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Op-Ed: Greek government revamps negotiating team

Varoufakis was unable to strike a deal at a recent meeting of the Eurogroup of finance ministers in Riga, Latvia. There was considerable criticism of his performance by some ministers. However, Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, voiced support for Varoufakis and said that he would supervise a new team negotiating with the institutions responsible for the loan. At the same time, Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, another economist more acceptable to creditors, and soft-spoken, has been appointed coordinator of the group. A Reuters’ article suggests this move pushes Varoufakis to the sidelines.

An article in the New York Times also suggests that although Varoufakis remains the leader of the negotiating team, that Tsakalotos would co-ordinate the day-to-day discussions of the group. Giorgos Houliarakis will lead the discussions at the technical level. He had already been involved in negotiations. Both Tsakalotos and Houliarakis are said to be closer to Tsipras than Varoufakis.

These moves are seen as an attempt by Tsipras to lessen tensions with creditors and create an atmosphere more conducive to a deal. There was even an interview with the new Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, with the German news source Spiegel Online who assured creditors that there was no possibility of a Grexit and who promised that loans would be paid back. However, other leaders including Varoufakis have also promised this continually. In spite of the fact that he is not from Syriza, the ruling coalition, but the conservative Nea Dimokratia party, his criticism of the austerity provisions of the loan echoed those of the ruling party. The international law professor supported Syriza objections to the creditors’ criticism of minimum wages and other labour rights, noting that Germany guaranteed its citizens a minimum standard of living: “Some of the measures imposed on us go beyond EU law. We want to be equal members of Europe.We are not asking for anything more than for the Greek people to enjoy what Germany’s Constitutional Court considers as an established social right for the German people.” He also claimed that parts of the austerity program demanded measures that would stunt Greece’s growth , making it even more difficult to pay its debt. According to a Guardian article insiders say that Varoufakis still has a lot of say in negotiations.

The new team appears to be using the same narrative as the old team and Varoufakis. So far the creditors have not been willing to yield at all to any anti-austerity demands. Cosmetic changes of this sort and a change in tone are hardly likely to produce a deal. Perhaps it is the other side that needs a change in tone and in players. While Varoufakis has been abrasive, the other side is adamant that it will continue to impose austerity conditions that it must know the Greek government cannot accept. So unyielding have the creditors been, that analysts are beginning to speculate that the aim is to destroy the Syriza government and produce regime change or alternatively force Greece out of the eurozone.

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