I wonder if Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his close aides have ever seriously questioned their strategy vis-a-vis international leaders and officials. Tsipras may be enjoying sky-high popularity in the opinion polls and he may strike a chord with our collective subconscious, but he is doing things wrong.
Take for example his Sunday op-ed in Le Monde. The article did not win him any friends or allies in Paris, Brussels or anywhere else. In it, Tsipras was either playing the blame game in the event of an impasse with Greece’s lenders or was exclusively addressing the audience at home.
The leftist leader has tried to build a relationship of trust with foreign leaders. He has even come to be seen as separate from SYRIZA and the coalition government and to be considered a reasonable interlocutor. International leaders are politicians, too; they know the rules of the game. However, when you say one thing on the phone and another in your op-ed or public statements, then you have a serious credibility problem.
Some people will say, “Andreas Papandreou did the same thing.” That may be so, save three important differences. The late Socialist leader was unchallenged inside PASOK and he did not use the party as an excuse as to what he could or could not do. He was able to close out the game when it mattered. He was also a good judge of people and circumstances internationally. Tsipras is better than he was one or two years ago, but he is still seduced by people with pie-in-the-sky ideas. Even if some of the poor handling can be blamed on his lack of experience, it’s hard to believe that he does not have a circle of reliable advisers who can warn him against actions and words which are bound to raise eyebrows in Berlin, Paris or Washington.
This is a very crucial moment. Fairly or not, most of Europe’s establishment has written Greece off. Our empty geopolitical threats have backfired. As international relations expert at Oxford University Kalypso Nicolaidis was saying yesterday, it’s better if others – not you – warn against the risk of your country falling apart. Personal ties take time to build and yield results. A few weeks of serious negotiations under Giorgos Houliarakis made a big difference, despite efforts by the official economic policy team to undermine him.
Tough-guy posturing may be a good sell at home, but it is extremely damaging when dealing with international officials. In the end, every stage in the negotiations decides the credibility of the country and its leader. It’s now time for Tsipras to prove that he has (a) achieved a good deal and (b) he can brave in-party obstacles and see it through.