Varoufakis and Schaeuble: No love lost

By Mark Lowen
BBC News, Athens

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image copyrightAFP
image captionYanis Varoufakis, left, has a distinctive style of negotiation that differs from Wolfgang Schaeuble

One is a leftist former economics professor, an expert in game theory who wears his untucked shirts and leather trench coats with pride. The other is a conservative former tax officer with a long political pedigree and a firm belief in austerity.

From their appearance to their policies, Yanis Varoufakis and Wolfgang Schaeuble aren't exactly a match made in heaven.

And as crunch talks to reach a deal on Greek debt progressed, the apparent lack of synergy between the men didn't help matters.

When the two first met in Berlin a fortnight ago, the cracks immediately appeared.

Mr Schaeuble said he and his Greek counterpart had "agreed to disagree" on the strategy Greece should adopt. "From my standpoint, we couldn't even agree to disagree", retorted Mr Varoufakis.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionMr Varoufakis has a significant fan base in Greece, while Mr Schaeuble is seen as a hate-figure

As Greece's financial crisis deepened, Germany's finance minister emerged as a hate figure here.

At demonstrations, cartoons of Mr Schaeuble in Nazi uniform were held aloft on placards and he was denounced by protesters as the architect of Greece's woes for his unwavering commitment to austerity.

The German press regularly picked up on it: the stereotypes of uncouth Greeks and draconian Germans only fed the hostility, with Mr Schaeuble denouncing a recent mocked-up image of him as "vile".

Colliding styles

Given that the party that often led the anti-austerity protests is now in power here - Syriza - it was inevitable that the relationship would be tough from the start.

And in Syriza's first few weeks in office, the negotiating style of Messrs Varoufakis and Schaeuble have collided.

image copyrightAFP
image captionMr Varoufakis's Burberry scarf has become as familiar as his flamboyant metaphors
image copyrightAP
image captionHe also has a trademark leather trench coat, which he wore to meet with George Osborne in London

The former has publicly blamed both the German and Dutch finance ministers in press conferences for causing talks to stumble.

His entourage is thought to have leaked draft documents to prove Greece has been unfairly treated and he's taken to Twitter to make points that other politicians would express through carefully-worded press releases.

Wolfgang Schaeuble is said to have been incensed by the style. There were even calls from one German MP for Mr Varoufakis to be replaced.

image copyrightReuters
image captionMr Schaeuble is said to have been incensed by how his Greek counterpart conducts himself

But back home, Greece's chief negotiator has a significant fan base. Many here love his straight-talking, cool image, respecting his ability to cut through the chaff with his Burberry scarf and flamboyant metaphors.

He's certainly laid out a unique style of doing politics - and no amount of animosity with Wolfgang Schaeuble is likely to change it.

His critics argue now is the time that Greece needs to win concessions through careful diplomacy and delicate alliance-building. And, they say, Yanis Varoufakis is too abrasive a character to achieve it.

Certainly he has his admirers - but Wolfgang Schaeuble doesn't appear to be one of them.