News and Views
Greece’s Tsipras Takes Control
Radical leftist Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as Greece’s prime minister, but European leaders are balking at meeting his demands to cut the country’s steep debt and renegotiate the austerity measures they have imposed on Athens.
The 40-year-old Tsipras and his Syriza party won a sweeping national election victory Sunday on a promise to end austerity controls that have led to sharp pension and wage cuts, higher taxes and massive unemployment. He is the country’s youngest premier in 150 years.
But the international lenders who have kept Greece financially afloat with nearly $300 billion in bailouts showed no intention of agreeing to Tsipras’s call to trim Greek debt and restore many of the cutbacks the creditors demanded in exchange for the loans.
Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem said eurozone financial leaders are ready to work with Greece. But he said its continued membership in the 19-nation euro currency bloc is contingent on Athens continuing to adhere to its bailout agreements and that there is no support for writing off Greek debt.
“Membership of the eurozone also means that you comply to all we have agreed with each other, but on that basis we stand ready to work with them,” said Dijsselbloem.
“The commitments that Greece has made need to be kept,” a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, austerity’s chief advocate, said bluntly.
In the election, Tsipras’s Syriza party easily outdistanced the conservative New Democracy party led by outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. Syriza fell just short of winning a majority of 151 of the 300 seats in parliament, but quickly formed a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks party, which shares little in common with Syriza other than its opposition to the austerity measures.
Tsipras said austerity in Greece has failed.
“In the last year, Greece was chosen to be the guinea pig of austerity in order to exit the crisis. This was proven to be a failure and catastrophic,” said Tsipras.
European finance ministers met in Brussels to assess the outcome of the Greek election. Analysts say there is concern Syriza’s win could inspire other radical parties opposed to austerity in Europe. In Spain, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the anti-austerity Podemos party, said “Hope is coming, fear is fleeing. Syriza, Podemos, we will win.”
Tsipras’s victory drew a mixed response from world leaders.
British Prime Minister David Cameron warned Sunday the Greek election would “increase economic uncertainty across Europe.”
The White House, without mentioning economic issues, congratulated Greece on the successful election. It said the United States is looking forward to “working closely” with the new government.
French President Francois Hollande congratulated Mr. Tsipras on Syriza’s victory, expressing the French leader’s desire “to continue the close cooperation” between the two countries.
Italy’s EU affairs minister, Sandro Gozi, said officials “will have new opportunities to pursue change in Europe to create growth and investment and fight against unemployment.”
Some material for this report came from AP, AFP and Reuters.