The election of Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno, a socialist, as Eurogroup president brought smiles to the faces of Greek government officials.That satisfaction was expressed by Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, presumably on the grounds that here is a man who shares the same socialist ideals as SYRIZA, a man who is a citizen of a Southern European nation which has also gone through a financial crisis and a bailout.
The idea of course is that Centeno will show more understanding toward Greece than his predecessor. If the past three years of the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks (ANEL) coalition are any guide, enthusiasm about Centeno’s election as Eurogroup chief can only mean two things.
First, the Greek administration can sell his election at home as evidence that socialism is making progress in Europe thanks to SYRIZA’s teachings under the guidance of socialist prophet Alexis Tsipras.
Second, the government in Athens expects the new Eurogroup president to show tolerance and turn a blind eye to Athens’s back-and-forths, even when Greek officials are obviously trying to fool their foreign peers – as happened when an amendment changing the way union members vote for industrial action was tabled in time for the Eurogroup meeting in Brussels (in order to win European approval for the staff-level agreement with creditors’ representatives) only to be withdrawn a few hours later (after the agreement had received the green light and reactions to the measure were voiced).
Too bad for the government, once again fed on delusions. Centeno is a socialist, but he is not an opportunist. This was confirmed by the responsible stance of Portugal’s Socialist Party when his country was going through a bailout program, and afterward as well. This is why Portugal was able to come out of the crisis in a relatively short period of time and at a lower social cost, and it is now on an upward trajectory. Portugal’s socialists bear no relation to SYRIZA’s lot, whether they’re in power or not.
Moreover, in his new post, the Portuguese minister is expected to represent all the eurozone countries, not express his own personal views. It is no coincidence that his candidacy was supported by Paris as well as Berlin. Centeno is an authentic European socialist, not some accidental magician.
That said, why shouldn’t Tsipras be enthusiastic about Centeno’s election when he himself thought it was a good idea to urge Germany’s Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz to form a grand coalition with Angela Merkel’s conservative bloc?