Regime change in Greece can happen under Tsipras
EU Reporter Correspondent | July 22, 2015 | 0 Comments
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london_greece_rally_3Opinion by Denis MacShane

So, once again, the Greek banks are open for business. But not really. For the last three weeks, Greek citizens have been allowed to take out €60 ($65) a day. Now they can take out €420 a week and capital controls will remain in place.

The European Central Bank has provided emergency assistance to Athens to allow bank doors to re-open and allow Greece to spend the rest of the vital tourist season to operate normally.

But nothing has been resolved. The contagion from Greece is spreading northwards. In Britain, the advocates of of a ‘No’ vote in the forthcoming referendum on UK membership of the EU are filling news pages with articles citing Greece as proof that the euro is a disaster and the EU incapable of sorting out a backyard Europe there is a venomous criticism of Germany’s handling of the crisis. President Hollande is preening himself as the man who saved Greece for Europe as the Berlin barbarians were ready to storm the Parthenon.

France has not balanced its budget since the mid-1970s and debt in Italy under its young left leader, Matteo Renzi, is not far short of Greek levels.

The EU is asking more of Greece than it delivers itself. Supermarkets are told to open on Sunday which does not happen in Germany. Pensions are meant to be reformed in a way that has not been achieved in most other EU states.

Greece is still in the dock, handcuffed to its Brussels warders, and a long way from being fully in charge of its own destiny. The United States has dramatically brought geo-politics into play telling the Europeans via the IMF that Greek debt was unsustainable and needed to be written down much as German debt was dropped in the 1950s or more recently Poland and Finland after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990.

There is as yet no Obama doctrine echoing the 1947 Truman doctrine when the US asserted its duty to save Greece for the EuroAtlantic community but Greece remains the weakest link on the southern flank in the NATO-EU alliance.

Now attention turns to Greek internal politics. Three figures matter. 36-60-80. As Greece and Europe wakes up to a reshuffled Greek government and the strong chance of September elections these are the key figures to keep in mind on Greece.

Alexis Tsipras and Syriza got 36% of the vote in January. His 36 per cent vote appeared to make him a prisoner of his party but it also made his party a prisoner of Tsipras as without him they would still be shouting in the streets or writing columns for the left-liberal press instead of sitting in ministerial offices, in charge and doing rather than talking.

That is why the 60 per cent who voted for his referendum matter. Syriza covered Greece with posters urging a vote to say Yes to Europe and No to austerity.

It the first time in any referendum in which voters could vote Yes-No, or No-Yes. So they did. And with one bound Tsipras was free. Using his 60% referendum vote he could go to the Greek Parliament and say it was time to go for reform, not leftist utopianism, which makes a great article but has little to do with governing a modern state.

And Tsipras also speaks for the 80 per cent of the Greeks who refused flatly the offer from all the elites in London and Berlin who patronizingly told the Greeks their problems would be over if they just reverted to the Drachma, to devaluations, and accepted their lot as a failed Balkan state.

That also is Tsipras’s trump card. He is the man who stands for staying in the Euro unlike his dismissed finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, who it is now revealed was willing to issue a parallel currency as if Greece was a throw back to some impoverished communist state where the dollar or Deutschmark ruled and the local currency was a joke.

Tsipras speaks for the 80 per cent of Greeks who want to keep the Euro and the 60 per cent who supported his Yes-No referendum. His position is stronger today than when just 36 per cent voted for him in January.

His weekend reshuffled has strengthened the can-do rather than the will-say left in Greece. If he is forced to an early election he can put pro-Alexis candidates on the list and given his popularity he stands a good chance of winning a majority based on a reformist rather than rejectionist left.

Whether the ruling centre-right in the EU is big enough or smart enough to overcome its personal dislike of Tsipras and act in the interests of Europe is another question.

But after the most tumultuous weeks in European politics since the fall of the Berlin wall Tsipras has embarked on the path of reform. To govern is to choose. Tsipras is choosing to govern.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former minister for Europe and has just returned from three weeks in Greece. The updated edition of his book Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe will be published by IB Tauris next month.

Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe Code AN2 £9.10

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