This blog is hosted on Ideas on EuropeIdeas on Europe Avatar


What David Cameron can learn from SYRIZA

It has been little over a week since its electoral victory and SYRIZA (Coalition of the Radical Left) has already begun to back down from some of its most radical positions. Prior to the election, SYRIZA claimed that they would negotiate the forgiveness of the better part of Greece’s debt. Now Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has told the Financial Times that the newly formed SYRIZA-led Greek government will ‘no longer call for a headline write-off of Greece’s €315bn foreign debt’.

Once his statements had been reported in the Greek press, Mr. Varoufakis tried to downplay the significance of this backtracking. He indicated that the ‘financial engineering’ that he had proposed (a ‘menu of debt swaps’ that will include two new types of bonds) will ensure that Greece’s debt will become ‘viable’. He did not deny, however, that the government has abandoned its goal of having the better part of the country’s debt forgiven.

SYRIZA has begun to back-pedal so soon after its electoral victory because its positions on this issue had disregarded one very important factor: European Union (EU) politics. When a national government wishes to re-negotiate the terms of any agreement in the EU, its chances of success depend primarily on two factors: 1) how the decision to change the terms of the agreement will be made and 2) what everyone involved wants. The decision to change the terms of Greece’s bailout programme and, by extension, the terms of its membership of the Eurozone will be made unanimously by the Heads of State and Government of Eurozone member-states. The European Commission’s Chief Spokesperson emphasised this requirement yesterday. When decisions are made unanimously and some of those involved prefer to keep things the way they are, those who prefer big changes are likely to be disappointed. In this case, the German government – among others – prefers to keep things the way they are. German Chancellor Angela Merkel made this clear when she said that she did not ‘not envisage fresh debt cancellation’ because ‘there has already been voluntary debt forgiveness by private creditors, banks have already slashed billions from Greece’s debt’. It remains unclear why SYRIZA has chosen to make this U-turn now. It was always clear, however, that the party’s chance of success were minimal.

Mr. Varoufakis statements are at least in some ways a positive development. They have reduced the uncertainty regarding the Greek government’s economic policy, which has already imposed significant costs on the Greek economy. They might also serve as a lesson for other national governments in the EU, who also prefer big changes to the terms of existing agreements. British Prime Minister David Cameron is the obvious candidate. Mr. Cameron has pledged to deliver a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU, once he has negotiated a ‘new settlement’ for Britain. For Mr. Cameron, a ‘qualified’ principle of free movement of persons will be an important element of this new settlement. In this case too, the German government prefers to keep things the way they are. It has indicated that the principle of free movement ‘should not be meddled with’. Given that any new settlement will require unanimous agreement among the national governments of EU member-states, Mr. Cameron is likely to be disappointed.

In the past, Mr. Cameron has pursued ineffective strategies, such as hopelessly opposing the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission because he did not feel that Mr. Juncker was the best person to ‘deliver reform’. If Mr. Cameron learns the lesson from the case of SYRIZA, he will pursue a different strategy. He will focus on proposing changes, which are more limited in scope than those that his grand ‘new settlement’ implies, but more likely to be conceded by those like Germany, who prefer to keep things the way they are.

Kyriakos Moumoutzis is a Lecturer in European and International Politics at King’s College London.

Comments Off

Recent Articles

Is SYRIZA just another Greek party that does not know what to do?

Published on by | 1 Comment

Less than a week after SYRIZA’s (Coalition of the Radical Left) electoral victory, uncertainty regarding the newly formed Greek government’s economic policy has increased. In a statement emailed to Bloomberg News, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said: ‘we need time to breathe and create our own medium-term recovery programme’. Mr. Tsipras’ statement followed his Finance […]

A Quiet Success? The EU-China Partnership in Practice

Published on by | 2 Comments

How are Sino-European relations doing today? “Rather well, since you ask.” This could have been President Xi Jinping’s reply to a hypothetical question he could have been asked during his recent visit to Brussels. For slightly over ten years since the launch of the EU-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, links between the two giants are wider […]

Why Mogherini’s Appointment as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Matters Little

Published on by | Comments Off

Last weekend, the European Council (the heads of state or government of European Union [EU] member states) appointed Italian foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, as the next High Representative (HR) of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The holder of this post is responsible for ‘conducting the EU’s foreign policy. As was the case […]

Why Juncker is not Cameron’s problem

Published on by | 2 Comments

by Kyriakos Moumoutzis Since the elections for the European Parliament in May, public debate on European Union (EU) politics has gradually become dominated by the so-called ‘Juncker question’: the issue of the appointment of the next President of the Commission and more specifically British Prime Minister David Cameron’s opposition to the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, […]

Why EU Citizens in Britain Miss-Out on their Right to Vote

Published on by | 3 Comments

The outcome of the European Parliament elections on May 22 will determine the composition of the European Parliament (EP) as an institution which has been given considerable powers to influence the EU’s future direction. But it is doubtful whether the novelty of parties’ nominating “candidates for Commission President” will contribute much to lifting voters turn-out […]

Point of View: Time for Europe’s Leaders to Talk Strategy

Published on by | Comments Off

By Ben Jones Last Wednesday Baroness Ashton, the EU High Representative, launched her report on the Common Security and Defence Policy. The paper is intended to inform a discussion that EU leaders will hold at their upcoming December European Council summit. While the eurosceptics will doubtless recoil at the EU’s having any role in such matters, […]

Subscribe to a fortnightly email featuring posts from Ideas on Europe hosted blogs

UACES and Ideas on Europe do not take responsibility for opinions expressed in articles on blogs hosted on Ideas on Europe. All opinions are those of the contributing authors.