Alexis Tsipras: only man talking sense on Greece and the euro

May 22, 2012
Richard Ehrman

Leftist Greek leader has markets worried, but his call for Greece to be given a realistic way to stay in the euro is reasonable

LAST WEEK I conducted my own personal run on a Greek bank. In normal times bank branches are second only to coffee shops in Greece as places for local businessmen and professionals to meet and gossip while dollops of cash pass across the polished wooden counters, oiling the wheels of the country's notorious black economy.

At my local branch, one could almost feel the confidence ebbing away. The only other customer was an elderly man who deposited €40 before leaving in sepulchral silence. As I surveyed the empty hall, it seemed only prudent to pare my balance back to the bare minimum.

When I made my request, the clerk made a brief and discrete call – something they never used to do. Then he opened a draw that was almost devoid of notes, and gloomily gave me my money.

Outside the sun was shining, but the sense of frustration and despair was just as palpable. Every second friend I spoke to seemed to have lost their job over the winter, while for those still in work, wages have plummeted.

The public sector, bloated by decades of cronyism and corruption, has seen its pay cut by an average of 40 per cent, and most pensions have been reduced. In what is left of the private sector things are even worse. A secretary told me she felt lucky to be getting €350 a month. The rate for casual building labourers is now half what it was two years ago.

Meanwhile petrol is €1.80 a litre, electricity prices have nearly doubled over 12 months and both food and clothes cost more than they do in Britain. Amazingly for Greece, even taxes are getting harder to evade. The property tax on many homes has trebled. Because it is levied via electricity bills, the only way to avoid it is to go without power.

In the countryside they can grow vegetables and raise chickens, which is what an increasing number are doing. In Athens, it is soup kitchens that are taking the strain. Here we read a lot about the rise of the thuggish fascist party, Golden Dawn. But with a fresh election looming, the second in as many months, it is the rise of the left-wing Syriza grouping that has really got the markets and the EU establishment rattled.

To them, Syriza's charismatic young leader, Alexis Tsipras, spells danger because he has pledged to tear up his country's controversial austerity pact with Brussels, while at the same time maintaining that it should stay within the euro. Yet, almost alone among leading European politicians, Tsipras's greatest strength is that he is prepared to spell out two basic truths.

One is that if the EU really wants to push Greece out of the euro, it should have prepared the way months, if not years ago, rather than leaving it to the last minute. The other is that what is being demanded of his countrymen is financially and politically impossible, and there is no longer any point in pretending otherwise.

Yesterday, David Cameron became the latest EU leader to warn the Greeks that next month's second election will be viewed as a referendum on whether or not they are going to stay in the euro. The not-very-subtle threat is that if they back Tsipras, they will be out on their ear.

But as the man himself frequently points out, if the new election is really to be treated as a referendum, the question won't just be whether Greece should stay in the euro. With the single currency in its present fragile state, it could very easily become whether the eurozone itself survives. Is this really something the rest of Europe wants Greece to decide?

And even if the Greeks vote the way Europe tells them to, what will it achieve? Everybody knows that the fundamentals won't have changed and there will only be another crisis - probably even bigger - six months down the road. Seen in this light, Tsipras's demand that the EU should instead help them to find a realistic way to stay in the single currency suddenly begins to make sense.

It would be ironic if the man to keep Greece in the euro turns out to be a previously unknown former communist, who only entered his country's parliament less than three years ago on a far-left ticket. Given the mess Greece and the euro are in today, however, he could yet be the best bet for both of them.

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The euro is at breaking point and Germany will not fund this misbegotten project forever, earning only hatred in the process. Time for the nightmare to end and to dismantle this undemocratic monster.

"the clerk made a brief and discrete call"

Do you mean "discreet"?


Given that the Euro project was born of a fear of future German European dominantion and possible aggression, it is ironic that Germany now finds itself in the position of having to fund this democratically devoid project, from its own resources. 

Merkel's shameless interference in Greece's internal political processes, simply to save her own political skin and to avoid her blushes, is a portent of her increasingly more brazen meddling in the internal affairs of other democratically elected countries within the "EU" - witness her blatant support for France's ex president Sarkozy (thankfully the French people had more sense than to heed her lecturing and hectoring).

The euro is a "dead man walking" - it should now be laid to rest before further economic and political damage is irreparably inflicted on Europe.

"his call for Greece to be given a realistic way to stay in the euro is reasonable." He still wants Greece to be in the euro?

Syriza represents today what had been spending money for decades on unecessary social feel good "promises".  This guy is just waiting for problems to get solved by themselves. tqe tqe...  In the long run, they are just making fool of themselves.

Mr. Tsipras's would certainly get my vote.  General Election or Referendum what is going on in that country is cruel.  The low paid, the pensioners and unemployed are suffering enough here in Britain but the Greeks have got it a lot worse.  Certainly the Greeks should look after themselves and stop listening to leaders of other countries that are not in such a financial mess.  I hope the people of Greece will vote to save themselves and opt out of the Eurozone and EU.  They can then use their Gold Bonds and refloat the currency eventually getting themselves back on track. If they vote to continue with the austerity measures it is a beautiful country and a wonderful people that that will go further and further downhill.  I would guess that if Greece opts out then Spain, Portugal and Italy will follow and we will see the end of the EU.  I for one am all for governing ourselves with our own laws and not having other laws forced on us by the EU.  God Save the Queen.  

Εxcellent article!Right to the point.The Greeks are showing amazing confidence on Tsipra's words.The only hope for Europe is to get rid of these neoliberal leaders.Hopefully Greece,will make the first step.

Not really. He doesn't but if you've never been in a catch22 situation you wouldn't understand.
It's like anyone of us having trouble paying their mortgages and as a solution we tell the bank we won't do business with them anymore.

 It is not a good example...  the problem is deeper and not Greek

 you are funny.....

Yogi - I did indeed change my lender. Regarding Catch 22, the Greek situation is portrayed as stay in the euro or go back to the Drachma. A New Drachma could be established, cf, the New French Franc or even the new Turkish Lira. Some transactions could be carried out in Dollars, whether US, Canadian or Oz - they are all roughly the same value.

The problem is partly Greek as there is massive tax evasion - doctors earning euro 14,000 are the most commonly quoted example.

You are right. It's much deeper.
I was only referring to the fact that Tsipras is in no situation to choose whether to stay in or not. 


Unfortunately  Tsipras and Syriza program is the same Greece used to fail economically as a country (more power to the public sector and more immigrants..)  is this the solution for Greece ?? 

Greeks vote for Tsipras because they don't want to change the current situation. All the voters of PASOK are now voting for Tsipras and Syriza in order to keep their salaries... to keep the same corrupted,useless and huge public sector...

Unfortunately with leader like Tsipras the only possible scenario is to go back to drachmas and  forget about EURO.. Syriza consists from left-parties that are dreaming this scenario..

But wait.. i think this is good for England.. :-)  !!! Let's vote for Tsipras and go to Greece for cheap holidays and beers!! Vote for Tsipras please.. so i can buy a cheap house in a Greek island with my pounds :-)

Neoliberals? My friend you don't know the meaning of this word otherwise you woulnd't use it. Greece's is in a mess because of the Soviet type economy. And now Greeks want to vote for a radical leftist... Cuba here we come...

you are so wrong ? Are you living at Greece ? Well, I am living in this country
and I have to say that : 

A) Your estimation, is the same estimation (and I don’t
think that is accidental ) of Mr. Pagalos which is a professional politician of
PASOK for 35 years now, with 800.000 Euros 
salary per year. If you want to blame someone for the economical crisis in
our country, blame him and PASOK for all the scandals  we had until now. We can not afford to pay 2
or 3 times up for all Germany & France military material just because some Greek
ministers wanted money for their own. 

B) How can possibly someone live
in Greece with 400 or 500 Euros / month when he have to pay a loan, or rent or his
monthly expenses for their children ?

personally,  don’t care about Euro or
Drachmas, I want my life back and I want to live with respect. If European
Union means a German or France domination on all other countries inside the
Europe, I am sorry but I don’t want and I don’t need them. I can live with less
but I can not live dishonoured.

Forget what Tsipras is telling the European press. 

Tsipras is promising a return to the golden years of public sector over-employment, high pensions for all, a buy-back of all the former state-controlled businesses and high taxation for the private sector. In short: a recipe for disaster, packaged in vague left-of-center rhetoric. I too believe in Keynesian economics and "growth" vs. "austerity". The Greek problem is much more complex than that. The Europeans are trying to rationalize state spending first - and bring in some much needed reform.The man is dangerous. Snap out of it.

soviet type economy??? are you serious??? we had soviet type economy? someone alert soviet...

dignity? what is political dignity nowadays? don't deceive yourselves. the true thing about Greece is that everyone has a point of his own about the situation. noone ever speaked out loud telling the reuth, and so did Germany, France or USA. We tend to misjudge situations based on ideologies. The truth is that ideas lost their point. We have a strong, structural economical crisis (based on a contract signed between Greek citizens and governments up until now, and between Politics and bank institutions), and at least in Greece, a strong political crisis, based 180 years before and ever after. The structure model of neoliberalism has failed ( and i'm simply reffering to the banking system as a capital-producing system ) , there are no certainties about the future, based on -isms of all types. try ask yourselves some questions. the 90 % of Greeks seem not to undestand even what Keynes, or globalisation means, what monetary policy is and how Germany controls the E.U, or even what E.U is in fact.. Greece's problem is , firstly, a medal one.

Sorry, I fail to see in the article what other readers have seen. The point that these elections will decide the fate of euro as a currency and not only Greece's participation in it, is probably quite right.

From that point on, whether would the choice of Tsipras, I.e. of a demise of euro, would be good idea, is comoletely unjustified and likely ti be very wrong.

Thank you for your comment,I totally agree with you George... Everybody blame PASOK and all the previous governments of Greece for the economical failure... I agree that Greece must change... But Syriza is not a change. Syriza try to avoid changes. That's why Greek citizens vote for Syriza.Why someone in Greece should vote for Syriza and Tsipras? I think that you know better English than Tsipras !! .. Syriza is similar with PASOK (actually is the next PASOK).. There is no program.. no future.. only fake promises and invisible money..Regarding (A) i know that there almost 200.000 allowances for people with fake-disabilities and pensions for people that are dead !!!! (this is corruption from citizens-level and not from the government level.) Regarding (B)  Greece is living with Europe money. Money from other tax-payers. Now Greece choose to not pay their dept... I don't call this dignity.  "Consume but not pay the bill"  I just can't get it.. Why Syriza wants to expand the public sector..? it is already huge and problematic. Why let more homeless immigrants to come in Greece..?Is this a solution? But Greeks vote for him because they don't want to change.. That's the ugly truth. People that work in the public sector vote for Tsipras.  Syriza program means more expenses for the Greek citizens (more taxes) and for sure less private companies and investments...  With drachmas Greece will be a cheap country in Europe with valuable assets... It will be easier for them to buy your properties...  and harder for you to buy products from other countries.. The other solution is to minimize your expenses and give opportunities for start-up companies.. I understand that there are no jobs in Greece.. that's because nobody invest in Greece.. (strikes, bureaucracy and corruption) The funny part is that a left government will not give any opportunities for investments and real-jobs. It will tax everybody to feed and expand the problematic public sector... in the end all the productive Greeks will have to work in other countries just to survive. 
This is just my opinion.