Tsipras turning into Europe's 'Mr Stability'

Mr Alexis Tsipras called for a snap election after a faction of leftists split from his Syriza party and formed a new party.
Mr Alexis Tsipras called for a snap election after a faction of leftists split from his Syriza party and formed a new party. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Outgoing Greek PM may be Europe's best bet to carry out tough bailout, say analysts

ROME • Europe spent months trying to crush Mr Alexis Tsipras. But now that Greece's outgoing leftist prime minister has called a snap election and is seeking a mandate for the tough new bailout programme he negotiated with his country's creditors, Europe may find itself invested in his success.

Greece never fails to surprise, and Mr Tsipras' turbulent eight-month tenure has proved he is rarely predictable. But the man many European leaders once regarded as a populist wrecking ball is now presenting himself as a figure who can deliver pragmatism and stability - and carry out the sort of austerity programme he once inveighed angrily against.

"I'm sure that he has talked to European leaders, and they are okay with what he is doing now," said Professor Harry Papasotiriou, who specialises in international relations at Panteion University in Athens, adding that Mr Tsipras was staking his political life on a bailout deal that includes the kind of taxes and pension cuts he once opposed.

"He's taking ownership of it."

 

The latest twist by Mr Tsipras was met with cautious optimism last Friday by some European commentators even as his surprise move again tossed Greece into political turmoil. On Friday, a faction of hardline leftists split from Mr Tsipras' Syriza party and formed a new party, vowing to resist austerity and possibly even lead Greece out of the euro zone.

At the same time, analysts cautioned that the new election, and the continuing political manoeuvring in Athens, could further complicate and slow implementation of the €86 billion (S$136 billion) bailout programme signed by Mr Tsipras last month.

An initial progress review by creditors, scheduled for October, may be delayed, which would delay discussions between Greece and its lenders over possible restructuring of the country's crippling sovereign debt. Some economists also warned that the uncertainty surrounding the election, including the possibility that its proposed date of Sept 20 could be pushed back, could revive the sort of public anxiety that earlier this year destabilised the broader economy and spurred a run on Greek banks.

"That element I find to be much more risky," said Dr Marcel Fratzscher, president of the German Institute of Economic Research in Berlin. "It creates much more uncertainty."

Across Europe, some commentators and European officials framed Mr Tsipras' election gambit as a positive step to improve the odds that the bailout deal will be given a public mandate.

Ms Annika Breidthardt, a European Commission spokesman, said the commission "respects the decision" by Mr Tsipras to call the vote and "considers it important" that the bailout package has public support. In a message on Twitter, Mr Martin Selmayr, the chief of staff for Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, said "swift elections" could "broaden support" for the deal.

Some commentators described the Greek vote as a potentially important step for broader political stability and unity in Europe. Writing in Corriere della Sera, a leading Italian newspaper, Mr Aldo Cazzullo called on European leaders to push for greater political integration and praised Mr Tsipras for tossing off his populist trappings and presenting himself as a leader able "to undertake a long road to renewal which, for all its difficulties, has shown itself to be the only path possible".

In Germany, where disgust with Mr Tsipras is palpable, newspapers quoted government sources as saying that Chancellor Angela Merkel hoped the election could produce a government capable of bringing stability to Greece. Mr Stefan Kornelius, a columnist for Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a Munich newspaper, described Mr Tsipras as "a realist and a pragmatist" who was now more aligned with Dr Merkel's agenda. Few analysts predicted that the deep rifts between Mr Tsipras and other European leaders would be suddenly resolved. But many agreed that he was not likely to go anywhere, given his continued popularity.

If European leaders want to see Greece truly put economic structural reforms into effect, Mr Tsipras may now have the best chance of getting anything done, some analysts say.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2015, with the headline 'Tsipras turning into Europe's 'Mr Stability''. Print Edition | Subscribe