Greek Opposition Leader Seeks Conference on Debt
Published: January 25, 2013
The opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras, whose criticism of international bailouts propelled his party, Syriza, to win the second biggest bloc of parliamentary seats in the June 2012 elections, also said he did not believe Greece would be forced to withdraw from the group of 17 countries that use the euro currency. Greece’s heavy indebtedness has raised fears that the country could leave or be expelled from the euro zone, a possibility that many economists regard as a threat to the euro’s survival.
“They say I am the most dangerous man in Europe,” Mr. Tsipras said in an interview with the editorial board of The New York Times. “What I feel is dangerous is the policy of austerity in Europe. The Greek people have paid a heavy price.”
Mr. Tsipras was in New York as part of a trip to the United States that has included meetings in Washington with the International Monetary Fund and the Treasury Department. The trip is part of a campaign intended to bolster his credibility as a politician and to counter what his aides call the fictional portrayals of him as a financial bomb-thrower in Greece’s mainstream news media, controlled by the so-called oligarch families of privilege in the country who fear Syriza’s ascent to power.
Given the fragility of the conservative-led coalition that took over after the June elections, any no-confidence vote in Parliament could lead to new elections that give Mr. Tsipras the latitude to form a government. Recent polls put Syriza’s popularity at nearly 30 percent, about the same as the current coalition leader, the conservative New Democracy party.
This month Mr. Tsipras also visited Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, which has been the driving force behind the insistence that Greece must endure sacrifices and impose fiscal discipline in exchange for help on its debt burden. Mr. Tsipras has argued that the strategy has not only been an expensive failure but has also increased Greece’s indebtedness relative to the size of its economy, where joblessness and cuts in wages and benefits have stoked widespread anger.
After six years of recession in Greece, he said, “we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis.”
The symptoms were on display this week in Athens, where striking subway workers, outraged over pay cuts, paralyzed a transit system that carries one million riders a day. The government on Friday used an emergency decree to halt the strike.
Mr. Tsipras said he would like to see a summit meeting that would result in an end to the austerity approach, which he said is needed to restart growth and avert a deeper economic malaise.
“We are suggesting an overall plan for a European solution,” he said. “A European conference on debt that would include all of the countries of the region facing a significant debt issue.”
He drew an analogy to the London Debt Agreement of 1953, in which postwar Germany’s debt was cut by 50 percent and the repayment spread over 30 years.
Mr. Tsipras said the German government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, has held the possibility of expulsion from the euro zone over Greece as leverage for enforcing its austerity solution, but that in his view neither Germany nor its supporters want to see Greece exit the euro.
“The constant threats, that they will kick us out of the euro zone, is a strategy with no foundation,” he said. “It’s just a way to blackmail us.”