As we’ve said before, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras now finds himself at more or less the same point his predecessor Antonis Samaras stood at in the fall of 2014. Tsipras was in a hurry to take power and, following a hard-to-believe adventure with a huge cost attached, ended up being confronted with tough dilemmas. What is clear at this point? To begin with, that he needs to make concessions in certain crucial sectors, such as labor and public security reforms. It will be hard to get the International Monetary Fund on board and squeeze some kind of debt relief out of the creditors without making painful decisions. Secondly, that he has a tiny window of opportunity that will close around February.
Dutch Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem, who has been assisting Greek efforts lately, is very likely to leave his position after elections take place in the Netherlands. French President Francois Hollande is already powerless and in a few weeks will be a retired politician in everything but name. Europe will enter a cycle of elections which will further complicate decisions on Greece’s debt.
Tsipras realizes that any debt relief package that could be announced immediately would be hard to sell to public opinion. This would include substantive technical configurations that would leave voters with slashed salaries and pensions largely unmoved. Meanwhile, Tsipras is watching the opinion polls and feels that his political room for maneuvering is narrowing. It would be very difficult to give something meaningful to the other side without some SYRIZA inner-party friction.
All of this is happening while the mood in Europe is darkening ahead of the Italian referendum. Based on this, the Greek premier’s leaning toward the utopian fantasies of his revolutionary youth can be explained. Tsipras found himself going from his Kaisariani “oath” – laying flowers at the Kaisariani National Resistance Memorial on the day he was sworn in as PM – to his bailout “oath,” following a paranoid referendum. I can just imagine people close to him sharing this sense of major defeat, possibly even telling him that he was wrong to get involved in a game he couldn’t win.
We have now reached a crucial point. We’re a breath away from normality, or at least so it seems to those abroad and anyone who follows developments calmly and from a distance. In the mind of Tsipras, however, this “breath” might seem endless and, perhaps, equal to complete disaster on a political level.
Tsipras rushed into becoming prime minister. He should have left Samaras to do the hard work and eventually taken over a normal country in growth mode. In any case, it’s too late for him to change roles now. It would be hard for him to play the revolutionary again, so the most likely scenario is that he will walk the same path as his bailout-era predecessors.