Wednesday

20th Jan 2021

Greek finance minister under fire in own camp

  • Yanis Varoufakis - the Greek finance minister has been an almost permanent fixture in Europe's media (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s media star finance minister, appears to have temporarily fallen from grace ahead of Monday’s eurogroup meeting.

The 53-year old academic-turned-politician who has dominated the headlines as much for his way of dressing and his preferred mode of transport (motorbike) as his policy statements suffered two political blows over the weekend.

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The first came from his political master, prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who indicated that he had asked Varoufakis to talk a bit less and do a bit more.

“I have called for less words and more action from all members of the Ministerial Council (the cabinet), not just Mr Varoufakis.” Tsipras said in an interview with Der Spiegel.

Avgi, the ruling Syriza party’s own newspaper, complained of his “toxic overexposure” and asked him to be "frugal" with his words.

Since being appointed finance minister in late January when the far-left Greek government won the elections, Varoufakis has given an avalanche of media interviews.

Varoufakis also continued to blog, tweet, and gave the appearance of relishing press conferences as a platform for making Greece’s case.

Some of his statements have been criticised for not helping the political atmosphere between Athens and its creditors – with Greece seeking easier terms to accompany the loans it receives.

Just ahead of the German parliament’s vote last month on extending Greece’s current bailout, he told domestic radio that debt restructuring was still on the table – prompting German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble to say he was “stunned” by the comment.

Meanwhile, Varoufakis’ proposals for reforms, meant to be discussed by the euro finance ministers Monday afternoon (9 March), have been met with some derision.

“It’s quite hilarious, if it were not so tragic, that this is what a government in an industrialised country comes up with,” one eurozone official told the Financial Times.

One proposal, in particular, has been criticised: The idea to hire students, housekeepers or possibly even tourists to act as part-time undercover amateur tax inspectors.

Varoufakis suggests that “large numbers of non-professional inspectors are hired on short-term, strictly casual basis … to pose, after some basic training, as customers, on behalf of the tax authorities, while 'wired' for sound and video.”

"If they expect to combat tax evasion this way, they are not only dangerous, since they do not grasp the legal ramifications of the measure, or its effectiveness, but are also ridiculous and expose the country to ridicule," Costas Karagounis, spokesperson for the centre-right New Democracy, told the Associated Press.

Others questioned why the Greek government was honing in on small-time tax evaders rather than the big oligarchs or the wisdom of getting a member of a society to essentially spy on one another.

Elections

Meanwhile Varoufakis raised the stakes of Monday's eurogroup meeting by telling Italy's Corriere della Sera that Greece could go to the polls or hold a referendum if its debt and growth plans are rejected.

"There could be problems. But, as my prime minister has said, we are not yet glued to our chairs. We can return to elections, call a referendum," he told the daily on Sunday.

Germany, for its part, indicated it was sceptical any deal would be reached by euro finance ministers on Monday.

"I don't expect any substantial decisions by the eurogroup this evening," deputy finance minister Steffen Kampeter told German radio.

He also indicated that calling early elections or a referendum would only delay the reforms that Greece needed to make.

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