Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why Varoufakis’ Job Was Impossible

As Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis has had two responsibilities.  First, Greece’s strategy hinged on a public relations effort directed at the citizenry of other eurozone countries, to convince them that austerity has functioned as a downward vortex in Europe, and that human decency requires a resumption of growth and social provision in Greece.  Realistically or not, Syriza has counted on grassroots political pressure to counter the orthodoxy of “the institutions”.  Varoufakis was the main public face of this campaign.

Second, as finance minister, Varoufakis was the point person in negotiations with peers from the other countries.  Diplomatic etiquette, again rightly or wrongly, requires a limited public presence and clubby, consensus-building behavior behind closed doors.  It’s clear that Varoufakis’ effectiveness in the second job was sacrificed to his devotion to the first, but it would have been just as bad—worse even—if he had sacrificed the first to the second.

The two jobs are so contradictory in their demands that it makes sense to divide them between two people.  Varoufakis’ knowledge of economics and intense absorption in it is a benefit to his public role but gets in the way of being the kind of negotiating partner the creditors are looking for.  Let Varoufakis bike around Europe drumming up support for Greece, and have a publicity-shy technician parse the negotiating texts.

Of course, rearranging the personalities on the negotiating team can only go so far.  If the creditors are unwilling to bend on pensions, for instance, and neither is Syriza, even the chummiest personal relations between the parties is not going to be enough.

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