Greek PM Alexis Tsipras has reshuffled his cabinet and is attempting a fresh start. Well-known leftists have been sent packing. But some believe the prime minister is simply filling time until the next election.
The most prominent victim of Greece’s government reshuffle on Saturday was Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, largely seen as the leader of Syriza’s inner party opposition.
Earlier this week, Lafazanis ignored the party line and voted against the budget cuts presented by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the Athenian parliament on Wednesday. His position will be filled by the party’s former speaker Panos Skourletis, a close ally of the prime minister.
Former Deputy Welfare Minister Dimitris Stratoulis, perhaps the second most important figure in the party’s left wing, has also been told to pack up his office, along with the Argentine-born Deputy Defense Minister Kosta Isichos.
Does Saturday’s shake-up mean that the path is now clear for the pro-European, moderate faction of the party? George Tzogopoulos, a political scientist with the Athens-based think tank Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) doesn’t think so.
“What we were expecting was a new orientation of Athens’ politics, and a cabinet with a lot of new faces – maybe even with independent experts. But that isn’t what we got,” he told DW.
Instead, Tsipras has simply put together a cabinet meant to fill the time between now and an eventual new election. But Tzogopoulos thinks that decision will be detrimental to the country’s economy and political stability.
In any case, the possibility of an election in the fall is more than just a rumour, with the government itself stoking the speculation. Recently, Interior Minister Nikos Voutsis said that an election in September, or October at the latest, was certainly an option.
Head on attack
Political analyst Stratos Ballis, however, offers a more nuanced assessment. “Everything that reminds people of the powerful left wing of the party will be swept away,” he said, speaking on Greek TV network Skai. “This government reshuffle marks the official split between the prime minister and his inner party opposition.”
Ballis also suggested that many vacated seats would now be handed out as rewards to the coalition right-wing populists, who despite a number of verbal missteps have remained loyal to the prime minister.
With an unusually harsh tone, Syriza’s party newspaper “I Avgi” attacked the 39 dissenters who voted against, or abstained from voting for, the budget cuts. If the dissenters were trying to give the impression that they alone were acting in accordance with Syriza’s party line, and not the prime minister, then that would in fact prompt the question of whether their attitude was even politically serious, wrote “I Avgi.” The attitude, the paper went on, was like the old saying: “We’ll wash our hands of guilt, and let others pick the chestnuts out of the flames.”
The commentary was undoubtedly a reference to the fact that Tsipras wasn’t really counting on the votes of the dissenters. It was clear that he would be able to pass the budget cuts through parliament with the help of the opposition. In other words, the accusation is that since the rest of the parliamentarians would pass the cuts at any rate, the 39 had decided that they wanted to offer up a little more rebellion, at the expense of their own colleagues.
Opposition in paralysis
At this point, it’s unclear how Greece’s opposition parties will position themselves in the fight for power and influence. Opinion polls aren’t encouraging: Approval ratings for the Conservatives, in power until last January, have stagnated and are at about 20 percent. The formerly all powerful Socialists are fading into insignificance and will be hard pressed to even make it into parliament in an upcoming vote.
Only the pro-European, social democratic styled party To Potami has reason to be hopeful, with encouraging poll results. But the radical right-wing party Golden Dawn, currently the third strongest faction in Greece, is also hoping to make gains.
Although most of the opposition parties are weak and searching for their own way forward, they have expressly shown their support for Tsipras in his efforts to enact the controversial reform measures. The leftist prime minister is profiting handsomely from that fact – perhaps too handsomely, according to former Socialist party leader Evangelos Venizelos.
“In this house, it appears that we have two different government majorities: a majority for agreeable laws, which are carried by the members from the left – and another majority for all of the unpleasant laws, which the opposition is called upon to pass,” said Venizelos, speaking in parliament recently. “This cannot continue to go on, and is contrary to the standing orders of this body.”
Germany: Finance Minister Schäuble is ready to resign over Greek bailout coercion
In the dispute over Greece’s bailout, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) has said he would resign rather than change his position on the deal. His hardline stance has met with criticism during negotiations.
In an interview published in this week’s edition of the German magazine “Der Spiegel,” Schäuble made it clear that although he was not currently considering resigning, he had a duty to his role and his principles.
“Politicians’ responsibilities come from the offices they hold. Nobody can coerce them. If anyone were to try, I could go to the president and ask to be relieved of my duties,” the 72-year-old told the magazine.
Asked whether Schäuble had plans to resign, a spokesman for the Finance Ministry referred to the same question in the “Der Spiegel” interview where Schäuble said: “No. Where did you get that idea?”
In light of Greece’s third bailout deal, which was agreed among eurozone leaders in the early hours of Monday morning, the German finance minister was met with a backlash of criticism both from his party’s socialist coalition partner, the SPD, and from the public on social media.
During Schäuble’s speech in the German Bundestag on Friday, leader of the Left party, Gregor Gysi, tweeted that “the chancellor the last few weeks wasn’t Merkel, but Wolfgang Schäuble,” and called him an “undemocratic and anti-social” bureaucrat who was trying to “destroy the European idea” during his speech on the Bundestag floor.
‘Grexit’ still on the cards?
Schäuble admitted in Saturday’s interview that over the past few weeks, he and Chancellor Angela Merkel were not always of the same opinion. While Merkel has remained open to negotiations on Greece’s bailout in recent days, Schäuble has approached further talks with caution.
“Divergent opinions are a part of democracy. In such a case, you jointly hash out a solution,” he said, adding, “We know that we can rely on each other.”
Following the bailout deal on Monday, Schäuble said in an interview with Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio that a temporary Greek exit from the eurozone might still be the best for everyone if Athens cannot reduce its debt.
Defending his stance in the “Der Spiegel” on Saturday, Schäuble said: “We never said that Greece should leave the eurozone. We only called attention to the possibility that Athens itself can decide on taking a timeout. Debt relief is not possible within the currency union. European treaties do not allow it.”
German lawmakers approved the reopening of debt talks with Athens on Friday by a margin of 439 to 119.