Strange haste

The members of the new government must have a lot of confidence in themselves. Several days before announcing his program, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his cabinet have opened up a multitude of fronts inside Greece, in Europe and on a geostrategic level. It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to fulfill its promises given that the public coffers are empty, we are shut out of the markets and relations with our creditors remain strained. Still, just days after rising to power, SYRIZA has not only shown that it will not take back any of its pledges and intends to present Europe with a fait accompli, it has also shown that it will not hesitate to open new fronts with Berlin and Brussels, nor with the United States or China.

The alliance with Panos Kammenos has dampened the enthusiasm of SYRIZA’s supporters outside Greece, those who saw its victory as a herald for the leftist revolution against austerity. Inside Greece it came as less of a surprise because we are accustomed to such peculiar manifestations of populism.

The second blow against SYRIZA’s international image came from the issue of possible EU sanctions against Russia. Without the degree of opposition to sanctions being clear, Athens’s objection to a joint statement sparked a debate on just how friendly Kammenos and Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias are with Russia. Among many statements and publications on this question, the head of the German Parliament’s Committee of Foreign Affairs, Norbert Roettgen, warned Athens against using its veto right on the Russian issue as leverage in debt talks.

Statements by several ministers as they took over their portfolios, and despite the fact that official negotiations with the creditors have not yet started, highlighted the key point of Tsipras’s celebration speech: that the elections marked the end of the memorandum and the troika. Ministers froze privatizations, rehired public sector workers that had been sacked, and reinstated the 13th salary bonus for those on minimum wage, among other moves. Maybe they have a way of bankrolling these measures, but the announcements are not helping the finance minister, who has the job of winning over the creditors. Nor do they placate investors and markets. The freezing of the privatization of Piraeus Port Authority, for example, has caused concern in Beijing over the interests of Chinese shipping giant Cosco, which has already made large investments in Piraeus.

The question is not just whether SYRIZA and Independent Greeks will be able to fulfill the former’s promises or whether failure to do so will drag the country into unpredictable territory. The question is, since Greece is in such need of reforms in justice, health, the war against tax evasion and corruption, immigration policy, education, culture and public administration, why is the government opening up so many simultaneous fronts?