Alexis Tsipras is just 37 year’s old and suddenly his appealing face is all over the international press. There is a story there, a media story of a young man, who took an obscure left leaning party and brought it to prominence. All eyes are upon him because he is playing a high stakes game of chicken. And as the NYT writes (May 19, 2012) he admits to liking to play poker. Some media outlets vilify him; others are intrigued and would enjoy to see Europe blink.
Internally, the more established political parties -threatened by SYRIZA’s rise- are accusing him of being a populist, and an opportunist; of changing his position depending on whom he speaks to. They label him as “unprepared to govern,” asking him to specifically define the actions he will take if he is called to form a government.
Externally, the world both worries about what he might do to Greece and the eurozone if he persists and wins, but is also mesmerized because he is a fresh, young face with strong opinions and good rhetoric. The story is appealing to both the media and their audience.
Things are shaking up in Europe and the talk is that Merkel is increasingly getting more isolated because she insists on austerity first. The new French President is coming out strong on growth and a curtailment of austerity measures, giving the impression that a battle will be under way to decide how to best proceed as Europeans and as members of the Euro. How much of it is rhetoric and how much needs to actually change is indeed a matter of conjecture. One thing is certain, Merkel is not easy to isolate and ignore. She is consistent, she is strong and has years of practical political experience under her belt. She doesn’t scare easily because she has already been on the job for so long that she clearly is aware that at some point her time will also be up and her legacy is now important.Time and again with all her faults she has shown leadership and firm decision making capabilities. Leadership is what Europe needs above all else and not a disparate chorus of voices creating a cacophony, producing only a stalemate.
Going back to Greece and the Greeks. I believe it to be a false hope to decide our own fate based on what the media says is happening in Europe. We need to make sure we have our own plans and our own priorities. If we want to stay in the Euro and get the next payment of the bailout package we need to proceed as per our agreement. While we implement changes and reforms, the new government can negotiate a change in the burden of taxation and insist on growth strategies and moneys to help jump start the economy. Then and only then, should the issue of salary cuts be put on the table.
One thing that has to happen right now is that the parties must re-assure the rest of Europe that Greece is safe for tourism and encourage visitors. They should get together and agree that they will accept a government — any kind of government –after the election and that the country will not be propelled into chaos. If the left wins, let it govern. If it does not, it should not incite protests and riots because it will kill the tourist industry and Greece will lose its one chance to breath more easily.
Tsipras is young, rhetorically talented, and perhaps he plays a good game of poker. But the future of the country cannot be decided on a game of chance. We must remember if the strong countries chicken out in this confrontation, that will itself open Pandora’s box all over the Continent. I don’t foresee that they will.
There is room for negotiation and improvement on the agreements. That much is certain. They are telling us this in every possible turn and in every possible way. They just want to deal with professional people who won’t agree one day, do nothing and then ask for a re-negotiation. Greece too has made mistakes and mustn’t feel that its the injured party in this terrible situation.
Finally, the parties need to be clear about what their top ten priorities are. So far when asked what they will do exactly, they tell journalists to go read their party platform. Either they are not sure what it says themselves or they don’ want to sound unpopular. They must give citizens a clear picture or the journalists need to sort the measures and present them if the parties cringe. People need to know exactly what will happen. Compare and contrast.
As for holding a referendum on the Euro now? It’s too late, and it’s also not the issue. Greeks are not against the Euro. They prefer to stay inside the safety of the eurozone. People feel, however, because of what SYRIZA says, that perhaps we caved in too quickly and too easily to the TROIKA and the bankers. They think that if we scare Europe or convince the other member states perhaps there is a less painful way out of the Greek financial crisis; less painful for them specifically depending on what they have lost. Some have lost it all, job, security and prospects. Others have lost big chunks of income and are afraid. Others are worried about a future with no job opportunity.
It’s time for clarity in order to help voters make the right decisions. Still today, there is too much general talk and less clarity on what each party purports to do next.