The European Council will be the first proving ground
Thursday is the day he'll face all his European counterparts for the first time. How will Alexis Tsipras be received once he gets to Brussels to take part in his first European Council? The question is as legitimate as the answer is uncertain. Because at the moment of his Greek election day triumph, the new Hellenic head of government managed in two weeks to become the star, while a the same time the bête noire, of the European Left.
A more obvious symbol of this schizophrenia is without a doubt the rapport between Tsipras and Italian Council president Matteo Renzi, and thus the link between the same Tsipras and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group at the European Parliament. The most numerous national delegation within the European Socialist Party is in fact that of the Italians, thanks to the historic victory of the Democratic Party (PD) at last May's elections. A triumph on a continental scale that the PD probably believed it could repeat after Tsipras' success in Greece. "We've started to shelve the Troika as Junker was charged to do. We've started to debunk the taboo of the Greek debt. Renegotiating commitments means discussing terms and reimbursement modalities and not about having to adhere to contracted obligations, "exulted Gianni Pittella, president of the S&D group, the day after Syriza's victory. Meaning: “We and Tsipras are thinking in the same way and we're advancing the same battles.” Two weeks ago, this presumed consolidation of goals resulting from the sweet symphony of the electoral victory was such that Assistant Secretary to the President of the Council of Ministers Sandro Gozi was heard to declare, "the one capable of incarnating the will for change like Tsipras" in Italy "is named Matteo Renzi."
The details of the Syriza programme that may at first have escaped the notice of political leaders were soon evident, seeing as how in celebrating their victory they have found themselves side by side with PD activists, as well as those from the post-communist leftist SEL (Left Ecology and Freedom), from the 5 Stars Movement and even the Northern League, parties campaigning in Strasbourg respectively for the S&D group, the GUE, Nigel Farage's EFDD, and the non-aligned group.
From enthusiasm to sustained frostiness
It took exactly one week for Council president Matteo Renzi to change his mind. After his triumphal statements made seven days earlier, the Italian premier gave his counterpart Tsipras a rather frosty reception when he came to Rome, reminding him that “Italy will cheer and gives its own support” to Greece, but that international rules must also be respected. The meeting concluded with a friendly press conference during which Renzi gave the Syriza leader the official necktie of Italy's six month term as president of the European Council of Ministers, receiving a cd of traditional Greek songs in return.
On that occasion, Tsipras was all smiles exchanging gifts with his Italian colleague. Who knows if his reaction was the same two days later, when the same Renzi declared his judgement that the European Central Bank (ECB)'s decision to no longer accept Greek State securities as guarantees for loans granted to Hellenic banks was "legitimate and opportune." The same words were echoed a day later by Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, who defined the ECB move as "opportune and necessary in the legal framework to be respected."
It's legitimate to ask how many heads of state will openly support Alexis Tsipras at Thurday's European Council, a summit destined to be very delicate given that discussions will include euro governance, the economic union, the budgetary union and the political union. Is a star of the European Left capable of uniting the Mediterranean's various shores really being born? We'll have the answer in just a few days. But if Alexis Tsipras' greatest supporter in Europe was to have been Matteo Renzi, we might soon be seeing the Greek cyclone transformed into a weak sea breeze.