Does Tsakalotos have what it takes to follow through with the Greek bailout?

Andrew Williams - New Writer

Euclid Tsakalotos | Image credits: Sinn Féin

Euclid Tsakalotos has been the Greek Minister of Finance since the 6th July, when his predecessor Yanis Varoufakis resigned in light of the government’s decision to not follow through with the decision returned in the 2015 referendum. Despite a brief one month interim period when Vassiliki Thanou’s caretaker government presided, Tsakalotos’s position has been relatively unquestioned. In the first few months of the Syriza government, from January to July, Tsakalotos served as the Alternate Minister of International Economic Affairs. Officially part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his position meant he effectively ended up as Varoufakis’s deputy, especially after he became the head of the Greek negotiating team in April. Before that, during the two and a half years of opposition, Tsakalotos was Syriza’s shadow finance minister, although no formal shadow cabinet structure exists in Greece as it does in the UK and other parliamentary systems.

As Minister of Finance, Tsakalotos has presided over the much-maligned third Greek bailout package from the Eurozone. So maligned, in fact, that it caused 25 Syriza MPs to break away from their party to form a new one, Popular Unity. The package contained a number of reforms that would really have ground the gears of some of the more left-wing members of Syriza: scrapping price controls for medicines, an ominous “overhaul” of social welfare to achieve annual savings of 0.5% of GDP, a relaunch of privatisation, deregulation of the natural gas market. The list goes on, literally. The bailout is a three year scheme, lasting until 2018, and it total is worth €86 billion (or £60 billion). As The Guardian pointed out, Tsakalotos would have been “cream-crackered” when the deal was agreed. He had spent the night before debating in the Greek Parliament, and immediately flew from Athens to Brussels for the Eurogroup meeting that sealed the deal. Nevertheless, he offered some caged words to reporters following the Eurogroup meeting:

“It takes Greece forward in the sense that the financial system should be much more stable from now onwards.”

Hardly very embracing of the agreement that he had spent weeks fighting for. But after all, he was tired. Tsakalotos was born in Amsterdam, and at the age of five moved with his family to the UK. He had a privileged education, attending St Paul’s School in London, later attended by George Osborne. His family was wealthy — his family owned a large estate in Greece that Tsakalotos later inherited. He went to Oxford University for his degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, the same degree taken by so many of the British establishment. So far, his background looks like the typical upper-class establishment figure. But at Oxford, he became an admirer of Andrew Glyn and Gerald Cohen, both prominent Marxists. He took part too in protests against Margaret Thatcher’s government. He went to Surrey for his Master’s degree, before returning to Oxford for his doctorate, working under the guidance of noted Polish Communist, Włodzimierz Brus. Now Dr Tsakalotos. he decided to go into academia. He taught at the University of Kent from 1989 to 1993, where he met his to-be wife, Heather Gibson, a Scottish economist. He went on from Kent to the Athens University of Economics and Business, and from there in 2010 he became a Professor of Economics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, commonly known as just the University of Athens. As a lecturer, he had been a prominent member of the Hellenic Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (POSDEP), and had led his students in protest against education reform in the mid-2000s.

He had also taken a significant role in Greek politics. Moving to Greece with his wife in the 1990s, Tsakalotos had become a member of Synaspismos, eventually rising to membership of the Central Committee and Political Secretariat. He continued his role into the formation of Syriza, where he was heavily involved in the economics side, being described as the “brains behind Syriza’s economic policy”. It was the May 2012 election that saw him elected as an MP, saw his re-election in both June 2012 and January 2015. His rise, whilst being originally sidelined by Varoufakis, was notable. But does this career path sound like the kind of man who would relish the implementation of a bailout agreement that scuppered all his work for Syriza, and not only that but fundamentally went against his beliefs, his economics, and the beliefs of most people he knew? Evidence has been forthcoming that Tsakalotos is slowly becoming more and more disenfranchised with his job, and the Syriza leadership. In the debate on 14th August 2015 on accepting the third bailout package, Tsakalotos was frank enough to describe it as “a very tough agreement with many thorns”. During the election campaign for the September snap election that was subsequently called by Alexis Tsipras, party leader and prime minister, it was widely reported that Tsakalotos was reluctant to stand for re-election as an MP. Indeed, one anonymous source explained to Reuters at the time that “What we’re examining now and what is at stake is the balance Syriza needs to strike between its traditional left values and managing the burden of the bailout.” Not only this, but Tsakalotos has a greater role within Syriza, as the head of a left-wing faction called the Group of 53. The 53 used to stand ideologically between the Left Platform and Tsipras’s core backers, known sometimes as Platform 2010, and included not only Tsakalotos but former party spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis, who was removed from his role in a 17th July reshuffle, and Tassos Koronakis, the former secretary of the Central Committee who resigned in protest against the September snap elections. But after the Left Platform effectively split from Syriza to form Popular Unity, that leaves the 53 as the faction that is likely to offer the most internal resistance to Tsipras and the Eurozone. It does not help when the man assigned to implement the bailout is also likely to be chief amongst those resisting it. So, in answer to the original question, perhaps. So far, he has. Syriza are ready to stay in power for a long time, maybe even several years now, but the question remains to be seen as to whether Tsakalotos is ready to stay with them. Less volatile than his predecessor, Varoufakis, it may well be the case that Tsakalotos is the best bet Tsipras has for a stable man in finance that he can trust. Perhaps Tsakalotos, who is often described as a tactful negotiator, will next come to blows with the Eurogroup themselves, as he is full of fire when talking about debt relief: “… debate on debt is absolutely crucial… It is critical that the can isn’t kicked down the road.” Perhaps one day he will wake up and find himself unable to reconcile with his position, one that goes against all he believes to be. Only time will tell, as I’m sure the New Year will be bringing new crises for the Hellenic Republic.

About Andrew Williams 1 Article
Born in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, Andrew is currently a student in Cheshire. Interested in politics, Andrew has previously written for Filibuster, as well as the Yorkshire Times. Follow Andrew on Twitter @thebigwilliams