Tsipras tells Europe "let's talk"
Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) Alexis Tsipras begins a tour of European capitals on Monday carrying a single message: it's time to talk
Radical Left Coalition (Syriza) Alexis Tsipras begins a tour of European capitals on Monday carrying a single message: it's time to talk.
In an interview on the eve of his first visit abroad since his surprise rise in the May 6 election, Tsipras veered occasionally into the combative rhetoric that has seduced disaffected the country's youth and alarmed Brussels and Berlin.
But he also stressed repeatedly that he wants negotiations to keep Greece in the euro. He said he was looking to forge ties with likeminded European figures, including new French President Francois Hollande, who want to soften austerity policies by finding new ways to encourage growth.
"The first reason we are taking this trip is because we want the governments of these important European Union countries, France and Germany, to see what we stand for: what is being transmitted in Europe about us is not what we represent and want," Tsipras told Reuters at Syriza's headquarters.
He will not be meeting government officials, but will see fellow leftists in France and Germany, including former French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and Klaus Ernst and Gregor Gysi of Germany's Left party. He will hold news conferences in both capitals to get his message to a wider audience.
"We are not at all an anti-European force. We are fighting to save social cohesion in Europe. We are maybe the most pro-European force in Europe, because its dominant powers will lead the union into instability and the eurozone to collapse if they insist on austerity," he said.
While he repeated his assertion that the terms of a 130bn euro bailout agreement Greece signed with international lenders in March are now a "dead letter", he said that if he comes to power he will seek a new policy mix to keep the country in the euro.
"Yes, we do want Europe's support and funding, but we don't want the money of European taxpayers to be wasted.
Two bailouts in a row went into the dustbin, into a bottomless barrel. If this continues we would need a third package in six months. Europeans and their leaders must realise this," he said.
"We want to make use of Europe's solidarity and funding to create the basis for our long-term reforms. But we need to know that in two-three years we'll have escaped this downward vortex, we will have growth, and we'll be able to pay back the money they gave us. There is no way we could pay them off if we continued this programme."
Che behind glass
European leaders have reacted with open horror to the rise of Tsipras, a 37-year-old former Communist Party (KKE) student leader, who in a May 6 election humiliated pro-memorandum Pasok and New Democracy.
Polls show Tsipras is now neck and neck with, if not ahead of, New Democracy, and could well emerge with enough votes to become the next prime minister.
European leaders say that if the next government spurns the bailout, they will have no choice but to cut off funding, which would effectively bankrupt the state and force it out of the euro.
The prospect sent the single currency tumbling last week and hurt the bonds of Spain and Italy.
Tsipras' age and forceful rhetoric have especially appealed to the youth, who have been hit the hardest by the economic crisis. Five years of recession have left more than half of young people jobless, and many blame middle aged political bosses for sacrificing their future to protect an older generation's perks.
Syriza's shopworn office, in a shabby old building near Omonia, hardly looks like the headquarters of a group poised to be thrust into power.
Staff are young, in jeans and T-shirts, the men sporting varied patterns of facial hair. A faded poster of Che Guevera hangs on a wall behind a broken pane of glass.
Tsipras has been denied a meeting with new Socialist President Francois Hollande, who defeated conservative Nicolas Sarkozy on the same day as the country polled, but Tsipras clearly sees Hollande as an ally in persuading Europe to abandon its austerity prescriptions.
Sarkozy's defeat had altered the political dynamics in Europe, depriving German Chancellor Angela Merkel of her main ally in promoting belt-tightening, Tsipras said.
"For the first time Merkel is extremely isolated," he said. "The implementation of the austerity policies – not only in Greece but also in Spain, in Portugal, Italy, Ireland and other places where fiscal consolidation plans based on austerity are implemented – obviously failed." '
He pointed to the United States, where he said the Obama administration's stimulus programme had helped make recession less severe than in Europe, and noted that Obama and Hollande appeared to see eye to eye at a meeting on Friday.
"At the Hollande–Obama meeting, the main issue was what happens with Greece," Tsipras said. "Until yesterday, what would happen to Greece was given: the people and workers would be crushed, labour rights would be demolished."
New negotiations for a Greek rescue should take place among elected leaders, rather than at the level of technical advisors from the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund, which he said was "degrading" for a Greek prime minister.
"For the first time after a very long time, we have the conditions and the terms so that this negotiation is in the interest of the people and against banks and capital."
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