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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Les sociaux-démocrates, appuis fragiles de Syriza en Europe

by Stéphane Aubouard

The social democrats provide fragile support for Syriza in Europe

Translated Sunday 15 February 2015, by Katie Gibson

The new Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, has been touring Europe since the start of the week, attempting to drum up support among centre-left governments such as France and Italy. The tour represents a delicate balancing act.

A week after Syriza’s victory, the European tour, begun on Monday by Alexi Tsipras and his Finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, aims to find support among certain social-democratic governments. But the support the new Greek prime minister is seeking in Rome, Brussels and Paris is no guarantee of stability. In France as in Italy, the positioning of socialistic governments on the policies promoted by the troika (the Central European Bank, International Monetary Fund and the European Commission) is ambiguous to say the least. In effect, while the former campaign feverishly for a stimulus policy and to be given time to reduce deficits, they remain supporters of structural reforms. Thus, after the French government congratulated “the victory of the left” the day after Syriza’s triumph, the sudden shift of French social-democrats has misfired. The Finance Minister, Michel Sapin, has already made this known during his meeting with Yanis Varoufakis: Paris will above all play the role of negotiator between Athens and Berlin. “We can write-down the debt, we can reduce it, but we won’t cancel it. It’s the role of France to encourage the Greek people to stay in the euro!” he declared. A lukewarm position which is out of tune with the presiding tone at the Elysee, which was the refusal to meet Syriza’s representatives.

The new government is playing the negotiation game

“But this position may change as the months go by”, explained the Greek political commentator Elias Nikolakopoulos to Humanité. If by chance the troika continued to pressure Greece, that could force the French government to change strategy to prevent the ascent of Marine Le Pen who will not fail to condemn the European Union in the event of the strangulation of Greece. It will therefore be in François Hollande’s interests to harden his position on Brussels by moving closer to the left-wing Greek position. In the meantime, the new Greek government is playing the negotiation game. Passing through Rome yesterday, where he met his counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan, Yanis Varoufakis- avoiding any mention of the cancellation of debt- suggested instead a debt-swap, including bonds linked to economic growth. The ratio of power is not in Syriza’s favour for it to impose a radical line, even though the President of the Italian Council, Matteo Renzi, looks like one of the main whistleblowers of “total austerity”. Alexis Tsipras will play it safe with an Italian prime minister whose first six months in power indicate that he does not excel when it comes to progressive decisions. As a reminder, Matteo Renzi is facing the opposition of trade unions against his labour market reform. This will facilitate redundancies and allow an employer total power to reassign an employee, whatever their qualification. The Italian head of government is hardly reassuring when it comes to democracy either; the electoral reform in the process of adoption known as “Italicum” favours the bigger parties, in order “to gain majorities”. The support which Syriza is currently looking for from socialistic governments is therefore fragile. “But the immediate partners might be found later among other smaller countries where the left is in power”, Elias Nikolakopoulos continues. “I’m thinking in particular about Slovakia, which will have its piece to say. Tsipras would also be well advised to look, among the other European parties, for allies who may be able to swing the balance. I’m thinking in particular of certain green components, and this, even in Germany. On the question of economic policy, these parties will certainly push to impose strategies for economic stimulation and development and not for austerity on certain social-democrat governments.” The fact remains that the real test for Alexis Tsipras will play out on the 12th and 16th February, at his first European Council meeting and during his meeting with the members of Eurogroup. “Only then will we really know who he can count on”, concluded Elias Nikilakopoulos.

The ECB will host Varoufakis This week the Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, will meet the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi. The ECB has indicated, for its part, that Varoufakis will take part in a meeting at its headquarters in Frankfurt on the 4th February, without saying if he would see Draghi at that time. The minister will also meet his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble.

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