Wednesday

12th May 2021

Analysis

Sidelining Varoufakis is Tsipras' wild card

  • Varoufakis remains finance minister but will have less influence on negotiations between Greece and its lenders (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Greek finance minister and game theory expert Yanis Varoufakis was once Greek leader Alexis Tsipras’ main card in the negotiating game with lenders.

Sidelining him - as Tsipras now appears to have done - seems to be the Greek PM’s last chance to secure a deal and get a €7.2 billion loan before mid-May.

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Tsipras at a government meeting on Sunday evening (26 April) expressed renewed support for his controversial minister, but, at the same time, took three decisions that deprive him of influence on the talks.

First, Varoufakis will now be surrounded by a team of negotiators to talk with the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).



This political cell will be headed up by Varoufakis, but its work will be co-ordinated by deputy foreign affairs minister Euclid Tsakalotos.

The second decision taken by Tsipras is the creation of a special co-ordination unit to support Greek experts in their technical discussions with EU and IMF representatives in the so-called Brussels Group.

The unit will be under the responsibility of the government's general secretary, Spyros Sagias.

In addition, the general secretary of fiscal planning, Nikos Theoharakis, has been charged with drawing up a strategy for growth.

The strategy could be used as the basis for an eventual new agreement with Greece’s lenders in June at the end of the current bailout programme.

Theoharakis - a close aide of Varoufakis - was until now Greece’s leading negotiator with the Brussels Group.

These moves suggest that Tsipras is changing tactics in his bid to reach an agreement with Greece’s lenders.

They come after a cantankerous meeting of euro finance ministers in Riga, where Varoufakis was left isolated after a clash with his counterparts.

He antagonised other participants with his lecturing tone and was reportedly accused by one minister of being a "time waster and an amateur".

Far from backing down after the meeting, Varoufakis posted a quote from former US president Roosevelt on Twitter.

"FDR, 1936: 'They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred.' A quotation close to my heart (& reality) these days”.

Meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel last week in Brussels, Tsipras said he wanted a deal before the end of April and that he expected a positive "political sign" from the Riga meeting.

Instead, the meeting saw the Slovenian finance minister speak of a plan B - code for Greece leaving the eurozone or being put under capital control.

In Berlin, the eurogroup’s most influential minister, Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble, neither confirmed nor denied the existence of a plan B.

A deal this week seems very unlikely, and the next eurogroup, on 11 May, could be the last chance for Greece to get fresh money just as it faces €3.5 billion in loan and treasury bond repayments.

The situation "is on fire and there's no water there to put out the fire. The situation is more than dramatic," an EU official was quoted as saying by Germany’s Bild.

After weeks of brinkmanship and bitter talks between Athens and Berlin, the Greek PM seems to have chosen a softer and more low-profile approach.

The acrimonious Riga meeting may have been the trigger, but opinion polls also show that a confrontational standing is no longer so popular in Greece.

In a poll publish by the Proto Thema newspaper on Sunday, only 39 percent of respondents were satisfied with the performance of the Syriza-led government, and 50 percent wanted a compromise with Greece’s lenders, while 36 percent asked for a hard line.

Another poll published by To Vima also on Sunday saw 71.9 percent in favour of an agreement, with 23.2 percent saying the government should reject any compromise.

A previous poll last week for the Skai television channel showed that popular support for Varoufakis had fallen to 45.5 percent from 72 percent a month before.

For Tsipras it appears there was not much choice but to tell Varoufakis the game is nearly over.

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