When Syriza came to power, it was no surprise for leaders in Brussels and Berlin that the new Greek government is trying to accumulate as many bargaining chips as possible.
While on the domestic front, Alexis Tsipras and his team, emphasized that they will stick to campaign promises – which is (call it whatever you want) a lower debt burden and consequently acquire more space for manoeuvring social programmes, such as raising the minimum wage, freezing privatizations, rehiring workers in the public sector and reducing costs for patients in public hospitals.
So far so fair
The suggested programmes may even find support at some groups of the EU parliament (though the EU parliament has little to say on the Euro crisis and the Troika in Greece). Indeed, the European Greens have been critical on the austerity measures, and so have been some other groups. But what is different are the means to oppose them. The main cleavages between the example of European Green and Syriza (and other left-wing parties) are the position on Russia. Perhaps this is one reason why Syriza is portrayed in such an extremist light, while the anti-austerity position is not uncommon among Europe legislators.
It’s politics, stupid.. (yes, I know this phrase is use way too often)
The real issue for Brussels may be the bargaining card Syriza is using – and that is what politics is about, like it or not. Presuming it was on purpose, Syriza made something that was rather annoying for Germany, puzzling for the European Union and attractive for Russia. On Jan. 26, his first day as prime minister, Tsipras did two notable things: He placed a rim at a war memorial honouring the Greek victims of Nazi occupation (and, of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but the symbolism is key, not the moral argument), and he received the Russian ambassador before meeting any other foreign official. Tsipras also appointed the leader of the Independent Greeks — a nationalist party that wants to develop closer ties with Russia — to the position of minister of defence. Though symbolic, these actions were part of a wider strategy. It is not symbolic though, when Syriza was about to block (or complained about) the new round of sanctions towards Russia, but latter agreed.
So, it’s a bargaining card, but can it reduce tensions between EU and Russia?
Greece has a strategic interest in keeping good ties with Russia (as many other states), one is to maintain a bargaining edge, but the other is that Greece is dependent on Russian natural gas and pricing is always a sensitive issue. Moreover, though an agreement between Athens and its EU lenders is the most likely scenario, failure to reach a deal could force Greece out of the Eurozone and if that is true, Greece would indeed be dependent on Russia.
Syriza’s game plan may see no alternative than to keep the relationship to Russia in good deeds, and whereas this is an issue for the Common Foreign Policy of the EU, but can not say for sure that it might not be even fruitful in the long-run, a discourse may even help the process. Let’s say it is still too early to call.
Meanwhile, Tsipras emphasizes that the negotiations with the EU are priority, but there are little doubts that the door is open. And the bargaining chip is here to stay, that’s for sure.