After an unproductive meeting Schauble looks old and befuddled, but also like someone who simply doesn’t believe in giving money for free. He is backed by the vast majority of Germans. My personal favourite was his repeat of the offer to send 500 German tax collectors to Athens.
The most important thing is to see things as they are, not how they look. Charmers are far more dangerous than awkward bumblers, and the best opportunities are rarely the sharpest dressed.
Tsipras, the cool new Greek PM, and his sexy bald Finance minister, Varoufakis, are cases in point.
Varoufakis made Osborne look like the toff he is by rocking up to Downing street like a dad who likes 70s rock music. The meeting went well.
However, the UK was just a warm-up. Varoufakis then turned up to meet officials from the ECB.
Syriza (the party of Varoufakis and Tsipras) have done excellent work in building their negotiating position. Tsipras’s fiery history of fierce rhetoric gives him ample space to be more reasonable than expected, while leaving little doubt on his mandate to push hard.
Greece actually has more negotiating power than the ridiculous, punitive, 90s-crisis style ‘bail-out’ suggests. It’s clear a completely new approach is the best thing for Greece and (a little more contentiously) for their Eurozone partners.
The ECB responded to all this as expected, by beating their own chest. They are now refusing Greek banks access to ECB funding – which sounds worse than it is, given that the banks’ continued access to slightly more expensive, but available, ELA funding.Unfortunately Varoufakis sartorial choices are more consequential here than in London.
The Eurozone officials should focus on Syriza’s sensible and reasonable policies, rather than the left wing radicalism perception. But on this case, I’ll side with ze Germans. There is no point provoking people. With German opinion so one-sided, perhaps Varoufakis should have left the politics at home, and worn something a little more neutral.
There will be plenty of time for him to look daringly fashionable, and many more opportunities to poke fun at the European Establishment. This perhaps was not one of them.
Supportive editorials by publications like Der Spiegel show many are behind Syriza’s economics. But the young Greek upstarts need to give the elected officials of the North as much popular breathing space as possible. It’s one thing to show up the former Greek government as boring and lame in a fair democratic fight. It’s quite another to pull the same stunt on the Eurocrats that will decide Greece and Syriza’s fate.
Varoufakis is already a hero in Greece and to many in bystander nations like the UK. The real challenge will be to win over public opinion in Deustchland.