Tsipras, a Political Master

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Europe and the world should be taking a moment and reflect on the political mastery of Alexis Tsipras of Greece. In less than a year, Mr. Tsipras won two general elections, won a referendum and implemented contradictory policies, all this by changing his political standing and under terrible domestic and economic conditions. Aside from political ideology, Alexis Tsipras is undeniably one of the most talented European politicians. However has his mastery of politics translated into sound governing skills?

Early 2015, most Europeans, including a some Greek citizens, had never heard of Alexis Tsipras. The 41 year old tieless politician finds his political ideology in extreme left affiliated at first to the Communist Party. His political house is centered in the extreme left side of the political spectrum. After years of internal evolution in the Greek lefts, he then became the leader of the exteme-left wing party, Syriza (which means Coalition of the Radical Left) and was elected at the helm of Greece in February 2015. This was the beginning of his true political exposition.

Chapter 1: His election in February 2015 marked the end of the decade long transfer of power between the two leading parties. Tsipras was elected based on a program of anti-austerity policies, fight for Greek interests before the Troika (ECB, IMF, and Commission), increase of minimum wages, restauration of state employees and increase of pensions. If European media were deeply skeptical about his rise and thought that he would not last a year, they have appeared to be wrong. Ensuing his election, Tspiras disappeared from European minds until the looming of the deadlines for debt repayments of the IMF and ECB.

Chapter 2: The second chapter of his reign started several weeks prior the eventual default 478861728of Greece for the repayment of a  €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th, and a second one to the ECB mid-2015. These negotiations at EU finance ministers level and EU leaders level were extremely tense as neither Tsipras nor his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, wanted to accept the deal put on the table by the Troika and Germany. At the last minute, PM Tsipras called for a referendum on July 5th asking Greeks to decide on their fate: voting yes to the deal implied more austerity measures; a no vote was a rejection of the deal and could lead to a Greek default and leaving the Eurozone, known as a Grexit. Not only did Tsipras organized the referendum without noticing his European partners, but he campaigned for the no vote.

Chapter 3: The no camp, or Oxi, won the referendum with 61.3% and Europe was expecting a progressive departure of Greece from the Eurozone. Even President Juncker of the European Commission asked for a report on how to accompany Greece outside the Euro area. Instead of using his domestic mandate, Tsipras fired his finance minister (officially he resigned desipte winning) and went back to the negotiation table

ATHENS, GREECE - 2015/06/29: The word 'OXI' (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament. Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a 'NO' vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE – 2015/06/29: The word ‘OXI’ (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament. Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a ‘NO’ vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

requesting the initial deal. Germany refused and France played an important role of holding together the parties and the negotiations alive. Ultimately, Greece agreed on a worst deal than previously offered and Tsipras implemented additional austerity measures and required reforms. The deal entailed the following aspects: raising the age for retirement; a VAT hike at 23% across sectors; privatization of key sectors of Greek economy; and removal of tax breaks for some Greek islands. These reforms would permit to unlock a third loan package of €86 billion until 2018.

Chapter 4: Tsipras agreed on the second deal, agreed at EU level on July 13th, which was worst than the initial offer, and brought it back home for a vote. The Greek Parliament voted and agreed on July 15th, on the bailout deal, which was approved with a 229-64 majority. However, Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems to have lost some unity with 32 Syriza MPs defying their leader’s pleas and rejected the deal. Throughout July and August, Tsipras was facing serious political criticism and opposition by the members of his own party. Syriza was divided between a radical branch, led by Mr. Lafazanis, and a more centrist one counting Tsipras. The radical branch of Syriza had not accepted the political move by Tsipras to go against the popular vote of the referendum. “Mr Lafazanis’s supporters speak of an ‘ideological betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ by Mr Tsipras’s faction.”

Chapter 5: On August 20th, PM Tsipras announced his resignation and his candidacy for the next general election that would take place mid-September. His rationale was to get reelected without the radical branch of Syriza. His political gamble worked as he was reelected with 35.5% of the vote and was able to drop the hard-liners from his party. Syriza won 145 seats out of the 300 seats of the parliament, only four fewer than after the January elections. In order to assure a majority, Tsipras agreed on a coalition with right-wing party Independent Greeks (ANEL) with its leader Panos Kammenos. ANEL is an ultra-nationalist anti-immigrant party, often compared to UKIP in the United Kingdom. With this alliance, the Syriza-ANEL coalition offer the majority with 155 seats in the Parliament to Tsipras. Even President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, expressed his concerns directly to PM Tsipras about this political alliance.

Political Talent over Governing Skills?

In less than a year, PM Tsipras has demonstrated his political talent in remaining alive and electable despite party, domestic and European pressures all this under dire economic conditions and an unemployment level around 25%. If Tsipras proved to the world that he cannot lose an election, he needs to now tackle the true problems of Greece: crony capitalism, clientelism, systemic corruption, and implementing structural reforms of the economy and state. The country has been on life line for over 5 years, its intellectuals are fleeing away, higher education is barely financed and Greece cannot even protect its borders. Winning elections is one thing, implementing reforms and governing are another.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Will Tsipras 2.0 be better than Tsipras 1.0?

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Alexis Tsipras resigns after seven months in power, but is seeking for reelection in elections in late September. His time at the helm of Greece was marked by a impossible conundrum: defend Greek interests against powerful European and international forces, ending the austerity while finding growth, and dealing with an ideological split within his party.

Prime Minister Tsipras is calling for a new round of elections, most likely scheduled for September 20th, and he will lead the Syriza party. “I believe we haven’t yet seen our best days” announced the Prime Minister on television “and I’m going to ask for the people’s vote to govern this country – with more experience, with my feet more firmly on the ground.” With a disastrous economic and fiscal situation, Greece is now facing even deeper political uncertainties. With his resignation the country will be governed by an interim-government until the next snap elections in September 20th. Tsipras is leaving office for a better comeback and freeing himself from the rebels of his party. He is looking to “return to power with a more manageable coalition.”

Reflection on Tsipras’ First Tenure

Several points need to be reflected upon his time in office. First, PM Tsipras came into power based on an anti-establishment campaign. His extreme-left party, Syriza, took the power based on many promises: defending Greek interests by ending the international and european austerity measures; and an anti-establishment campaign.

Second, his time in office was quite smooth until the looming of the deadlines for repayment of the IMF and ECB loans. Even though he remains one of the most popular politicians in Greece, the summer has created serious political tensions within his party Syriza. The fight between Greece and the Troika (ECB, Commission, and IMF) over an agreement after missing the initial deadline forced the Tsipras’ government to close Greek banks for almost three weeks. Tsipras was obliged to agree to the terms requiring tax hikes and further spending cuts under the threat of complete collapse of the Greek banking system (read here a past analysis). The deal with European creditors infuriated members his party Syriza, but Tsipras managed to get it approve through the Parliament with the help of the opposition.

Third, the resignation of Alexis Tsipras, which should be seen as a two-step process – first the referendum, and second the agreement to the terms of the bailout – marks in some ways a complex existence and survival of socialism in Europe. To many, Alexis Tsipras was the last embodiment of socialism in Europe. Now the question is: was the international market seeking to make a point in going after Tsipras? With Tsipras’ departures, it seems that austerity measures have become the European landmark in solving deep structural economic crisis. But if reelected, Tsipras would be a much more centrist politician than seven month ago. Tsipras had to move towards the middle creating a split with the radical core of his party.

Referendum, Bailout and Political Tension

When did it go all wrong for Tsipras? And, did it go wrong for Tsipras? For many Europeans, PM Tsipras lost the battle after calling for a referendum and advocating for the no vote (remember the oxi?). In retrospective, the results of the referendum actually did not matter, aside for many Greeks feeling that Tsipras tried to defend them. The referendum was perceived by European partners, especially the Germans, as an act of treason. Greece was already on the thin line with his Eurozone partners since the collapse of its economy and the first bailout five years ago. Greece had mis-behaved and lied to its partners (read here a previous interview on the topic). The referendum was another act of treason for European partners. Once Greeks had voted in favor of the no

ATHENS, GREECE - 2014/10/13: MP with the SYRIZA political party, Mr Panagiotis Lafazanis, talks with a megaphone to the demonstrators expressing SYRIZA support. Kurdish people that live in Athens organised a demonstration in support of the Kurdish fighters that defend the Kobani town in Iraq from ISIS insurgents. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Photo: George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

vote, and a week later PM Tsipras agreed to the new terms of a third bailout, his time was counted. His vocal lieutenant, finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation days after the victory of the no vote. Once Varoufakis was gone, and Tsipras agreed with the terms (criticized by the IMF) and started his transition towards the center. But in some ways, Tsipras’ fate was sealed, or not? In addition, it created a real ideological split within Syriza. Tsipras is undeniable moving towards the center, while the old guard of Syriza, led by the former Energy and Environment Minister, Mr. Lafazanis, have not changed their position. On the referendum, The Financial Times reported that “Mr Lafazanis’s supporters speak of an ‘ideological betrayal’ and ‘treachery’ by Mr Tsipras’s faction.” The paradox between calling for the referendum opposing the bailout and then accepting the terms of the bailout created an unsustainable political condition for Tsipras.

Some experts and media are comparing Greece to a European protectorate (at least in the leftist literature) after the agreement on the third bailout’s terms. But aside from asking for the approval of his policies, does Greece need another election in such dire times? Tsipras is gambling on a new election in order to get rid of rebels, or what The Economist calls the ‘wild ones,’ build on its domestic legitimacy, and try to govern and reform Greece with a fresh flow of money. Let see if Tsipras can win another election, and how different will Tsipras 2.0 be from the Tsipras 1.0? Can Tsipras 2.0 bring Greece to reform and become a growing and sustainable country under the current conditions? This remains to be seen.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

It is Politics, Stupid!

CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

“I really cannot remember, in all my time in European politics, whether I have come across a situation like this. This is really all about the European Union. If the EU is going to have any credible force, it is going to have to demonstrate it is capable of solving its own problems.” – President Martin Schulz on July 12th, 2015 during the Euro Summit Meeting

Forget about economics, finance, banking regulations, social welfare policies, debt forgiveness; the future of Greece solely depends on politics. “The answer [of endless negotiations on solving the Greek crisis these last five years] cannot be found in economics,” writes Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, “because it resides deep in Europe’s labyrinthine politics.” Greece’s destiny is a simple political question based on several concept: trust and confidence.

The Deal

After a week long of back and forth between Greece and the European capitals, Brussels is once again the siege of a Greek marathon. A meeting of the Eurogroup finance ministers started on Saturday, July 11th and ended the next day around 3pm. Ensuing it a general EU summit, with the 28 leaders, was supposed to take place, but was instead cancelled and transformed into a crisis summit of the 19 EU leaders of the Eurozone. The future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone was clearly on the line with a very reticent German team (Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble proposing an eventual ‘temporary Grexit’).

As reported by the Financial Times, the finance minister negotiations, which were fruitless and tense, let the way to the EU leaders, whom could not do better considering Germany’s position. Until François Hollande, President of France, whom had been extremely active in advising, helping and defending Greece in the last mile, called for a meeting in Tusk’s office. Preisdent Tusk was reported saying “Sorry, but there is no way you are leaving this room” until a deal is reached.

Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Interestingly enough, Tsipras’ proposal prior the July 11th meeting included: raising the age for retirement; a VAT hike at 23% across sectors; privatization of key sectors of Greek economy; and removal of tax breaks for some Greek islands. These reforms would permit to unlock a third loan package of $59.6bn until 2018. Tsipras’ proposal was highly similar to the one offered by the international creditors. Even Jean-Claude Juncker during the meeting recognized the proposal brought by Tsipras as almost identical to the one put on the table by the creditors weeks earlier. And the President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for avoiding a Grexit and find a solution.

Based on the deal reached on July 13th, the Greek Parliament voted and agreed on July 15th, on the bailout deal, which was approved with a 229-64 majority. However, Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems to have lost some unity with 32 Syriza MPs defying their leader’s pleas and rejected the deal. Clearly the terms of the bailout are in direct contradiction with Syriza’s policies, beliefs, and promises, as well as sidelining the results of the referendum. These contradictions could push even further the political crisis in Greece and lead to yet another election during the summer.

Chancellor Merkel, the Finish government and others are not convinced about the proposal and especially Greece’s commitment. The Greek drama is taking more than a simple economic/financial turn, it is purely political. It appears that some EU Member States, like Germany, Finland, Slovakia and others, are more inclined to go after Greece and its leftwing government led by Alexis Tsipras, than finding a real deal that would help in the long term the country.

One core reason is trust, or at least ‘lack of trust.’ Some experts have argued that Tsipras was now on Merkel’s black list after his political coup, the referendum. Merkel and others EU leaders do not trust any longer Tsipras and his government. Or even has argued by Yanis Varoufakis, “based on months of negotiation, my conviction is that the German finance minister wants Greece to be pushed out of the single currency to put the fear of God into the French and have them accept his model of a disciplinarian eurozone.”

Death of the European Project?

The Greek file should be considered as an overall failure for the European ethos. Many economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, have been very critical of the negotiation process and the agreed deal. One of the most virulent denunciation of the deal was Paul Krugman, writing that “it’s [the deal] a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.” Even the International Monetary Fund, a global advocate for austerity measures and straightjacket policies, has been critical of the dealbroken_euro_fit calling instead for a huge debt relief for Greece.

Last but not least, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde of Bruxelles2 wonders about a core question: “Is Europe becoming the sum of its egos?” The Greek file embodies more than solving an economic problem, it has become a vicious fight between powerful EU Member States. These egos are affecting their global visions and understandings of the core principles and values of the European endeavor. But right now, the EU is failing at this important crossroad. The EU cannot find a real solution on any major crisis from counterterrorism in Mali, to migration crisis in the Mediterranean, to Ukraine/Crimea, to the domestic rise of nationalism, and naturally Greece. Are politics killing the EU? It certainly looks like it.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Greece votes Oxi, Europe says Grexit

ATHENS, GREECE - 2015/06/29: The word 'OXI' (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament.  Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a 'NO' vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the  new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE – 2015/06/29: The word ‘OXI’ (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament. Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a ‘NO’ vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“All of us are responsible for the crisis and all of us have a responsibility to resolve it.” – President Donald Tusk, July 7th, 2015

Greek citizens voted in majority Oxi to the July 5th referendum. The question asked by the Tsipras government, which was campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, was yes or no to accepting a continuation of the bailout program with all the austerity measures coming with it (read here a previous analysis). The results were very clear throughout the country with 61.31% for the no vote and 38.69% for the yes vote (see here the map produced by the Gr20150711_woc001_0eek Ministry of Interior showing that the no vote won in each Greek region). Greek citizens felt that the best option – out of two bad – was to reject the terms of the bailout on the table. If for a day the discussion was about the meaning of the ‘no’ vote (is it against the EU, the Euro, or simply a desire to remain a member of the Eurozone), today’s reality is about the future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone. So where do Greece and the EU go from now on?

Negotiations and Survival

In less than two days, a succession of events has taken place. For over five years, it seems that the Greek file was dragging, it has certainly taken an all new meaning and urgency. Prior to the results, Chancellor Merkel of Germany was meeting her counterpart, President Hollande, in Paris in order to find a common ground. The day ensuing the political victory of the Tsipras government, the infamous Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation. Many advanced that Tsipras had to go in order to demonstrate to his European counterparts that Greece was serious in seeking for a viable option. Varoufakis had gone too far and had lost some of his support within the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

Then on Tuesday, an emergency summit meeting took place with no substantial results.

Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters
Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters

Tsipras was supposed to bring, as highly recommended by the French government, a new proposal. But the summit meeting failed as Athens did not provide an acceptable option. Tsipras has now until Thursday (as requested by Merkel) in order to present a new proposal to his creditors. A failure in finding an agreement could lead to “the bankruptcy of Greece” warned Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, “and the insolvency of its banking system.” Tusk added that “tonight I [Donald Tusk] have to say it loud and clear — the final deadline ends this week.” On Sunday, as announced by the 19 eurozone countries on tuesday, the 28 EU leaders will be deciding on the future of Greece.

In addition, the New York Times reported that for the first time – at least publicly – the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced that he has “a Grexit scenario prepared in detail.” If a Grexit scenario is now on the table, Tsipras will be defending his case before the European Parliament on Wednesday morning.

Consequences of Staying in the Eurozone, or Leaving It?

In the middle of the negotiations and in finding a solution, a key player is the European Central Bank (ECB). Currently the ECB is the institution that is keeping the Greek banks alive by providing liquidity. Because today Greece is unable to borrow money on the international market and the Europeans are the one providing money to Greece in order to have its economy and banking systems going. The ECB will continue to do so if a deal is agreed. However, in the case of a break-up, the ECB will remain a central player as it will stop providing liquidity to Greece. In addition, even if Greece missed its first payment of July 1st to the International Monetary Fund of $1.8bn, the second deadline of July 20th to the ECB of $3.8bn will be key for Greece and the EU.

If Greece wants to stay in the Eurozone, they will have to implement a set of policy measures that will require: tax reforms; fixing the pension program, which will affect early retirement program; labor market practices. Once these are ongoing the international and european creditors will have to give meaningful debt relief.

In the case Greece decides to leave, or is expelled from the Eurozone, then it will have to introduce a new currency. The country will ultimately default on their debts, and will have to create its own economic agenda in order to lay down the foundation for future economic growth. This scenario will naturally require serious structural reforms.

If Size does not matter, Precedent does

The Greek case is not about the size of the Greek economy. In fact the Greek economy only represents 2% of the Eurozone GDP. So far it does not appear that a Greek default could take with it the whole Eurozone and send a massive shockwave throughout the global markets. No, the case of Greece is a matter, for the EU and its Member States, of establishing a precedent. Germany and other wealthy Eurozone members want to avoid such precedent, where a member state refuses to pay its debts and call for a national referendum in order to provide such country leverage at the European level. Chancellor Merkel was correct in claiming that Greece is a sovereign state and has the right to organize such a referendum, however what type of legitimacy does that provide the Tsipras government in coming back at the bargaining table?

The Greek referendum is national decision on a complex financial question. But the Greek referendum does not affect the decision of Greece’s creditors. If the vote empowers Tsipras domestically, it does not at the European level. Now, Tsipras has to navigate in these tumultuous waters of a domestic electorate, opposed to additional austerity, while providing a proposal acceptable to his creditors, most of them highly in favor of additional austerity measures. Tsipras seems to be facing a conundrum, either remaining in the Eurozone and what it entails, or leaving the Eurozone, and dealing with the consequences of a default.

In the mid-term, there are many technicalities that need to be figured out if Greece decided to leave the common currency. The legal baseline is the 1992 Maastricht Treaty,

Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP
Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP

which does not provide any information in order to leave the common currency. In the contemporary European history (aside from the collapse of Habsburg empire), there are no precedents, no rules and no plans in order to leave a common currency. But with a return of the Drachma, the real question for the Greek government will be about the exchange rate between the Drachma and the Euro as all Greek accounts are in Euros. At the end of the day, the Greek savings will be severely devaluated causing massive financial losses.

The Greek drama illustrates the complexity of the unfinished European construction. Since the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 laying out the current foundations of the European Union, the Member States have avoided any decisions for furthering/deepening the integration process or completely loosening it. Today, if Greece is in such trouble, is certainly because of its domestic problems (high level of corruption and lack of structural reforms), but as well because of an integration à la carte of the Eurozone. At the end of the day, a Grexit or not is only a technicality. The real question is: will the Eurozone members be working once and for all on finalizing a fully integrated and functional Eurozone?

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Euro-tic – The European Nightmare?

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The EU is stuck for one reason or two, its euro-tic dilemma. The EU is stuck between 1+28 chairs: the European chair (European level) and the National chairs (Domestic forces). The challenges facing the EU can be solved through two types of policies: either through more integrated policies, or through individual/national policies. However, the current status-quo centered around this Euro-ticism is unsustainable in the short-, mid-, and long-term.

Today two pressing issues are facing the EU with serious consequences if left unresolved, the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea and the Greek debt crisis. Both crises are challenging and complex in their root causes, in the policy design to solve them, in the policy implementation, and on top of it the outcomes – positive or negative – will only be visible in the mid- and long-term. Considering the current negotiations process at the EU level due to the institutional design of the EU and the domestic pressures no viable and sustainable long-term solutions can neither be designed nor adopted.

Fortress Europe

In the case of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean sea, the EU and its 28 Member States are failing in trying to solve the crisis. So far the only solution has been to increase the funding of the EU agency, FRONTEX, by providing more money and capabilities to EUNAVFOR Med. Nevertheless, the CSDP operation does not have a search and rescue mission, only a border management mandate (refer to chart here). So the EU will be patrolling around Italy and Greece in order to assist the member states in the protection of Europe.

_82453476_migrant_routes_624_14_15_v3

The solution seems quite simple, an orchestrated distribution plan between the 28 Member States to accept a number of refugees over a 10 year period by offering them a blue-card (similar to the American green-card) allowing them to integrate and find a job in Europe. Such policy is sustainable and acceptable based on European values and norms. Additionally, it would work as most of the migrants trying to reach Europe are principally composed of members of the middle-class in their home countries destroyed by war, terrorism and

Source: The Economist
Source: The Economist

other sorts of crisis.

It is difficult to imagine that neither France nor Germany cannot assimilate 1000 refugees on year basis. Even if this policy could work on the long-term, it would be political suicidal for Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande to come home with such plan. The domestic radical forces (right and left) would build such a front against the leadership that their political parties would not survive another elections.

Grexit or Nothing?

In the case of the Greek debt crisis, the Euro-tic dilemma is once again ever more present. For over five years, the Greek hot potato has been switching hands in Europe. The present crisis, between Prime Minister Tsipras and the Troika (Commission, ECB, and IMF)+Germany, illustrates the euro-tic tension facing the EU and its Member States. Greece is on the verge of defaulting on its debt of €1.5 billion to the IMF on June 30th (some news in the media claim that an agreement will be reached). The

Photo: AP
Photo: AP

country is dealing with a debt of €130 billion representing 180% of its GDP.

Like the migration crisis, the solution would consist in deepening the integration process of the Eurozone. The Eurozone cannot have several gears with on the one hand the ECB in charge of monetary policy and on the other 19 individual fiscal policies.

In the case of Greece, one solution could be to pool the debts of all Eurozone members, naturally keeping track of the percentage of each national debt. One common debt would allow better interest rates and strengthen the Eurozone. Naturally, most European citizens would feel cheated if their elected officials came back home after agreeing on such policy. The domestic price for such policy choice would be serious for national leaderships.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The solution for Greece is only long-term at the EU and national level. For the EU, the Member States may have to revisit the treaties and address the weaknesses once and for all. This will not happen as most EU leaders are reticent to touch at the treaties – the last one, Treaty of Lisbon, was a continuity of the failed Constitutional Treaty of 2004 -. Several EU Member State’s constitutions require a referendum in order to validate a Treaty. That would probably not pass the domestic vote.

Greece, one of the weakest Eurozone members, is seeking for a ‘silver bullet’ at home. The Grexit seems a possibility – as opposed to five years ago -. Tsipras is now talking with Russia and signed an energy deal with the country, which is under European sanctions. Moscow and Athens deny talks of an eventual financial assistance. Such move by Athens is quite an aberration considering the current sanctions implemented by the EU against Russia for its annexation of Crimea and continuous involvement in the war in Ukraine.

If Greece is in such precarious situation it is because of its recurrent and embedded problem of corruption and mismanagement of money. In order to really make Greece a sustainable EU and Eurozone member, Greece will need to do some serious structural reform and get once and for all ride of corruption. These will take at least a generation.

Euro-tic nightmare, or the end of solidarity

The tension between European and domestic levels has always been present throughout the European construction. So far, it was manageable because of lesser number of Member States, ‘better’ national leadership, and most importantly a continuous economic growth. The 2007 financial crisis changed everything. Solidarity is much easier in time of growth than hardship. Today, domestic public opinions, throughout the Union, feel more comfortable with extreme political parties – see the latest results of elections in Poland and Denmark – calling for a return to inward looking and revisionist policies than with more center political parties unable to govern. Big Member States, like France, are flirting with extreme right and Britain is getting ready for an eventual secession from the Union.

Ultimately, the Union and its national governments are unmanageable. In this period of socio-politico-economico troubles surrounded by serious geopolitical crises and shifts, the European dream of an ‘ever closer union’ seems on the brink of collapse. EU leaders ought to bring more EU into their domestic policies and narratives, and the EU needs to build new bridges towards domestic electorates. Europe is entering a real period of darkness.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Politico Lands in Brussels

PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP
PHOTO: JIM WATSON/AFP

Politico, the giant of American/D.C. politics, is now observing, dissecting, and commenting on Brussels’ political life. In less than a decade Politico, founded in 2007, has become a powerhouse in American media, covering political life in D.C. and in the US. April 20th was the grand opening of Politico Europe online and its first printed version will be sold on Thursday, April 23rd in several European capitals.

The European adventure started in September 2014 with German publisher Axel Springer creating a European edition of Politico based in Brussels. In December 2014, Politico bought the European political newspaper, European Voice, and rebranded it Politico Europe Edition. The executive body of Politico Europe is composed of Shéhérazade Semsar-de Boisséson, the owner and publisher of European Voice, as managing director, Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal, as executive editor, and John F. Harris the Editor-in-Chief. John Harris made Politico what it is thanks to his coverage of the US Presidential campaign of 2008. Many thought that Politico would die after the presidential campaign, but it continued and today accounts for over 7 million readers per month. Politico was even compared as a ‘scoop factory‘ by The New Republic in a lengthy 2009 piece.

In the case of Europe, Politico already includes 40 journalists (with some serious names previously working for Reuters, Wall Street Journal, USA Today such as Kalina Oroschakoff, Craig Winneker, Nicholas Vinocur and Pierre Briançon in Paris), and bureaus in Berlin, London and Paris. Other bureaus in Moscow and Frankfurt (to cover the ECB) are scheduled to open later on this year.

Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times
Photo: Larry Fink for The New York Times

One of the landmarks of Politico US is the Politico Playbook by Mike Allen. In a 2010 article, the New York Times ran a story titled, The Man the White House Wakes Up To. In this piece, Mark Leibovich argued that Mike Allen’s Playbook sent by email between 5:30 and 8:30am 7 days a week is the must read in D.C. in order to start the day. Five years later it is still the case. Particularly for Europe, Ryan Heath is now running The Brussels Playbook. Mr. Heath joined the European Commission spokespersons service in 2011 under José Manuel Barroso, former President of the Commission, and has since worked for prestigious media outlets.

In one of the first article published on Politico.eu, Harris and Kaminski, in a dialogue format, discuss the place and role for Politico in Europe. “Too much of the traditional reporting on the EU ” claims Kaminski “looks and tastes like oatmeal.” However, Politico, argues Harris, “has an institutional identity of self-confidence bordering on obnoxious” driven by the “fear of failure.” 

For having studied and monitored European politics for almost a decade, it surely seems that Politico has found a clear niche. Aside from the strong, but too specialized platforms available, like Bruxelles2, Politico covers everything remotely connected to politics. Despite Euractiv, the former European Voice and EuObserver, Politico is finally filling a void in monitoring Brussels’ political life. Beware Brussels, American media is now going to “put on a fun party for the people who live and breathe pan-European politics.” Toast with jam will work perfectly with the oatmeal.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”

europe-russia

Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).