Thursday 23 November 2017

Greece's Tsipras has to watch left flank as well as EU

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras

Jeremy Gaunt

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is facing strong opposition from his own hard-left party over talks with European creditors on reforming the country's stuttering bailout programme.

The Syriza movement, elected on a popular anti-austerity platform, is one party now but until last month it was nothing more than an electoral umbrella for Greece's disparate anti-austerity leftists.

Some members, including its newly elected ministers, are expected to revolt over any deal with the euro zone that falls short of Syriza's goal of ditching an EU/IMF bailout.

A warnings of discontent came at the weekend when Mr Tsipras appeared set to announce his candidate for the new Greek president only to have it delay it because of what local media said was government in-fighting over the political colour of the nominee.

"Tsipras has to walk a very difficult tightrope," said veteran Greek political analyst Theodore Couloumbis.

Read More: Pessimism over Greece bailout talks

Some of what Tsipras is facing at home was on display in an Athens News Agency interview on Sunday with Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, one of Syriza's far-left firebrands.

"If our so-called partners insist on the extension, in one form or another, of the existing bailout, in other words the sinful bailout, then there will not be a deal," he said.

This was strong, uncompromising talk given that Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have been struggling to find a formula with the euro zone to keep Greece afloat - essentially an extension that is not called an extension.

Nearly a third of Syriza's 149 members of parliament may be among the most intractable on any compromise with the euro zone, enough on paper to bring the government down in a showdown.

Syriza supporters have mobilised tens of thousands of street demonstrators over the past week to urge Tsipras to stand firm against austerity.

Read More: We won't blackmail EU says Greek PM

As well as his own unruly comrades, Tsipras has to balance being in coalition with the Independent Greeks, a small right-wing nationalist party that is viscerally opposed to the bailout and believes the European Union and International Monetary Fund have being using Greece as a guinea pig to test austerity.

The coalition partners have been flirting through their leader, Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, with the idea of getting Russian, Chinese or even U.S. money to substitute for the euro zone.


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