MUNICH — It's understandable that Alexis Tsipras wants to savor the revolutionary frenzy a little while longer after his impressive electoral victory in Greece.
But in his exuberance, the new prime minister seems to want to pull not only his own country into a subversive undertow, but carry all of Europe with it. His tone can be seen as alienating, brazen. But the real cause for worry is the way Tsipras seems to envision the political future of the European Union.
It has become clear in just three days that the new Greek government sees the EU as a hand-to-hand combatant in a fight in which there are only winners and losers with nobody prepared to compromise. There are no prisoners taken, and the enemy is always the other. National resentments are aired openly during interviews. The favored style is the public snub, while rhetoric is belted out in which victim and perpetrator roles are clearly defined.
It is a pattern that looks to be fixed for the near future. Tsipras doesn't see the EU as a highly complex system for balancing interests. The EU and its members, instead, are his opponents. And because Tsipras also awakens and encourages populist feelings in other EU countries, he is contributing to an erosion of reason and common sense across the continent. Should this style start to make significant inroads outside Greece, then the deeper problem isn't Athens' debt, but Tsipras' anger.
The Russian case
He's just offered proof of this in aligning with Russia on the subject of EU sanctions against Moscow for its incursion in Ukraine. Along with Greece, other EU countries have been looking at the situation disintegrating in Ukraine, and wondered if the current sanctions aren't tough enough. Some even support sending weapons to Ukraine. An open debate has ensued, but in the end, there was a joint EU policy, which is ultimately an example of the strength of the European Union. If this unity is destroyed, then Tsipras is giving the Kremlin and others much-longed-for proof of Europe's weakness.
With his incendiary words, Tsipras and his squad of populists have the power to undermine the EU. There are easily excitable populations in other countries. Not without reason do the placating words of the European Commission or German federal government always carry a warning to Tsipras: Don't overdo it.
The European Union is a rule-of-law community that exists with an acknowledged agreement that no partner burdens another with unacceptable conditions. Tsipras owes his success to the feeling of many Greeks that just such an unacceptable situation has been imposed on them. The majority in the EU don't see it that way.
So this leaves the new prime minister with a choice: Either he creates a bridge between the two worlds — or he prepares for a perilous showdown.