“I believe 2016 will be the year that Greece will surprise the world economic community,” Alexis Tsipras declared, surprising everyone, confirming his prophecy the moment he uttered it.
Now it remains to be seen whether this was merely wishful thinking or the prime minister knows something that no one else does. For him to predict a miracle when Greece’s creditors have still not launched the first review of the current bailout, when a major foreign investment is frozen, when various social groups are uniting in protest and government MPs are saying they will not vote for social security reform, the prime minister either has a secret plan, is overconfident or is just trying to gain time by misleading the public.
Tsipras is in a difficult position and it is a good thing to hear his optimism, as in his comment to Bloomberg TV in Davos. His government is struggling to conclude a review by creditors; the ruling SYRIZA party is appointing supporters to public positions, undermining the argument that this government is different to previous ones; proposals for social security reform are provoking protests from all sides without solving the problem of an overly expensive pension system; and foreign investors are alarmed by the travails of a Canadian company which finds government obstacles to its investment despite following the rules. Furthermore, the election of Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the leadership of the center-right New Democracy party means that Tsipras has a new, dynamic rival to deal with.
The moment of truth has come for our prime minister and his government. The last year has shown that whenever he finds himself in a difficult situation he chooses a dramatic tactical move – a referendum, snap elections, summoning a meeting of all political party leaders – in order to evade his responsibilities and muddy the waters rather than focus on the essence of problems. It is true that he has covered a great distance – politically and personally – from promising to scrap the bailout agreement immediately to trying to apply a new bailout. It is natural that he will rely on communication tricks as he tries to find his way. He is still between two bases: Greece remains in the eurozone, privatizations are going ahead and, in general, the government appears much more responsible than before; at the same time, it undermines its own efforts with destructive obsessions in the education sector, by cronyism and by unmitigated hostility to entrepreneurship and to any form of evaluation and accountability in the public sector.
If Tsipras really is optimistic, it would be great if he persuaded all Greeks that he is right. Speaking to Bloomberg, he expressed hope that the first review will be concluded soon. “I believe that we are at a critical point… to recover,” he said. This is not enough. If he does not present a credible plan for economic development while stopping the hemorrhaging of the pension system, if he does not secure the backing of all responsible political parties as well as his own MPs and supporters, Tsipras will fail. And no one will be surprised