Tuesday 24 April 2018

Profile: Marxist academic described as brains behind Syriza's economic policy

Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos arrives at the presidential palace in Athens yesterday
Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos arrives at the presidential palace in Athens yesterday

Mehreen Khan

Greece's finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, who resigned yesterday, achieved the previously unthinkable during his short time in office: unity in the eurozone.

During a tumultuous five months in office, all 18 of Yanis Varoufakis's counterparts managed to round on the rookie politician, accusing him of being a "gambler" who had withered away the trust of his partners.

But time is now up for the iconoclastic Mr Varoufakis, who has been accused of everything from sticking his middle finger up at Berlin, to nearly coming to blows with eurozone chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem in a Brussels corridor.

After falling on his sword, he wrote on his blog: "Soon after the announcement of the referendum results, I was made aware of a certain preference by some Eurogroup participants, and assorted 'partners', for my… 'absence' from its meetings; an idea that the prime minister judged to be potentially helpful to him in reaching an agreement. For this reason I am leaving the ministry of finance today.

"I shall wear the creditors' loathing with pride."

But who is the man replacing him? Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece's minister for international economic affairs, took over from Mr Varoufakis as Greece's lead negotiator in April.

An Oxford-educated economist, Mr Tsakalotos has much in common with the political elite of Westminster, having been eduated at St Paul's school, before going on to read politics, philosophy and economics as an undergraduate. He later completed his PhD in economics from Oxford in 1989.

The 55-year-old, who was born in Rotterdam, currently serves as the chief economic spokesman and effective shadow finance minister for the Syriza-led government.

Unlike Mr Varoufakis, Mr Tsakalotos is no party outsider. He has been a member of Syriza for nearly a decade, serving as an MP in the Greek parliament since 2012. Like many of his fellow Leftist parliamentarians, Mr Tsakalotos's background is as a jobbing Western academic rather than a career politician, having taught at the universities of Kent and Athens.

Described as the "brains behind Syriza's economic policy", he has authored and co-authored six books, the most recent of which seeks to debunk the causes of Greece's economic turmoil.

Published in 2012, 'Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economic Crisis' argues that far from being an economic laggard, Greece underwent two decades of neo-liberal modernisation before the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. The result, he argues, was a widening in social inequality and a gaping democratic deficit.

In a refrain that will be familiar to many, the Marxist economist diagnoses Greece's ailments as not simply the consequence of "an economic crisis", but a "crisis of democracy" in the eurozone.

But far from advocating a "Grexit", as some of the more radical elements within Syriza, Mr Tsakalotos thinks Greece should maintain its membership of the euro.

"A Greek road to socialism where you exit the euro and do your own national strategy seems to be a straight re-run of Britain in the 1970s and France in the 1980s," he told an audience last year. "The national roads seemed to have failed. We need an international flavour to any alternatives."

Can he really square the circle?

In one of his most recent public speaking appearances, Mr Tsakalotos addressed a conference of Sinn Féin's political delegates in Dublin in March.

Receiving a rousing reception from Gerry Adams, the economist proved he was not immune to rhetorical flourishes of his more flamboyant finance ministry counterpart.

"We are not asking for special treatment, but for equal treatment in a Europe of equals," thumped Mr Tsakalotos, in perfectly polished English.

His visit to Dublin was part of Syriza's wider policy to court the support of its fellow Leftist governments in Europe's southern states.

"Syriza and Sinn Féin as well as Podemos are part of a great realignment in European politics," he told republican supporters, describing the Irish as "honourary southerners" in the fight for a more equitable monetary union.

The polarising Mr Varoufakis's resignation is likely to be greeted with delight in Brussels.

However, it is substance, rather than style, that will bridge the chasm that still exists between Greece's lenders and its Leftist government.

Irish Independent

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