Alexis Tsipras, leader of the parliamentary opposition in Greece, settled in first page of the current European politics, on which he shed abundant dose of combative rhetoric.
In October 2012, after the German Der Spiegel awarded him second place in a list of the “ten most dangerous politicians in Europe” (behind the Bavarian Finance Minister Markus Söder and ahead of known right populists and nationalists leaders such as Silvio Berlusconi, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders and Viktor Orbn). Tsipras wrote an article in the British newspaper The Guardian by the explicit title “The Greek message for Angela Merkel”.
In his article, published on the eve of Merkel’s visit to Athens, the author made a catastrophic balance of the “dogmatic” austerity therapy imposed on Greece, attacking “the vicious spiral of recession and debt” and “the policies of fear and blackmailing” and proclaimed the need for a “new plan to deepen European integration”.
“Such plan”, according to Tsipras “must challenge neoliberalism and lead European economies back to recovery. It should prioritise the needs of workers, pensioners and the unemployed, not the interests of multinational companies and bankrupt bankers. (…) it is the only plan that can re-establish the European vision of social justice, peace and solidarity. This plan will succeed only if popular struggles radically change the balance of forces. Those struggles have started already and have led to the rise of left and resistance movements through Europe. They keep alive democracy, equality, freedom and solidarity, the most important values of the European political tradition. These values must prevail” sentenced Tsipras.
In November and December, in separate interviews for Die Zeit and The Guardian, the Greek opposition leader declared himself ready to rule his country, where social protest against successive austerity packages were even tougher, presenting his party before the European powers as “a more reliable and credible partner” than Samaras and as “the great hope of change”.
Furthermore, he also reiterated his proposals to negotiate the cancellation of national debts, calling a “European conference on debt” and the inclusion of a “growth clause” in the financial assistance program.
In January 2013, he spoke to a select academic and political audience at a conference in Washington at the invitation of the prestigious think tank Brookings Institution. The same month, he contrasted his views with the influential German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in a tête-à-tête discussion on the state of the Greek crisis held behind closed doors in Berlin. In March, he gave a speech at the London School of Economics (LSE). And in May he stopped in Madrid in his campaign to forge a “common front” against the Troika.
He combined his international trips with his political obligations at home. From 10th to 14th of July 2013, he organised in Athens the founding Congress of Syriza as a unitary party with him as president. He received 74% of the votes from the delegates. The conference gave a majority of votes, 67,6%, to the official presentation of the mainstream United List; however, the main minority current, Left Platform, led by Deputy Panaiotis Lafazanis who advocates leaving the Eurozone, put 60 representatives in the new Central Committee of 210 members. In any case, the first congress of Syriza meant the formal dissolution of the old Synaspismos.
The 18th October 2013, the leaders of the European Left Party, met in Madrid and agreed that Tsipras would be their candidate to the Presidency of the Commission. The European Left Party has 19 seats in the European United Left – Nordic Green Left group. The ELP president Pierre Laurent, leader of the French Communist Party put in place the necessary mechanisms to formalize the candidacy of his Greek colleague.
The candidacy was to be acclaimed in December at the Fourth Congress of the PIE, but before that, Tsipras tested Samaras government’s stability, which had ministers from ND and PASOK but not from the DIMAR (who quit in protest to the public Greek radio and television shut down), launching a motion of censure. Had this been successful, it would have meant the end of the term and the celebration of early elections. He justified this move by arguing that it was necessary to stop “the path of the economic destruction” and “the collapse of democracy”.
The motion was voted in Vuli the 11th November and it did not succeed. Samaras reproached Tsipras that he had tried to overthrow him with the help of Nikolaos Michaloliakos’ neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn, who had been under arrest during two months along with several of lieutenants accused of a series of criminal charges. The abstention of the Social democrats was decisive for the motion’s failure.
Without nobody overshadowing him and considered the most successful and charismatic leader of the European Left Party, Tsipras was proclaimed the candidate of his party to the Presidency of the Commission in the IV Congress of the party held in Madrid between the 13th and 15th of December 2013. The 84,1% of the delegates voted in favour and he also re-elected for his post as vice-president of the European Left Party.
At a recent public event, Tsipras assured that SYRIZA was “one step away” from governing and that a “strong left” was needed at the European level to back him when “we make de decision of saying no to austerity and we present a viability plan”. The “process of change” has already started in Greece, and with European “solidarity”, such process could become the biggest political and social alliance of history.
Tsipras accepted to lead the European Left Party in elections deemed as a “historic opportunity” to make possible the change the left was demanding. However, his condition was not to be part of his party’s list to the European Parliament, as this could hinder his ambition to become Prime Minister of Greece. Unimaginable until 2012, that scenario seemed more feasible than ever in January 2014, as polls were giving SYRIZA between 29 and 32,3% of voting intention, several points above New Democracy, far from Golden Dawn and even farer from the crumbling PASOK.
Tsipras’ candidacy, was presented as “a mandate of hope and change” held on two policy documents. One was of strategic nature, designed to advance in “the refoundation of Europe” and guided by the principles of “democratic, social, and ecological reorganization” of the EU, shelving of austerity, a new paradigm of sustainable economy and a reform in the context of immigration.
The other intellectual contribution was a nine-point based program designed “to combat the crisis and support the growth of social justice and full employment”. These points were: the adoption of a New Deal for Europe; the expansion of credit to the SMEs; “defeat” of unemployment; “suspension” of the European Fiscal Pact; conversion of ECB into a “genuine” bank, that is to say, able of lending money to the states as a “last resort” and not only private banks; a reinterpretation of the “macroeconomic adjustment” in the sense of imposing obligations also to countries with superavit, in order to contribute with expansionary policies to alleviate the shortages of those countries who are in deficit; the legal separation between the activities of commercial bank and investment based banks; the effective prohibition of tax havens in the EU; and the convening of a European Conference on Debt that may regulate the conversion of the various national debts in a "socialized" European debt, through instruments such as the Eurobonds.
Alexis Tsipras has a stable non-marital relationship with Peristera Batziana, an electronic engineer whom he met in 1987 when both were classmates. The couple, both strongly attuned within the political arena, has two children.
(Update to May 2014)