Greece’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, is just the latest proof that there’s no beating the media appeal of a leftist with a bit of style (Ernesto Guevara knew what he was doing), but his visit to Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble on Thursday didn’t work out so well.
I’m no great admirer of Schäuble. He’s a tough, smart politician, but he tends to put the interests of Brussels before those of Berlin. On this occasion, however, Schäuble clearly sees Varoufakis as a threat to both, and the latter’s crass reference to Germany’s Nazi past just made things worse.
The BBC reported (note the excited, admiring tone):
Within a fortnight as Greece’s finance minister, he has rocked up to the UK’s Downing Street in a leather trench coat and electric blue shirt, redefined icy body language with the Dutch finance minister and now, on his first visit to Berlin, talked openly about an issue that many seasoned politicians would shy away from.
“Germany must be proud of the fact that Nazism has been eradicated here,” he said in a press conference with his German counterpart.
In a TV interview the night before, he brought up the economic depression in Weimar Germany that brought Adolf Hitler to power.
That was a none too subtle reference to the success of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, which came third in the recent election. Oddly, Varoufakis did not choose to say anything about his own party’s coalition partners, the Independent Greeks (ANEL), whose leader (Greece’s new defense minister) recently complained that Greece’s Jewish community did not appear to be paying its fair share of taxes.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble gave his Greek counterpart a very cold reception in Berlin yesterday. But what he said on German TV later in the evening is what should really make SYRIZA nervous. . . .
Despite SYRIZA heralding the end of Troika in Greece, Schäuble quite bluntly said: “Of course they will have to work with the three institutions [EU/ECB/IMF]. They don’t like the word ‘Troika’ – fine. But the conditionality of the programme can only be fulfilled with the three institutions. Without [the Troika] there is no programme [for Greece].”
“I would not put it to the German Bundestag [to vote] to change the conditions of the Greek programme, because I consider it to be wrong…We have been generous above and beyond with Greece. What would the other countries say – to whom we gave tighter, stricter conditions? It’s not possible.”
And then there was this (my emphasis added)
Schäuble made clear that while he respects SYRIZA’s democratic mandate, it does not mean they trump the wishes of other Eurozone voters, who are liable for the vast-share of Greek debt. “I told [Varoufakis] that we have great respect for the Greek voters’ will. But my respect for the will of the German voters and the will of voters in other European countries is just as great…It’s not as simple as [Greece] just saying, ‘Yes – we are following the will of the voters. We need more money’.”
Well said, if he means it.