Tsipras’s Mistake

Tsipras's first task should have been to find the higher political reasoning to encourage the extension of the bailout programme in favour of Greece.

This article was first published in Spanish by El Pais on 26 March. Translation by Carla Hobbs.  

The European Union, it is said, is something both clearly ordered and subject to negotiation. Is this not contradictory? Order is something stable and closed, while negotiation presupposes something open and in constant flux. How can something be one thing and at the same time its opposite? The answer: what does it matter? What need is there to complain because something works in practice but not in theory?

What need is there to complain because something works in practice but not in theory?

The EU works better than is claimed, especially given that it has no model or examples to follow. And it owes all it has achieved to its enormous flexibility: time and again since this unusually unique project began, we have seen European leaders, exhausted after days and nights of non-stop negotiations, reach agreements that had been thought to be impossible.

And so Greece entered the (then) European Communities: through the will of the European Council who, believing it imperative to support the process of democratic consolidation following the end of dictatorship, overrode the opinion of the European Commission, who due to the dismal state of the Greek economy had recommended approaching the country´s accession slowly. On that occasion, as in so many others in the community’s history, the rules of the game were bent by higher political reasoning and Greece not only entered the Union without meeting the requirements, but did so five years before Spain and Portugal.

The first task of Tsipras and his government should have been to find this higher political reasoning to encourage the extension and modification of the bailout programme in favour of Greece. It was not a very difficult task as their ascension to power has coincided with a rare moment of unanimity within the European Union with regards to the design flaws of the euro, the excesses of austerity politics, the clumsiness of the troika and the disproportionate cost meted out on the Greek people. 

Believe me, Tsipras had it easy.

The moment was ripe for Tsipras to ally himself with a Commission President, guilt-ridden over his past and committed to stimulus policies. Or with a European Central Bank president who had decided to launch unprecedented monetary expansion no matter what Germany said. Or even with those governments in Paris, Rome, and Madrid who were delighted to use Athens as a means of demolishing the dogmas with which Germany had been stifling economic growth.

Believe me, Tsipras had it easy. But whether due to dogmatism, bad advice or the pursuit of other ends, he has embroiled himself in an absurd confrontation with his partners. The result of this waste of political and moral capital? He will get half of what could have been achieved if he had acted with intelligence and flexibility, and at twice the price. A shame, above all for the Greek people.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Head, ECFR Madrid
Senior Policy Fellow

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