Pure necessity could turn Alexis Tsipras Greece's liberal prime minister-elect, into an unexpected reformer willing to go against client politics.
BERLIN — Despite all the warnings from Europe, the Greeks voted for the leader they felt was right. Whether or not Brussels and Berlin like it, the next prime minister of Greece will be Alexis Tsipras, but does his Syriza party victory really seal the downfall of the European West, or at least the Eurozone?
There are a whole series of reasons why, in the end, Tsipras may not be the worst person to put Greece on the right path. Of course, his campaign promises — to reject the austerity program and create debt relief — are dangerous, not just for Greece itself but for the whole currency union. But not even Greek voters believe that Tsipras will antagonize international creditors.
What could turn him into an unexpected reformer is pure necessity. Populist Tsipras is going to have to present some unpleasant truths to voters, too many of whom aren't facing facts. Most importantly, Greece is broke, and if no alternative lenders can be found, Tsipras will have no other choice than to turn to the Troika (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund). Athens is faced with bankruptcy, and the Syriza boss knows that. So if common sense doesn't turn him into a pragmatist, the state of the Greek treasury will.
What Tsipras also has going for him is that his people trust him. Unlike the established parties in his country — and very much because of his sniping at Brussels and Berlin — he's not perceived as a puppet of foreign creditors. The 40-year-old promises to put an end to the Brussels diktat and see to it that the Greeks take their fate back into their own hands. That's a key right there because it makes clear what the Greek elections were all about: psychology. The wounded collective soul needed to be soothed. And the charismatic Tsipras stepped in to soothe.
Who but him could get the necessary reforms past all the resistance? The conservative government of Antonis Samaras misused its political capital. Despite all announced intentions, the public sector didn't shrink, and few inroads were made into stemming tax evasion.
Maybe what's needed is a leftist such as Tsipras from whom nobody is expecting a successful new start but who is paradoxically poised to bring one about. In Germany, for example, who would have thought that the Social Democrats under Gerhard Schröder would have rescued the jobs market and social policies with their Hartz IV program?
The Greeks saw no alternative to Syriza, and now they have to live with the consequences. Tsipras made the loudest promises about a new beginning for his country, and voters have officially tapped him to make it happen. In the future, all lamentations and blame formerly directed at Brussels will serve nothing. If Tsipras drags the Greeks down, they will have brought that misfortune on themselves.
Meanwhile, the left alliance now must show whether it dares to break with client politics.