Greece: The new government of Alexis Tsipras shows its colors

Alexis Tsipras President of SYRIZA (on the left) visited the European Central Bank and met with Mario Draghi. He also met with Jörg Asmussen, Board Member of ECB from 1 Jan 2012 till 8 Jan 2014 (on the right). Asmussen is presently vice-Minister of Labour of the German Federal government and a regular interlocutor to Tsipras. (ECB Audiovisual Services 19 September 2013).

Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Greece and President of SYRIZA (on the left) in September 2013 visited the European Central Bank and met with Mario Draghi. He also met with Jörg Asmussen, Board Member of ECB from 1 Jan 2012 till 8 Jan 2014 (on the right). Asmussen is presently vice-Minister of Labour of the German Federal government and a regular interlocutor to Tsipras. (ECB Audiovisual Services 19 September 2013).

Alexis Tsipras, the new Prime Minister of Greece and leader of the radical militant left SYRIZA party, who won last Sunday’s legislative election with a 36.34% of the vote and fell short of an absolute majority by two seats in a Parliament of 300, presented on Tuesday his new awkward coalition government. He had promised a small agile administration of ten ministries, but he named one deputy PM, sixteen full ministers, twenty-one alternate ministers and five vice-ministers. The gauche character of the new government lies mainly on the fact that its minor partner ANEL is a nationalistic, xenophobic and religious bigot small party. The only connecting material between SYRIZA and ANEL is their common rhetoric against austerity.

SYRIZA and Tsipras had to choose a junior government partner in order to secure support from a solid Parliamentary majority, and form a viable administration. The offer was not small. The once mighty socialist PASOK gained a miserable 4.8% of the vote last Sunday, translating into 13 deputies and had not excluded possible government cooperation with SYRIZA. PASOK formed or participated in all governments of the past five years and paid a massive political cost, stemming from severe austerity and the unpopular groundbreaking reforms.

More options

Equally willing to cooperate with SYRIZA in a coalition government appeared a new-comer in the Greek political spectrum, The River. This is a ten month old party under its TV persona leader Stavros Theodorakis, who managed to gain 6.05% of the ballot and 17 deputies. He also left to be understood that his party could cooperate with SYRIZA in a government coalition.

Instead, Tsipras choose to cooperate with Panos Kamenos’s ANEL party (4.75% of the vote and 13 deputies). This is an extreme right-wing, chauvinist, anti-immigrant, Europhobic and friend of UKIP group. Kamenos has repeatedly voiced anti-Semitic views and described the neo-Nazi ‘Golden Down’ party as ‘a patriotic group’. This last GD group, with its leadership in jail accused of forming a criminal gang, gained the third place in last Sunday’s election, with 6.28% of the vote and 17 seats in the Parliament, shaming the Greek voters.

GD together with SYRIZA, ANEL and the Greek Communist Party, all form the absolutist anti-Memorandum populist camp of the Greek political spectrum. To be reminded that Greece has been applying an extremely unpopular and wrong in many respects severe austerity and reform program for the past five years, as imposed by two consecutive Memoranda of Understanding, signed between the country and its creditors/auditors. At the exception of the Communist Party, all the other populist political formations including SYRIZA, were created or became relevant after 2011.

The new government

Coming back to the new Greek government, SYRIZA activists are holding all the ministerial positions at the exception of the Ministry of Defense, where Panos Kamenos is to reign. His initial statement as new Minister was that his first ‘duty’ will be to increase the remuneration of all members of the armed forces. The generosity was not restricted in the uniformed public sector staff. The Minister of Interior George Katrougalos stated that the government will reinstate thousands of public sector workers who were made redundant during the past five years, in an always overpopulated and unproductive public administration.

The third and most important first day reverse of policy announced by the new government was voiced by Nikos Kotzias, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. He let it be known during the brief ceremony of his inauguration. He said that Greece doesn’t agree any more with the European Union strategy over the Ukrainian question, thus breaking a long practice of unanimity on all relevant EU decisions.

First clouds

Kotzias also let the world know that the new Athens government disagrees with the tough EU measures against Russia. Then he commented that Greece would not yield anymore to pressures in this front because of her over-indebtedness. He concluded that Greece doesn’t support the latest European Council tough statement condemning Russia, over her support of East Ukrainian separatists. The statement was reluctantly supported by the previous Greek minister of Foreign Affairs Evagelos Venizelos, who was in office until last Tuesday afternoon. The announcement referred to the latest murderous assault of separatists against Mariupol.

Incidentally, the unanimity over European Union’s severe stance against Moscow in relation to Ukraine, is not so solid as it looks or as Donald Tusk, the President of Council says it is. Apart from Greece, other EU member states like France, Italy and Cyprus have expressed reserves about it. Even Germany has second thoughts.

New policies

One more reversal of policy was announced by Tasos Kourakis, the alternate minister of Education. In relation to the higher education he said that all restrictions on re-enrolments are to be abolished and students will be able to register for limitless years. Kourakis also announced key changes of the examination system concerning the two last grades of secondary education. And this in the middle of the schooling year.

All that is a first taste of what is to follow. The problem is though that the government has no time to spare. They have just four weeks to come to terms with Eurozone and solve the predicament of the financial coverage of the country. The ‘technical’ extension of the current Memorandum of Understanding expires on 28 February. This is the program which against auditing offers financial relief to Greece from its Eurozone peers and liquidity from the European Central Bank. It may prove vital if the withdrawal of bank deposits exceeds some limits.

Which program?

The ECB has stated that the Greek banks and consequently the entire country can count on her liquidity injections for as long as Greece is “under a program”. However Alexis Tsipras has stated that Greece will not ask for an extension of the current or the introduction of anything that resembles a Memorandum. If this stalemate is resolved the next one will come in four months. However, in June the impasse will be final, in the sense that if Greece and Eurozone do not come to terms, the country will go bankrupt in summer and beg to abandon the Eurozone.

All in all, Alexis Tsipras and his SYRIZA comrades may try to reverse some crucial choices made by the last four governments, but they have the moral obligation to inform the citizens about the cost of every U-turn.

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