The juicy interview of Greek Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis

Earlier this morning, Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Finance Minister gave a 28-minute long phone interview to the mainstream Greek radio station, REAL FM. The person conducting the interview is no other than Nikos Hatzinikolaou, a prominent journalist who is the face of the station [he also owns it], and has turned into sort-of-a media mogul during the years of the crisis. The interview is extremely juicy, for many reasons. First and foremost, it gives a good indication of the rhetoric employed by the Greek government at this moment, domestically. As you will see, the rhetoric (even) of Varoufakis – who is supposedly a moderate within the party – is a tad bit more heightened  than in his appearances on international media. Secondly, it gives a very clear idea of what the Greek government intends to do (and what it intends not to do) in the short-term (i.e. the four-month extension period of the loan agreement), as well as the medium- to long-term (i.e. what happens after June).

I will resist my temptation to comment on this amazing piece of rhetorical eloquence by Yanis. Instead, I will highlight in red those parts of the interview that I feel are the most important and actually give a good idea to foreign readers about (a) how exactly the Greek government sees this four-month extension, (b) how it interprets the role of the TIFKAT (The Institutions Formerly Known As Troika), (c) how it perceives the way in which it negotiated, (d) what it asserts it has achieved through the Eurogroup negotiations, and (e) how (and if!) it intends to fulfill its obligations vis-a-vis TIFKAT.

The audio file of the interview can be found here (in Greek). You can find my translation of the interview below.

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Syriza vs corruption: tracing its stance since 2010

I bumped into a very interesting Greek article today, published in the webzine Epikairo, that gives a good indication of Syriza’s former meddling with anti-corruption and tax evasion legislation. While the angle of those writing the article is clearly one of a devoted center-left voter (I would assume PASOK or DIM.AR.), the article itself is quite interesting for people from all ideological presuppositions. It traces 6 of the draft bills that were voted in the Greek parliament since 2010, which pertain to anti-corruption and combatting tax evasion. As it seems, Syriza has been continuously undermining all efforts to combat these issues when legislation was proposed by other parties, either by voting “present,” or simply “no” to those bills.

Today, Syriza seems committed to hit hard on tax-evasion, corruption, oligarchs, and the cartels. In fact, the proclamations of Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras suggest that Syriza will invest heavily in anti-corruption policies, both during the interim 4-month extension of the existing program, but also afterwards. They both also seem to believe that they can amass great amounts of money out of such measures, and quite quickly for that matter. Up until its rise to power, however, Syriza had not craze about anti-corruption. One could say that Syriza did not want to help the parties of the establishment to pass ‘half-hearted’ legislation, especially given the fact that there were specific provisions in favor of the status-quo sneaked in many of these laws. One could also argue that the previous stance of Syriza should not be taken heavily into account, since now that it is in the government it will have the leverage (apart from the will!) to draft meaningful legislation and implement much-needed policies contra the aforementioned pathologies.

To a large extent, I agree: how Syriza operated in the past should not be seen as a determinant of how it will function in the future. Nevertheless, it is indicative of the larger anti-reformist stance of the party, a continuous intransigence not to cooperate with the remaining parties of the “status-quo” (well, that was before it became part of it), and its dependence in its clientelistic linkages with public sector workers and specific interest groups. (These clientelistic linkages, of course, were created by the two former big parties of the status-quo – PASOK and thereupon New Democracy. Nevertheless, Syriza increasingly joined the game since the beginning of the crisis, taking advantage of the dissatisfaction of the clientelistic state with the status-quo, and taking over the reigns from the two other parties.)

In any case, you can find the Greek version of the article here. Right below, you can find my translation of it. (Bear in mind: it was written in early January, before the Greek Elections had happened.)

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The scathing letter of Syriza MP and Economist, Costas Lapavitsas

Earlier today, Costas Lapavitsas, Professor of Economics at SOAS and influential MP of Syriza, wrote a scathing letter in his blog addressed towards his entire party. Lapavitsas, who belongs in Syriza’s hardliners, says some extremely interesting things. Following Manolis Glezos, John Milios, Sofia Sakorafa (and Mikis Theodorakis!), who have already expressed their discomfort with Friday’s negotiation in the Eurogroup meeting, Lapavitsas joins the chorus of Syriza members that do not view the party’s compromising stance with a good eye.

I find the letter immensely interesting for many reasons, and I think that you will find it too. As such, I decided to translate the whole thing below. I leave the judgment part to you.

The link can be found here.

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GR Political Economy Digest #17

NEIN

While Friday’s Eurogroup storm seems to have passed, today is an equally (if not more) important date for the fate of Greece. Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek Minister of Finance, is expected to send a list of proposed reforms to TIFKAT (The ‘Institutions’ Formerly Known As Troika) for approval. Analysts, markets, and entire governments might have sighed in relief on Friday, but it is today actually that will illuminate whether a substantial compromise has been reached in the last Eurogroup meeting.

There is not much to say at this point, other than to wait and see what Varoufakis has planned. The list of reforms is expected to be quite short (no longer than 3-5 pages) and concise. Hopefully, it will also include meaningful proposals that speak more of a “compromise,” rather than the hardcore Left platform of Syriza or ANEL. “Wait, what?,” you may ask. “Who cares about those hardcore Lefties and the few ultra-nationalist crazies of ANEL? They are a fringe part anyways, right? And they wouldn’t jeopardize their ascent to power so soon, would they? As long as the moderate part of Syriza is willing to compromise, then there is no problem!” Well… I would love to share your optimism, but I am quite wary of the influence of the anti-austerity and anti-reform hardliners. I am also quite confident that we will witness some important schisms in the next couple of weeks – iff (if and only if) Varoufakis and Tsipras are true to Friday’s deal. Some senior Syriza officials and important figures of the Left have already begun speaking up (Manolis Glezos, John Milios, Sofia Sakorafa, and even Mikis Theodorakis). I suspect that more voices will soon follow in tune. Will that be enough to bring the government down? This is extremely early to say. But don’t be surprised if the inter-governmental dynamics change drastically in the upcoming weeks.

In any case, happy Lent Monday everybody! Here is the list of the top articles to read on the political economy of Greece today: 

  1. Greece: Four more months of hope and risks, by Frederik Ducrozet | Credit Agricole CIB, Feb 23 2015
  2. Greek bailout: Athens submits economic reform plan today (Live updates), by Graeme Wearden | The Guardian, Feb 23 2015
  3. Tsipras tamed as economists declare Greece loses austerity fight, by Simon Kennedy & Jennifer Ryan | Bloomberg, Feb 23 2015
  4. Greece scrambles to send draft reforms to EU institutions, by Peter Spiegel & Kerin Hope | The Financial Times, Feb 23 2015
  5. In defence of can-kicking, by Duncan Weldon | Medium, Feb 23 2015
  6. A hard week ahead for Greece after a last-minute deal, by Max Ehrenfreund | The Washington Post, Feb 23 2015
  7. Greece’s future is its past, by Rebecca Harding | Pieria, Feb 23 2015
  8. Greece: A debt colony with a bit of “home rule”, by Paul Mason | Channel4 News, Feb 23 2015
  9. Varoufakis ‘absolutely certain’ Greek reforms will meet approval | Deutsche Welle, Feb 22 2015
  10. Spain said to lead EU push to force terms on Greece, by Nikolaos Chrysoloras & Karl Stagno Navarra | Bloomberg, Feb 22 2015
  11. Ten days that shook the euro; how Greece came to the brink, by Alastair MacDonald & Jan Strupczewski | Reuters, Feb 22 2015
  12. Greece readies reform promises, by George Georgiopoulos | Reuters, Feb 22 2015

Photo Credits: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini, 22.02.2015)

GR Political Economy Digest #16

pavlopouleto

Habemus Pavlopoulos! As of today evening, Greece has a new President of the Democracy (PtD). Prokopis Pavlopoulos, former Minister for the Interior, Public Administration and Decentralization (2004-2007) and Minister for the Interior and Public Order (2007-2009) with New Democracy, has just been voted as the new PtD. A lawyer and influential legal scholar in Greece, Pavlopoulos was nominated by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras himself on Tuesday noon.

But Pavlopoulos was both an unexpected and an unwelcome choice for the vast majority of the Greek people. He was unexpected because, up until the last moment, Greek media were almost certain that New Democracy’s Dimitris Avramopoulos (the current European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship) would be Tsipras’s pick. Moreover, the two other names thrown in the rumor frenzy by the press, former PM Kostas Karamanlis and former MEP Marietta Giannakou, did not point towards Provopoulos’s direction at all.  In a surprising move, and after not announcing his nomination as planned on Sunday night, Alexis Tsipras nominated Provopoulos instead yesterday.

But Pavlopoulos is also viewed as a highly unwelcome choice. He was Minister for the Interior and Public Order during the 2008 December riots that caused enormous damages in Athens and other major cities, but failed to handle the situation accordingly. He was heavily attacked back then, both by regular citizens who viewed their property being damaged or looted right in front of their eyes, and by the party of Syriza, who accused him, together with the police, for plotting various schemes and acts of brutality. Pavlopoulos is also infamous for authorizing more than 800,000 hirings in the public sector as a Minister for the New Democracy government, between 2004 and 2009. If the notion of ‘clientelism’ could be personified, he would definitely be one of the highest contenders for the title.

Despite all that, Pavlopoulos was eventually named the new PtD of Greece, voted by 233 MPs (out of a total of 300), including the majority of New Democracy MPs and former PM Antonis Samaras himself.

Leaving aside the election for the PtD, the Greek government has a lot of ground to cover in the days to come in order to secure the continuing financing of the country. But so does Germany and the rest of the Eurozone partners, if they aim to arrive at a substantive and meaningful deal with Greece. Accordingly, the ECB – which has emerged as a sort-of power broker in the past few weeks – has also a big role to play in all of this. Let us hope that both sides can pour some water in their wines, and meet somewhere halfway through, with the ECB acting as a constructive addition rather than impediment to an upcoming agreement. Otherwise, there is no way for this story to have a good ending. Time is running, and money running out. The sooner there is a deal, the better for Greece.

Addendum: It has come to my attention that few blogs and websites have linked to this post, with some people contesting the total number of hirings authorized by Pavlopoulos. Since this is an important issue, let me point you to a few more links on the subject matter. The accusations against Pavlopoulos have been leveled by the newspaper Ta Nea a while back. Indeed, not many other newspapers have delved into the matter, and Pavlopoulos has himself refuted the claims on a radio-show once. Nevertheless, there has been no official statement from neither Pavlopoulos, nor New Democracy to refute the total number of the hirings (that I know of). And even if there is, and the (yet to be disputed) number is wrong, one thing is for sure: Pavlopoulos did authorize the hiring of a hell lot of people during his tenure. He did nurture the clientelistic Greek state even further. And that is a sad reality.

The top articles on the Greek political economy to read before you go to bed tonight are:

  1. What deal could be struck to keep Greece in the Eurozone?, by Raoul Ruparel | Open Europe, Feb 18 2015
  2. Greece to submit loan request to euro zone, Germany resists, by Renee Maltezou and John O’Donnell | Reuters, Feb 18 2015
  3. Greece gets lifeline as ECB agrees €3.3bn extra emergency funds, by Jennifer Rankin, Graeme Wearden and Helena Smith | The Guardian, Feb 18 2015
  4. Greece’s game of chicken is starting to get dangerous, by Matt O’ Brien | The Washington Post, Feb 18 2015
  5. Power broker in Greek debt crisis could be the E.C.B., by Jack Ewing | The New York Times, Feb 18 2015
  6. Greece’s key pledges and requests at the Eurogroup meetings | Macropolis.gr, Feb 18 2015
  7. Calling Greece’s loan-agreement bluff: A giant red herring, by Gabriele Steinhauser and Viktoria Dendrinou | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 18 2015
  8. The world-historic depths of Greece’s economic misery, charted, by Jordan Weissman | Slate (Moneybox), Feb 18 2015
  9. Kammenos makes media threat, compares euro talks to resistance against Ottomans | Kathimerini, Feb 18 2015
  10. Even as progressives take lead in Greece, women remain out of power, by Joanna Kakissis | NPR, Feb 18 2015
  11. Why Angela Merkel is holding firm on Greece, by Mark Gilbert | The Chicago Tribune, Feb 17 2015
  12. Give Greece Room to Maneuver, by the Editorial Board | The New York Times, Feb 17 2015
  13. PM Tsipras declares war at home on Greece’s ‘oligarchs’, by Stephen Grey | Reuters, Feb 17 2015

Photo: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini)

GR Political Economy Digest #15

MAKRIS_KATHIMERINI

So many things have happened in the past week or so. And so many more are to come until the month is over.

Today, late at night, Syriza will announce its nomination for the new President of the Democracy (PtD) in Greece. Name-dropping about who will be nominated for PtD has begun as early as before the January elections. Two names that figured prominently in the rumors and speculations circulating via the Greek press are Dimitris Avramopoulos, a career-diplomat and former Minister in various Greek cabinets, currently serving as the European Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenships, and Kostas Karamanlis, the former Prime Minister of Greece. Both of these people come from the New Democracy party (currently in opposition), and are considered emblematic figures of the center-right. Another name that circulated in the Greek press in the past few days is Marietta Giannakou, another (highly esteemed) member of the New Democracy party, who has served twice as Minister in a Greek cabinet, and was a MEP from 2009 to 2014. Out of the three, Giannakou is the less controversial choice, and the person with the biggest and most meaningful work legacy while in office. Nevertheless, given that she is facing some serious health problems at the moment, the chances are slim that she would be selected.

If you might wonder as to why the radical-left Syriza would nominate a center-right politician as the new PtD, no need to give it too much thought. It is standard practice for many years now in Greece for the party in power to nominate a seemingly un-harmful politician from the opposition as PtD, especially given the limited authority and leverage entailed with the ceremonial position. It is a clever tactic to show willingness to compromise in the spirit of democratic politics.

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will meet with the Eurozone finance ministers to continue the negotiations that went south in last week’s Eurogroup. Tsipras remains confident that a viable solution will be found and that the negotiations will result in a “win-win” situation for all relevant parties. While the foreign press has largely drawn attention to the thin thread upon which Greece is currently walking on (as well as the devastating repercussions that will follow for the rest of the Eurozone if that thread won’t be able to hold Greece’s weight), Syriza’s official announcements, as well as the majority of the Greek press, have been intentionally painting a very rosy picture of the negotiations. For instance, while the Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis was, by and large, isolated in last Thursday’s Eurogroup meeting in Brussels, Greek media (TV, newspapers and portals) turned him into a heroic figure that supposedly went into the meeting with confidence, held the country’s head high, and “stole the show.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that Thursday’s Eurogroup meeting did not go that well. In fact, it didn’t go well at all. Varoufakis gave his (typical by now) theoretical talk, using fancy words and grand ideas. There were no data, no charts, no numbers from the Greek side. This, of course, did not sit well with the rest of the Eurozone partners who want exact numbers, specific percentages, and clear-cut reform proposals. But more importantly, at the last minute, when everyone thought that there was an agreement on the common press statement typically released at the end of the meeting, Varoufakis broke the consensus and no statement was released. By that time, many Finance Ministers, such as Germany’s Wolfgang Schauble, had already left the building.

I hope that tomorrow’s meeting will be more fruitful. We have already started to see certain glimmers of realism from the Greek side, something that even the Germans seem to have noticed. Given the number of protests that are planned to happen around Europe today in support of Greece, there might be a good chance that Germany will be pressured to loosen its stance. But this is only going to happen if Greece arrives at the meeting with neither generalities nor Varoufakis’s game-theory gimmicks, but rather with serious proposals, concrete plans, and specific numbers.

Without further ado, here are the top reads on the Greek political economy for today: 

  1. Eurozone must not allow Greece to become another Lehman Brothers, by the Business Leader | The Guardian, Feb 15 2015
  2. Greek prime minister ‘full of confidence’ ahead of Eurogroup meeting, by Caroline Copley | Reuters, Feb 15 2015
  3. Greeks brim with pride as country totters on the edge, by Karolina Tagaris and Deepa Babington | Reuters, Feb 15 2015
  4. Geopolitics versus politics in Greek debt drama, by Paul Taylor | Reuters, Feb 15 2015
  5. Greek exit from eurozone would be worst option, says bailout fund chief, by Andrea Thomas | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 15 2015
  6. Reforms, bloody reforms, by Frances Coppola | Coppola Comment, Feb 15 2015
  7. Eyes of the world on Greece, by Mike Peacock | Reuters, Feb 15 2015
  8. Greece’s Excess Burden, by Paul Krugman | The New York Times (Krugman’s Blog), Feb 15 2015
  9. SDOE to receive more power to go after tax evaders | Kathimerini, Feb 15 2015
  10. Greece and the euro: Hitting the ground running—backwards | The Economist, Feb 14 2015
  11. Greece faces  the cold stare of its creditor countries, by Arthur Beesley | The Irish Times, Feb 14 2015

 

Image Source: Ilias Makris (Kathimerini)

GR Political Economy Digest #14

  1. Greek finance minister says deal with EU will be done, ‘even at eleventh hour’, by Angeliki Koutantou and Karolina Tagaris | Reuters, Feb 14 2015
  2. EU states in unforgiving mood on Greece | The Irish Times, Feb 14 2015
  3. Deepening Ties Between Greece and Russia Sow Concerns in West, by James Marson | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 13 2015
  4. Reforming Greek Reform, by Dani Rodrik | Project Syndicate, Feb 13 2015
  5. White House warns Europe on Greek showdown, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard | The Telegraph, Feb 13 2015
  6. The agony of Greece, by the Data Team | The Economist (Daily Chart), Feb 13 2015
  7. Yanis Varoufakis: ‘If I weren’t scared, I’d be dangerous’, by Helena Smith | The Guardian, Feb 13 2015
  8. Greece and Europe: No bail-out, no deal | The Economist, Feb 13 2015
  9. Greek Debt Standoff Awaits a Decisive Move, by Landon Thomas Jr. and Jack Ewing | The New York Times (Dealbook), Feb 12 2015
  10. Everybody be cool, by Yiannis Mouzakis | Macropolis, Feb 12 2015

GR Political Economy Digest #13

TRALALA

The Greek government is called to make some major decisions in terms of its economic program in the next few weeks. There is very little time available to Alexis Tsipras’s coalition, not much leeway, and yet too much to do. Although both the Greek Prime Minister and his Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, have softened their tone with their international counterparts, the negotiations are far from over yet. The month of February will be decisive for the future of the Greek economy, but also for the longevity of Tsipras’s shaky coalition. Whoever thought that the most difficult times are past us is in for a newsflash. February will not be a sprint, but a marathon.

Here are the top articles you need to read today on the Greek political economy:

  1. “I’m the finance minister of a bankrupt country”, Interview with Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis| Zeit Online, Feb 4 2015
  2. Greece has started debt-swap talks with IMF, minister tells paper | Reuters, Feb 4 2015
  3. Greece leaders hold key talks with ECB and EU chiefs | BBC News, Feb 4 2015
  4. It’s not just Greece and Spain that need their debt restructuring, by Jonathan Glennie | The Guardian, Feb 4 2015
  5. Greece is facing three massive tests of its debt plans today, by Mike Bird | Business Insider, Feb 4 2015
  6. Crunch time: Greece takes pleas to a hostile Europe, by Holly Ellyatt | CNBC, Feb 4 2015
  7. Not so strange bedfellows: making sense of the coalition between Syriza and the Independent Greeks, by Takis Pappas | Open Democracy, Feb 3 2015
  8. For Greece, GDP-linked debt may be more curiosity than cure, by Greg Ip | The Wall Street Journal (Real Time Economics Blog), Feb 3 2015
  9. Eurozone Should Give Greek Leader Some Time to Reach Compromise, by Hugo Dixon | The New York Times, Feb 3 2015
  10. Spain keeps hawkish eye on Greece as southern solidarity crumbles, by Tobias Buck | The Financial Times, Feb 3 2015
  11. Tsipras’ Greek balancing act begins, by Harris Mylonas and Akis Georgakellos | The Washington Post, Feb 3 2015
  12. A Greek Morality Tale, by Nobel Prize Winner Joseph E. Stiglitz | Project Syndicate, Feb 3 2015
  13. Greece’s rock-star finance minister Yanis Varoufakis defies ECB’s drachma threats, by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard | The Telegraph, Feb 3 2015
  14. Five questions about the ECB’s complicated relationship with Greece, by Brian Blackstone | The Wall Street Journal, Feb 2 2015