Did Tsipras Have a Choice?

As the Greek Parliament votes to accept the deal, Michael Spourdalakis argues given the weakness of the Greek economy, Tsipras could not have walked away from a Eurozone agreement – but deep divisions within Syriza are developing

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

In the early hours of Thursday morning Athens time the Greek parliament ratified the Eurozone Greece deal that was brokered by Prime Minister Tsipras. Now joining us to talk about all of these events is Michalis Spourdalakis. He’s a professor of political science at Athens University.

Thanks for joining us, Michalis.

MICHALIS SPOURDALAKIS, PROF. OF POLITICAL SCIENCE, ATHENS UNIVERSITY: Hello from Athens.

JAY: I know it’s a tired–after 2:00 in the morning, for you.

Last time we talked, which was just a few days ago, before the final conclusion of the negotiations in Brussels, you said it’s not over. Maybe Tsipras will walk away from this. Because some of the conditions that had been laid out by the Eurozone leaders were so onerous that you thought he might walk. Well, he didn’t walk. He agreed. And now it’s been ratified.

So talk about what’s been happening in the last few hours, and what you think of it.

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, yes. He didn’t walk away. But certainly is not over yet. There are a few more parliaments that they have to ratify the agreement. And also the Greek parliament of course ratified the agreement overwhelmingly, where 228 members of Parliament out of 300 voted for this agreement.

However, 40 MPs out of 149 of the governing Syriza party didn’t vote for the agreement. This makes the majority government led by Tsipras a tacit minority government. However, I don’t think a vote of confidence is going to be called by any other party or Tsipras himself. He is going to go ahead with probably extensive reshuffle of his cabinet. And we’ll see how he’s going to deal with a party where today 109 out of 201 members of the central committee declare their opposition, or they were very critical if you like, very, very critical to the agreement. And they call for a center committee meeting as soon as possible.

Also protesting because the center committee was not convened to decide or to discuss, if you like, the agreement.

JAY: So that suggests the split in Syriza is far deeper than just based on what the voting was in the parliament.

SPOURDALAKIS: Yeah. But you know, on the other hand the people who are against the agreement, they don’t want to bring the government down. So it can be somehow a split or a major friction within the party. Because even the people who voted yes tonight, they don’t like the agreement. Tsipras himself said repeatedly not only that he’s not happy, but he thinks that this agreement cannot work. And he’s right. If anybody looks very close to this agreement, there are so many contradictions and so many points that they’re so vague that they pretty soon, it seems to me no matter how hard a government, any government, will try to implement this thing will run up against its incoherence at some point.

JAY: The former finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, he voted no. But it seems a little ironic in a way, given how he was so into going down this path. But he called this equivalent to the new Versailles treaty.

SPOURDALAKIS: Right. Well, I would like to avoid into these individual behaviors, because then I’ll have to change profession. I’ll go into, from a political scientist where you have to look at things in a macro way, will do micro and become a psychologist. Probably I would have more money, you know. But I cannot do that.

JAY: But does he represent–I mean, he did represent a section of the party that was willing to go down this whole road. And more than represented, he was certainly the intellectual leader of this whole position, and now he denounces it.

SPOURDALAKIS: Okay. Varoufakis, that’s another person that is famous, probably more [along] Lapavitsas and play no role in the party. Well, left-wing parties have a bit of peculiar [organisings], right.

Varoufakis joined the party, if he had joined it. I doubt it if he joined the party only recently. He comes from a more social democratic, more PASOK-like background. And he approached the party through his opposition, as many other [economists], however, after the memorandums and the austerity deals that the previous government imposed upon the Greek society. So I don’t even know if Varoufakis is a member of the party. Certainly he’s not a member of the center committee. And I don’t think he has a group of either MPs behind him or of say a certain organization.

Now, there are some people within the party that they are very sympathetic to his views. There’s no doubt about that. But there are some others that are a bit skeptical about his contribution to the whole negotiation process.

JAY: There’s–sorry, go ahead.

SPOURDALAKIS: My opinion is you don’t ask, [other] that can offer it to you. I think that Varoufakis helped a lot in the beginning of the negotiations to bring to the fore the Greek issue and to internationalize the whole problems that Greek society was faced. Very few people that I know in Greece and in that position have the intelligence, the flair, the ways to the media that they can do that.

So he really helped. And as my friend the new cabinet minister of finance, Euclid Tsakalotos said when he was taken out of the office, we would have been at this point without Varoufakis.

JAY: Now, during the debate just before the vote some of the opposition leaders were condemning Syriza, particularly Tsipras, saying that what did you do that we couldn’t have done? With all of the–all the promises you made that essentially won you the election you wound up with an agreement, according to some of these speakers, that was maybe worse than what they would have come up with. What do you think is the truth of that?

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, this is not true. If one focuses on the nitty gritty dimensions of the agreement, only then this is true. The previous governments, both PASOK and New Democracy, and the condemnation thereof, they basically didn’t negotiate. They were asked to do X number of things. They adopted the agreement. And that was the end of it.

This government, the impression every Greek citizen or every person on earth that would follow the drama with the negotiations can tell that at least this government tried to strike a better deal with the creditors. But there are some more essential differences in the agreement. For example, let me before I go into the agreement, for example, the [internationalized] the issue. They show the [inaud.] negotiations that the problem is not the national problem, although of course there are some irrationalities in the way that the Greek government state or state relations operate. However. So there are some reforms, some reforms are needed. And also, they show that there is a deep crisis in the Eurozone. And deep, deep contradictions.

Secondly, in the last few days–and especially after the referendum, they enter the room of the negotiations, and there were 18 countries against the government. And at the end of the day, just before they signed the agreement, about eight or nine were in favor of the Greek government’s position. That’s another important–and already there was a friction between France and Germany which up to that point, they were very tight allies for, vis-a-vis the [Greek] [Inaud.]

JAY: Michalis, in the interview we did a few days ago, as we said in the beginning of this one, you had said, well, maybe he’ll walk. And I took that as meaning you thought he should, hoped he would. Do you still think he should have?

SPOURDALAKIS: Well, a more sober second thinking of all that, considering the alternative, I think I’m convinced that this is the best he could have done. And there is, there are many reasons. But there’s one very important reason. It’s not that technically the country was not ready to exit. It’s not that the banks would have collapsed completely because of the interference of ECB, turn off the [inaud.] contrary to the, you know, the liquidity assistance that the central bank gives to the [inaud.] banks. It’s not that.

But the infrastructure of the country is not there to support an exit from a wider, international framework. 75 percent, Paul, of the Greek foodstuffs that someone finds in a supermarket are imported. Basic everyday material for babyfoods, everything is important. This is a result of not just undermined–they basically cut the [inaud.] policies. And during the ’90s, during the years of the modernization in this country.

JAY: So there was no alternative, you think.

SPOURDALAKIS: There was basically no alternative. However, I still believe that there is a number of things that this government can do given that it has a [new] support by a party which–a left radical party. This is engraved in this party’s DNA.

JAY: Just quickly, do you think the Left Platform people, which it sounds like in terms of members of parliament at any rate, where what, about 38, 40, are they going to leave the party?

SPOURDALAKIS: No. No. I don’t think they are going to be, already said they are not going to leave the party. Also there is another thing. The Left Platform people, of course they were the majority of the vote, of the no votes, now. Right. But certainly do not control the party or the central committee, at least for the time being.

I don’t think that they are such a united currency as they, as much as they appear. As I said before, it’s a small fraction of all the members of the communist party. Most of these members are with a majority. And with an alliance with [inaud.] is, are primarily Trotskyists, and some centrist nationalists who came from PASOK. And if that wasn’t of the founding congress of the party in 2013, where the political issues were undermined and the procedural plans came into fore, this Left Platform wouldn’t have almost 30 percent. They would have had approximately 15, which is, it’s their power in the party.

In addition, they are not the most radical grouping or subgroupings, if you like, within the party. And this, I don’t want to take much time on such a difficult night. But you know, these are not the people that they go to the social movements, they mobilize. These are not the people that they are going to support necessarily, necessarily the solidarity networks thinking that this is philanthropy, this is not politics, and so on and so forth.

So this is a on the surface very radical people in the party. But essentially they are much more of a traditional left radicalist, and not what Syriza represented and brought the party into fore, because it represented a different kind of thing.

JAY: Okay. Well, thank you very much for joining us, Michalis.

SPOURDALAKIS: Okay. Goodnight, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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