Athens—Anyone who feels let down by anti-austerity Syriza’s apparent U-turn only three weeks after winning the Greek general elections might agree with German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s withering statement: “The Greek government will certainly have difficulty explaining this to its voters.”
Desperate. to gain access to four-month bridge financing—principally, support from the European Central Bank—and so avoid expulsion from the eurozone, Alexis Tsipras has been forced to sign on to policies that he had denounced fiercely while in opposition.
However, Schäuble is wrong about Greek public opinion. Support for Syriza’s negotiations was at 80 percent after the deal. Despite the party’s ambitious electoral program and campaign rhetoric, most voters’ expectations were extremely low; the electorate was acutely aware of how policy options are restricted by Greece’s presence in the eurozone and yet was still unconvinced that leaving is feasible. On two separate occasions last week, Syriza voters—a trainee chef who attended a pro-government demonstration in Syntagma Square, and a souvlaki bar owner on the island of Symie—summed up their thoughts with exactly the same comment: “We have zero. We do not want ten; we want two or three.”
Did Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis extract a two or a three from Greece’s creditors in last week’s tense negotiations? That depends on whether you think the vaguely defined extension program finally approved by the eurozone’s surplus nations can give Syriza time to prepare for the next stage of the battle, while at the same time redistributing the social cost of the crisis and making a tax-shy Greek elite pay its share. On this, there are opinions for all tastes. John Cassidy of The New Yorker blasted Tsipras for cutting a deal too early. Jamie Galbraith, Varoufakis’s colleague at the University of Texas, replied that in fact it was the German authorities who had blinked and that the deal makes no dramatic concessions to the pro-austerity camp. A group of left Syriza MPs—led by veteran resistance fighter Manolis Glezos and University of London economist Costas Lapavitsas—broke ranks and criticized Tsipras for caving in. But others defended the deal. “There’s not much detail, and that gives us room to move,” said George Katrougalos, minister for public administration.
Tsipras has certainly diluted huge areas of his election pledges. A minimum-wage increase from 560 to 751 euros will be postponed at least until September, and the commitment to reintroduce collective-bargaining agreements has been replaced by an ambiguous commitment to a “smart approach to wage bargaining.” The measures submitted by Greece to the Eurogroup do not exclude pension cuts. Companies privatized under the previous government will not be re-nationalized, and some new sales of state assets, such as Piraeus port to the Chinese multinational Cosco, are to go ahead.