‘Accidental economist’ and scourge of austerity tipped for Greek finance post

A scourge of austerity policies who calls himself an “accidental economist” is set to become Greece’s finance minister and the key negotiator with its creditors, barring last-minute hitches, senior SYRIZA party officials said on Monday.

In characteristically purple prose, Yanis Varoufakis, 53, celebrated the victory of Alexis Tsipras’s far-left SYRIZA in Greek elections by paraphrasing Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

“Greek democracy today chose to stop going gently into the night. Greek democracy resolved to rage against the dying of the light,” the bi-national Greek-Australian wrote on his blog.

Confirmation of his appointment is expected after Prime Minister Tsipras works out final details of his cabinet on Monday night but other potential candidates – including senior SYRIZA official Yannis Dragasakis, a founding member of the party – could still emerge.

The radical academic, who studied in Britain and has also taught in Australia, Greece and the United States, vowed in pre-election interviews to destroy Greek oligarchs, end what he called the humanitarian crisis in Greece and renegotiate the country’s debt mountain.

“We are going to destroy the basis upon which they have built for decade after decade a system, a network that viciously sucks the energy and the economic power from everybody else in society,” he told Britain’s Channel 4 television.

His appointment would highlight a swift change in tone brought by 40-year-old Tsipras and he would contrast with grizzled Brussels veterans such as Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble or EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

He would succeed two centrist technocrats who implemented austerity measures demanded by the “troika” of the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But even if Varoufakis does not get the job, he is still expected to play a key role in talks with foreign lenders, according to party officials.

Varoufakis, who has also worked at a video game company, has been a longtime critic of Europe’s handling of an economic crisis he says risks undermining the continent’s democratic foundations and breaking the euro zone apart.

The academic – who favours bright shirts and jeans – only went into politics in the run-up to Sunday’s election, leaving his position at the University of Texas, saying he could not refuse Tsipras’ invitation to join his team.

Comparing himself to “an atheist theologian ensconced in a Middle Ages monastery”, he has attacked conventional economic theory that favours budget rigour and market-friendly structural reforms as a response to the crisis.

The recipe amounted to “a cynical transfer of banking losses onto the shoulders of the weakest taxpayers”, he said in a blog post this month announcing his candidacy for parliament.

As an adviser to former Prime Minister George Papandreou, he argued that Greece could not avoid defaulting on its massive public debt, which has swollen from 146 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to over 175 percent last year, the second highest in the world after Japan.

A prolific blogger and regular media commentator with a vivid turn of phrase, he described international bailouts of struggling euro zone states as “fiscal waterboarding” that risked converting Europe into “a form of Victorian workhouse”.

While he believes it was a mistake for Greece to join the euro in 2001, he says it is too late to leave now but Europe must change its approach to the crisis or risk sinking into a deadly spiral of deflation and stagnation. [Reuters]