Less haste, more focus

I recently spoke with an experienced politician who has a very clear picture of political developments in Greece. He raised a very interesting question: “I find it hard to understand,” he said “why [Alexis] Tsipras is in such a hurry to become prime minister. Is he ignorant of what this would entail?”

I in turn asked the politician what he would do if he were in the opposition leader’s shoes. “I would step forward after the European Parliament vote and tell the public that, although I have won this race, I will not block the election of the next president because I believe that elections must take place at the end of the four-year term or in the event that the government has lost its mandate,” he said.

The politician then went on to remind me of the time when PASOK’s George Papandreou shot himself in the foot in 2009 when he kept asking for snap elections because he was determined not to back any of the presidential nominees in the spring of 2010. “Had he not been in such a hurry to govern – notwithstanding his knowledge of the country’s problems – things for him could have turned out quite different,” he said. “Maybe, he would not have been the one sitting in the electric chair, as it were, when Greece found itself unable to borrow money from the international markets.”

Similarly, Tsipras and his senior aides in leftist SYRIZA simply refuse to consider any option that could be seen as distancing the party from the end-goal, which is to become government. As it happens, political developments acquire a momentum of their own, the party base becomes agitated and patience runs thin. PASOK’s socialists were in a similar mode in 2009 when they appeared eager to grab the hot potato. The difference of course, is that back then, someone could claim, they had no idea just how hot the potato really was. This is not the case now.

We have once again arrived at a crucial crossroads. There is a great deal of uncertainty as anything could happen between now and February. The coalition still has some cards up its sleeve and there is still room to correct some of the mistakes made in the past six months. However, the political temperature can only go up.

What is the problem then? It is that no one really thinks of the consequences of that which they are so passionately pursuing. And no one has really sat down to hammer out a detailed plan for the tough days ahead. Perhaps, it would be wise to have a word with veterans of the Greek crisis who, one spring day in 2009, found out that Greece’s access to the markets came with a March 2010 expiration, or those sitting with Wolfgang Schaeuble in that hotel basement as he laid out his blueprint for a velvet divorce between Greece and the euro.

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