When the game becomes dangerous

When the game becomes dangerous

Caution is always needed in the game of geopolitics. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras tried to play in the first seven months that he was in government, and he failed. Now he is trying his hand again.

There are certainly new factors on the table, chief among which is the uncontrollable inflow of refugees and migrants into Europe. This crisis will dominate European developments for months, if not years, to come and will test the mettle of the entire bloc, and Angela Merkel in particular. Opinions on how it will affect Greece vary. The optimists believe the German chancellor will want to make sure Greece does not become a problem spot again in 2016, over fears that the combination of the migrant crisis and a referendum in the UK on its EU membership could create the perfect storm. The idea is that Berlin will cut Greece some slack when it comes to the implementation of the third bailout to help keep the waters calm.

The pessimists, on the other hand, believe Merkel is losing her grip and will not waste anymore political capital on Greece. They think she’ll focus her energies on the refugee crisis and leave Greece to its fate.

Right now Tsipras’s biggest ally in Europe is French President Francois Hollande. Paris has been instrumental in shaping a narrative in which the Greek prime minister is determined to become a moderate social democrat who will stick to his commitments and implement the terms of the bailout. His affinity with Tsipras, together with his controlled confrontation with Berlin, has boosted Hollande politically and within his party.

However, his aides who talk to Athens always say that neither France nor Brussels will be able to save Greece if Tsipras starts talking about renegotiations or reform delays. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and other hawks are waiting for such a failure. The second observation they make has to do with the way Tsipras is playing his cards in Washington, which is deeply annoying to both Berlin and Paris. He will have to be extremely careful that it doesn’t blow up in his face if things go sour with the debt negotiations and the bailout review in the months to come.

The American card is all well and good, but it will provide no tangible results. In short, America has not made any loans to Greece, nor will it, and it has no say in the reduction of Greece’s sovereign debt. It may nudge the International Monetary Fund or advise the Germans, but that’s about it.

There is also no button in the Oval Office that can get investments flowing into Greece with one push. On the other hand, Washington’s support is crucial on the geopolitical front and Athens will have to go along with US strategic and operational demands, which will just keep growing.

The first months of Tsipras’s first government proved that caution is needed. It is easy to try to frighten the Europeans or Americans by threatening to play the Russia card or to believe that you can ally yourself with Washington against Berlin, but when it comes down to brass tacks, such facile maneuvering can easily collapse.

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