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[Newsmaker] Greece’s discreet new finance minister

ATHENS Greece’s new finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos is as discreet and tight-lipped as his predecessor Yanis Varoufakis was flamboyant and confrontational.
Tsakalotos, a 55-year-old leftist economist who had been a pointman in Greece’s bailout talks, was named as Varoufakis’ replacement hours after his resignation on Monday.

He is far less likely to irritate Athens’ exasperated creditors.

Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s finance minister, addresses journalists during a handover ceremony in Athens, Greece, Monday. Bloomberg
Euclid Tsakalotos, Greece’s finance minister, addresses journalists during a handover ceremony in Athens, Greece, Monday. Bloomberg

The Dutch-born, Oxford-educated economics professor and junior foreign minister had already taken over as the main negotiator in the bailout talks in April after it became clear Varoufakis was badly ruffling feathers and creating bad blood.

“It was a necessary step,” a European source told AFP, explaining how relieved European officials were to see Tsakalotos at the table.

“The climate with Varoufakis was so poisoned that it was impossible to move forward,” said an Athens-based economist, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Tsakalotos has a more low-key profile. At this stage it will be a considerable improvement.”

Nonetheless, Tsakalotos is not seen as a pushover by any means. He shares some points of view with Varoufakis, even if he expressed them less virulently.

Greece’s creditors “did not appear prepared to compromise” and seemed bent on imposing “unrealistic” demands, Tsakalotos told the French newspaper Liberation last month in a rare interview.

“Our interlocutors each time insist on pension cuts. It’s unrealistic (to ask for that) in a country where pensions have been considerably reduced over the past five years, and where two in three pensioners live under the poverty line,” he said.

Tsakalotos has insisted that the Syriza government is “fundamentally pro-Europe.”

“We want an agreement for a viable economic program inside the euro,” he said.

Born in Rotterdam, the married father-of-three taught economics at Kent University in Britain between 1990 and 1993 before relocating to Athens.

He was subsequently based at the Athens University of Economics from 1994 to 2010 before moving to the capital’s National University.

He was first elected to parliament with the hard-left Syriza party in 2012, and re-elected in January when they came to power.

Tsakalotos has six books to his name, the latest titled “No Return: Capitalist Crises, Social Needs, Socialism.”

Tsakalotos will have his job cut out for him in his new role in the finance ministry.

His immediate priority must be to try to get the European Central Bank to provide an emergency injection of euros before Greece’s banks run dry ― something many feared could happen within days, despite more than a week of capital controls.

Then, if the eurozone’s political leaders agree to give Greece another shot at negotiating a bailout, he will have to resume talks on the issue, aiming for better success than Varoufakis or Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras achieved.

Finally, if Greece can somehow convince its creditors to discuss a restructuring of Greece’s massive debt ― against steep German opposition ― he will have to push for Athens’s hopes of obtaining debt relief and a delayed payment program.

If those avenues prove blocked, Tsakalotos’s immensely unenviable task could be to work out a way to soften a “Grexit” ― a Greek exit from the euro ― despite Tsipras’s insistence that this would never happen.

Eurozone leaders are to hold an emergency summit on Tuesday.

Several of those taking part view Sunday’s momentous referendum in Greece, which delivered a decisive ‘No’ to further austerity measures in return for bailout funds, as an in-out decision on the country’s euro membership.

Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said Monday the result of the vote had brought Europe “no closer to a solution” to Athens’ financial situation.

“If anything, the fact that suggestions were turned down, makes it even more difficult,” he said. (AFP)
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