By Georgios X. Protopapas
The view from Athens
The negotiations between the Greek government and Greece’s European creditors have become unpredictable, while the Greek economy remains stagnant and the state desperately needs cash to avoid default. Athens has two choices: to make compromises in order to receive bailout funds or to decide a rupture with Brussels.
In addition, the government in Athens is playing the “card” of Russia as an alternative to European pressures and as part of a new, multi-level foreign policy. The Greek Energy Minister, Panagiotis Lafazanis, recently returned from Moscow and the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, is going to visit Moscow on 8 April.
Mr. Tsipras seems unable to control his party, SYRIZA, especially the far-left faction “Left Platform” (led by Lafazanis), which reacts to any compromise and rejects privatizing state assets. However, the Greek negotiating team must produce very soon a list of reforms (including privatizations) for Greece to receive bailout funds from its creditors.
The government in Athens seems to be playing a communications “game” using the will of the people in its negotiations with Brussels. This communications strategy aims to exert pressure on Brussels decision-making centers to make concessions based on the fact that Greek citizens have rejected the austerity policies. The government invokes the national pride against the austerity policies of the Eurogroup attempting to shift the burden of the decision to the Greek citizens. A possible scenario foresees a referendum with “Euro YES” – “Euro NO” options, or snap elections. According to recent polls, the main government party, SYRIZA, has the support of 41.9% of the respondents and the main opposition party, New Democracy, of only 18.4%. However, the government should not ignore that the majority of Greek citizens want the country to stay in Eurozone. The polls show that 84.6% of the respondents want the Euro and only 13.8% of them favour a return to the Drachma.
SYRIZA won in the 25 January 2015 snap elections using a populist agenda and criticizing German austerity policies. The SYRIZA government continues to fiercely criticize the former governmental coalition New Democracy – PASOK for the austerity policies. At the same time Greece’s financial situation has significantly deteriorated. The uncertainty about the bailout has spurred a spike in bank withdrawals and tax revenues have dropped.
The government in Athens insists that the list of reforms that it will submit to the Eurogroup will not include “recessionary” measures, such as cuts to salaries and pensions. Some ministers do not exclude the possibility of a break-up with the European creditors. The Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, mused publicly about the possibility of a “rupture.” Furthermore, the Greek Alternate Minister for International Economic Relations, Euclides Tsakalotos, said that if negotiations don’t go well the government is prepared for a “rupture” with its partners.
Merkel – Tsipras meeting
The 23 March meeting between Prime Minister Tsipras and Chancellor Merkel in Berlin was characterized by goodwill but also confirmed the differences on Greece’s debt negotiations. The meeting dominated Internet traffic in Greece and attracted a huge amount of comments from social media. According to our analysis, on the basis of the quantitative and qualitative data produced by Palo Professional, Alexis Tsipras got 41908 mentions (Sites 4343, Blogs 2300, Opinions76, Facebook 2712, Twitter 32396, Youtube 81) in the period 19 to 23 March 2015. Angela Merkel recorded 24124 mentions (Sites 2759, Blogs 1442, Opinions 36, Facebook 1422, Twitter 18409, Youtube 55, Forums 1) for the same period.
Interestingly, the sentiments expressed by Greeks on the Internet were negative for both Alexis Tsipras and Angela Merkel. In particular, Tsipras recorded 13906 negatives sentiments against 11242 positive ones, and Merkel gathered 5962 negatives sentiments against 3457 positive. According to Palo Professional Greek internet users received with caution the result of the meeting between Tsipras and Merkel, as they know that it is the Eurogroup that decides about the Greek debt.
Multi-level foreign policy
The Greek government is pursuing a multi-level foreign policy, making openings to China and especially Russia. Athens uses the revival of Greek-Russian relations as a negotiations tool, to demonstrate to Brussels that Greece could abandon the European Union as Russia could offer it financial aid.
Energy Minister Lafazanis met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Alexander Novak, and with Alexei Miller, the Chief Executive of energy giant Gazprom. Lafazanis said Greece wants to upgrade its energy relations with Russia and supports the extension of the “Turkish Stream” gas pipeline to the Greek-Turkish borders.
The visit of Panagiotis Lafazanis and his statements for Greek-Russian energy relations provoked reactions on the Internet. According to the Palo Professional data, during the period from 28 to 31 March 2015, Russia collected a total of 3885 mentions (Sites 894, Blogs 613, Opinions 20, Facebook 272, Twitter 2080, YouTube 5, Forums 1) and Panagiotis Lafazanis collected totally 3425 mentions (Sites 449, Blogs 281, Opinions 13, Facebook 169, Twitter 2507, YouTube 6).
The data also shows that the sentiment of the social media, blogs and new media were negative towards Panagiotis Lafazanis and Russia. Lafazanis recorded 1110 negative sentiments against 982 positive ones, and Russia gathered 948 negatives sentiments against 924 positive. In parallel the most widespread topic in the Greek Internet (based on the data of Palo Professional tool “Top 10 Topics”) was Panayiotis Lafazanis’ statement that “the only way for Greece to end its crisis is through confrontation, if not conflict, with a ‘Germanized Europe’”.
The quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data concludes that Greek Internet users feel cautious towards the revival of Greece-Russia relations. They realize that the turn of Athens to Russia could push away Greece from the European Union. Furthermore, Lafazanis’ statements cause concern to the Greek Internet users, as they give an impression that he favours a rupture with European Union and a turn to Russia. Moreover, Greek Internet users seem to reject the term “Germanized Europe”.
The government in Athens has to realize that the Greek economy needs decisions based on a realistic agenda. Brussels and the Eurogroup demand a list of reforms with respective costs and benefits. The Geek foreign policy, which advertises the revival of the Greece–Russia relations, must take into consideration the antagonism between the USA and Russia because of the Ukrainian crisis. The two global powers seems to favour “Cold War” strategies in order to promote their national interests in Southeastern Europe, but Greece does not need to play along with that.