Greece’s Tsipras Makes Enemies Out of Potential Allies

Instead of making allies in Lisbon and Madrid, the Greek seems determined to antagonize everyone.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers questions from reporters in Brussels, February 4
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers questions from reporters in Brussels, February 4 (European Parliament)

Greece’s new far-left leader seem determined to make enemies out of everyone in Europe.

Having already antagonized the Austrians, the Dutch, the Finns and the Germans with his threats to cancel economic reforms and his demands for debt relief, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras went after the Portuguese and Spanish on Saturday, accusing them of plotting to undermine his government.

In a speech to ruling Syriza party members, Tsipras alleged that Portugal and Spain had led an “axis of powers” against him in recent bailout talks with the rest of the eurozone.

Their plan was and is to wear down, topple or bring our government to unconditional surrender before our work begins to bear fruit and before the Greek example affects other countries.

Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy would appear to have a political interest in denying Tsipras a victory in his negotiations about the future of European support for Greece. Rajoy’s conservative People’s Party threatens to be unseated by the anti-establishment Podemos movement in elections later this year, a movement that has affiliated itself publicly with Tsipras’.

But Rajoy denied on Sunday he had taken a hard line with Greece because he fears the rise of the far left in his own country. “We are not responsible for the frustration generated by the radical Greek left that promised the Greeks something it couldn’t deliver on,” he said.

Portugal is also due to have elections this year but it has no anti-austerity party like Podemos or Syriza. Rather the mainstream socialists — who were all but wiped out in Greece’s election last month — look likely to take over from Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s conservatives.

Tsipras’ mistake is putting ideological affinity ahead of the Greek national interest.

Neither the Portuguese — who made the same spending cuts and liberal economic reforms Syriza campaigned against without threatening to blow up the single currency in the process — nor the Spanish are interested in seeing Tsipras succeed. But what does he hope to achieve by complaining about it?

If anything, Portugal and Spain are among the most sympathetic partners Tsipras could find.

Like Greece, they are struggling to reform a clientelist political system and liberalize an economy that is hamstrung by overbearing bureaucracies and outdated protectionist policies.

Like Greece, they seek more flexibility from the rest of the European Union to get their deficits down and more time to overhaul their welfare systems.

And like Greece, they would welcome a more expansionist monetary policy from the European Central Bank, believing this will stimulate growth.

On all these issues, the Southern Europeans face opposition from the same country Tsipras has derided time and again — Germany. He could have made allies in Lisbon and Madrid to try to overturn, or at least soften, the German “austerity” agenda. Instead, he is making enemies there barely one month into his government, leaving him with virtually no powerful friends in Europe at all.

Comments

  • Tim Geithner is on record that he was told at a Eurogroup meeting in Austria that the intent of the Greek bailout was to punish and devastate Greece to make an example out of it. Why would any columnist imagine that a Greek gov’t must go along with the destruction of the nation and the people? That’s illogical.

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