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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Scylla, Charybdis, Tsipras and Varoufakis

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I’ve written before about the Greek debt crisis.  Actually, it’s more than a debt crisis.  It’s a fiscal, economic and solvency crisis.  Unless Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ latest last minute cliffhanger proposal is accepted over the weekend, it’s soon going to become a humanitarian crisis and quite possibly a geopolitical one too.  How did the Greeks, who gave the world democracy – as Tsipras is fond of pointing out – end up in such a mess?

At the heart of these ongoing crises lies a leadership crisis.  Mr Tsipras was elected in January, saying that “A Syriza government will respect Greece's obligation as a eurozone member to maintain a balanced budget and will commit to quantitative targets.”  And at the time there was plenty of goodwill amongst the European Union towards finding a solution to Greece’s big debt problem.  Even now, after months of stalemate, unrealistic demands, grandstanding and prevarication, Europe would love to find a cure for the Greek patient.

The problem is that Mr Tsipras and his fractious coalition government have frittered away that goodwill.  Constant changes of negotiating position, needless aggravation during endless summit meetings – with Yanis Varoufakis, the then Greek Finance Minister, lecturing his counterparts on the mistakes they had made during the financial crisis – and insulting comments have angered and bewildered the rest of the Eurozone.  It doesn’t help if you describe the people you’re hoping to deal with as “terrorists”.

At times, it’s seemed as if Mr Tsipras has been actively trying to sabotage any possible deal.  His bewildering flip-flops, almost by the hour, have made it impossible to know what the Greek government will sign up to (never mind implement).  I used to wonder whether his behaviour was part of a cunningly-designed plan to destabilise the creditor nations, in order to extract a ‘relief premium’ from them.  Increasingly, it looks as if he’s just been overwhelmed by the contradictions between his promises to the electorate and the promises other countries’ politicians have made to theirs.  Trying to steer a course between the Scylla of his coalition’s radical pretensions and the Charybdis of the rest of the Eurozone, Mr Tsipras has long been in danger of dragging his country down with him as he sinks.  Perhaps he should have mugged up on his Greek mythology before starting out.

© Patrick Macdonald 2015

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