In the end, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras made the great U-turn. For the zealots of national self-destruction, he was too hasty in his surrender to “blackmail” and the “coup” by our European partners. For the rest of us, he was slow to see the light, and today Greece faces many more problems because of its collision with reality. It is encouraging that the premier and enough of his aides were able to see the cost of persisting with his previous policy, but there are still so many people in our politics and society who have no grip on reality that we cannot be sure that we will soon find ourselves in an age of consensus, cooperation and stability.
Tsipras was forced to sign a three-year agreement with our partners for a new loan of up to 86 billion euros in exchange for further austerity and reforms. This was not the result he expected when, six months ago, he declared the end of the troika of creditors and the end of austerity. Seeing suddenly that his policy was a threat to the nation, he was forced to change tack and to find the strength to dare to clash with his hardline comrades in the party.
On Thursday, cadres of the Left Platform faction plotted how they would exploit the fact that 39 members of Parliament had not backed Tsipras’s agreement with the creditors. This rift can only lead to a split in the ruling SYRIZA party. The next opinion polls will determine whether Tsipras will have the upper hand or whether he will be on guard continually against comrades who insist on nonexistant solutions at a time when the prime minister has to show a strong hand in government while cooperating with the opposition parties that backed him in Parliament on Wednesday.
For its part, Europe on Thursday took the first steps toward healing the wounds of the past few months. The Eurogroup backed the three-year deal, while the finance ministers of the 28 EU member-states approved a short-term loan for Greece’s needs over the next two months. Moreover, the European Central Bank increased the limit on emergency funds for Greek banks by 900 euros, raising hopes that they may open soon. Many more steps will be needed to normalize the situation, but when money begins to flow into the parched economy it will be evident that Tsipras was right to avoid catastrophe. (It is true that our partners made mistakes – and were often brutal – in their handling of the crisis; it is also true that we demanded more attention than is usual in relations between states.)
The new measures will be tough but they provide the hope of stabilizing the country in a familiar environment, without our following false prophets into the desert. We will also be able to benefit from new policies that the eurozone will adopt, thanks in part to the weaknesses that the Greek crisis highlighted.
With the popularity that he enjoys, with his abrupt maturing over the past couple of weeks, Tsipras has the legitimacy to implement reforms as well as the need to prove that his turnaround was justified. He will be under continual fire from his more revolutionary comrades in SYRIZA. However, if he keeps his head, if he avoids the arrogance of power, if he unites rather than divides, Alexis Tsipras will be in a position to serve his country well.