not support it if there will be a confidence vote. In his TV interview, Tsipras appealed to his coalition partner “not to bring grist to the mill” of the opposition, although he tried to appear confident that his government will be able to survive even as a minority government (as in several European countries, he said). The opposition thinks that the government is “hanging by a piece of string” and wants to topple the government before the general elections are due next October.
Against such a thick political narrative, it was not a surprise that the relations with Turkey occupied a relatively limited time. Even so, we learnt that the
Greek prime minister would be visiting Turkey “at the beginning of next month,” that he “does not think that Turkey is planning to cause an incident against Greece,” and that “Greece and Turkey should have a continuous contact on the highest level.”
Watching Tsipras’ interview last Wednesday, I must confess, I did not get the impression of a prime minister in a state of high anxiety, on the contrary, he appeared as if he has planned his next steps carefully. If this is so, his scheduled meeting with Kammenos today will not end up in a complete break-up of the coalition.
More than anything else, I think, we should turn our attention to Tsipras’ visit to Turkey as it may be crucial. Ideally it should start a new political process and create a new framework of the bilateral relations against a confusing background of parallel exploration operations for underwater resources in the eastern Mediterranean and a continuous exchange of hostile language sometimes verging on warmongering. Clarity and fresh thinking are a must in these heated times.