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The reinvention of Tsipras as Greece’s prime minister-in-waiting

By Marcus Bensasson & Eleni Chrepa

Alexis Tsipras is presenting a friendlier face to investors as he tries to cultivate an image as the leader of Greece’s next government.

Tsipras, 39, last week spoke of attracting capital to regenerate the economy, pledged to maintain a stable tax regime for companies and offered to cooperate with Europe’s traditional left-wing parties in his first interview since claiming the biggest share of the vote in European elections.

It’s a far cry from the rhetoric of July 2012 when he announced his arrival on the international stage by telling prospective bidders for the crippled Greek state’s assets that he’d make sure they lost their money. Fast-forward two years and with the economy set to expand for the first time since 2008, Tsipras is appealing to a broader audience.

“There is a gradual move to the center,” Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law and economics at the University of Athens, said in a May 30 telephone interview. “Tsipras and the leadership of Syriza have realized this is the only way to achieve a majority at the polls. After the European elections, this strategy is clearly dominant.”

Tsipras’s Syriza, a disparate collection of groups that only formally became a political party two years ago, won 26.6 percent of the vote in the Greek elections for the European parliament on May 25, topping a national poll for the first time. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy party gained 22.7 percent while Pasok, the party that dominated Greek politics for three decades, finished in fourth place with 8 percent under the banner of the Elia alliance.

Attracting investors

While that result, if it were replicated in elections to the 300-seat national parliament, would probably be enough to make Tsipras prime minister, it still wouldn’t give Syriza an overall majority. So he’d need to have potential allies who could join a governing coalition, hence the more moderate tone, Hatzis said.

“We want to attract investors in Greece who will kick start an investment shock to restart the economy,” Tsipras said in a May 28 interview at his office in Athens. “There are two conditions for attracting those investors: to feel safe about the euro area and the prospects of the Greek economy and to see serious public investment.”

Investors have so far been undeterred by the emergence of Syriza. The yield on Greek 10-year bonds dropped 22 basis points last week to 6.21 percent following the EU vote.

Debt forgiveness

Still, the central plank of the party’s economic policy remains an insistence that Greece should be forgiven some of the 240 billion euros ($327 billion) in bailout funds extended by its official creditors -- an option that euro-region finance ministers have ruled out -- and Tsipras says that if the prime minister doesn’t take into account Syriza’s position in negotiations with the EU then he, in turn, may not respect any agreement Greece signs up to should he win power.

“Apparently he is not aware that major agreements are not reached between government partners,” Simos Kedikoglou, Samaras’s minister for communication, said in a statement last week. “They are reached between governments, between states.”

Tsipras, a civil engineer by training, who also has a postgraduate degree in urban and regional planning, said the solution to the disconnect between the government and the voters would be to hold a snap election and let a new administration enter talks with the EU with a fresh mandate. His party is “mainstream” now, he said, and it doesn’t plan to disappear anytime soon.

“It’s mainstream to be against these policies that are destroying societies in Europe today,” Tsipras said. “Syriza is a child of necessity, and of anger, and is a phenomenon that will last in the political life of the country because it has deep roots.” [Bloomberg]

ekathimerini.com , Monday June 2, 2014 (10:25)  
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