COMMENT

The short-sightedness of looking back, not forward

By Wolfango Piccoli *

For a left-wing formation that pledged to change Europe for the better, SYRIZA’s strategy displays a surprising flaw: instead of having a conversation about the future, the new Greek government is fighting the battles of a by now distant past.

When Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis blew up Wednesday’s Eurogroup meeting, he did what a Greek government should have done in 2011: He confronted the country’s international lenders over their unsustainable focus on austerity. The problem is that austerity is no longer at the center of his European counterparts’ thoughts. The same applies to the much-maligned troika.

Europe still expects Greece not to roll back reforms and move forward on previous commitments. But beyond that, things have evolved. The Commission has shown great flexibility in its application of deficit targets, finance ministers have repeatedly granted more time for program countries to reach their targets, and the Juncker Commission is pushing ahead with its growth initiative. Underpinning all this has been European Central Bank president Mario Draghi’s unveiling of the OMT program and his recent announcement of a quantitative easing scheme, enabling even extremely debt-laden countries to refinance themselves at very low rates.

Even in Germany, the talk is no longer purely about fresh cuts into welfare spending, as had been the case for many years. Instead, the focus seems has moved on to softer issues such as improving revenue collection and taxing the wealthy.

Beyond austerity, the role of the troika had already been put into question by key member states such as France. The European Parliament called a year ago for its demise and the creation of a European Monetary Fund. And after a recent opinion by the European Court of Justice’s Advocate-General, the involvement of the ECB in the troika is set to substantially diminish, if not disappear altogether.

Ironically, the biggest challenge for SYRIZA is that the party’s favorite foes, austerity and the Troika, have dramatically lost prominence. Europe is on the process of moving on. SYRIZA should move quickly to catch up with the Europe of 2015. It risks being trapped in the short-sightedness of looking back, not forward.

* Dr Wolfango Piccoli is director of research at Teneo Intelligence, a political risk consultancy based in New York and London

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