Saturday

10th Dec 2022

Analysis

Did Tsipras always want a euro exit?

  • Tsipras on stage on Syntagma Square, on 3 July. His true intentions remain elusive (Photo: EUobserver)

Alexis Tsipras called a referendum to let Greek people decide whether they accept the reforms asked by Greece's creditors in return for more money.

The Greek PM presented the move as a democratic choice and a matter of dignity for a people enduring their sixth year of crisis and faced with more austerity to come.

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But his decision, announced when the EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB) thought they could conclude the negotiations, also raised questions about his real willingness to reach a deal or even to keep Greece in the eurozone.

"I want to reassure the Greek people of the government’s firm intention to reach an agreement with its partners," Tsipras said in a television address on 1 July.

"Sunday’s referendum is not about whether our country will stay in the Eurozone. This is a given and no one should question this."

But in Brussels and in Athens, some still doubt his real intentions.

For many weeks, Greek representatives and experts from the creditor institutions "talked more about the form of the negotiations than about the contents," a European Commission negotiator said after the talks broke down, suggesting the Greek government was never serious about reaching an agreement.

The president of the commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said he felt "betrayed" by the Greek PM "after all the effort [he had] made”.

"I have my doubts," a Greek official also told EUobserver.

"I have come to think that all this maybe was planned from the start, with an ideological aim at pushing for a euro exit," the official said. He added that he is waiting for what happens after the referendum to see if he's wrong.

Omiros Tsapalos , a communication strategist, told this website: "This was clearly planned, it started right after the election in January”.

"Tsipras has been trying to turn Greek public opinion, which is friendly to the eurozone, into opinion friendly to the drachma. He did that step by step with [finance minister Yanis] Varoufakis”.

But Tsipras' chief negotiator, Euclid Tsakalotos, said the prime minister called the referendum only when he realized that he would not get parliamentary approval for a deal.

The creditors' proposal "would have never been ratified by the parliament and would have brought down the government,” he told the Skai TV broadcaster on Friday (3 July).

Even if Tsipras comes from the far left, he is probably more a victim of the scale of his task than someone driven by anti-euro ideology, journalist Nick Malkoutsis told EUobserver.

"Tsipras came in without a clear plan of what he would do," said Malkoutsis, who is deputy editor in chief of the English edition of Greek daily Kathimerini, and editor of the political and economic website Makropolis.

"Syriza [Tsipras' party] thought its victory would change the dynamic in the eurozone, that it would be able to push for a better deal, with the support of France and Italy. But they found out very early that it would be different”.

"The eurozone pushed back the negotiations to a technical level. Syriza had no technical skills and the negations became very difficult”, Malkoutsis said.

The turning point for Tsipras was when the IMF sent back, covered with red ink, the proposal he submitted to the creditors on 21 June.

"He could either come back to the parliament and fall without honour, or make one more move to change the dynamic”, Malkoutsis said.

Although Tsipras evoked the possibility of calling a referendum as early as April in an interview on Greek TV, the ultimate decision to do it seems to have been an attempt to avoid a battle he thought he would loose.

But he will now have to face the consequences of the people's vote.

"The situation is very complex”, economist and Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas told EUobserver.

"If the Yes wins, Tsipras will be in a very difficult situation, because he will have to sign on austerity policies. That will put him in a contradictory position”.

"If the No wins, the situation will be even more difficult because the EU will probably not back down and the government will be confronted with a harsh dilemma”.

Juncker, France's Francois Hollande, Italy's Matteo Renzi, Germany's vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel and other EU leaders this week repeated that a No at the referendum would amount to a No to the euro.


Having called a referendum and passionately campaigned for the No, Tsipras may be faced with a unprecedented choice in the history of the EU.

"I really don't know which way he would choose”, Lapavitsas said about the choice between staying in or leaving the euro.

"But either way, I would not be surprised”.

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