Europe

Greece debt crisis: Tsipras's impossible position

Alexis Tsipras in Brussels on 11 June 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption Alexis Tsipras's demands for less austerity and fewer structural reforms are rejected by the EU

The rhetoric from Greece's creditors and its international partners has gone up a significant notch.

The message to Athens is pretty clear: it is time to decide, no more prevarication.

"There's no more space for gambling, no more time for gambling," argued the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

"The risk of insolvency is increasing by the day," said the head of the German Bundesbank Jens Weidmann. "The main losers in that scenario would be Greece and the Greek people."

Add in the decision by the International Monetary Fund to withdraw its team from technical talks with Greek officials in Brussels, and fly them back to Washington, and the prospects look alarmingly gloomy.

Sometimes the toughest talking happens just before a deal is done.

But occasionally it means things are about to fall apart.

So the public pressure on Alexis Tsipras is growing - reflecting concern within the EU and the IMF that he has miscalculated the extent to which he can orchestrate a change in policy.

But a brief visit to Athens this week was a reminder of the countervailing pressures the prime minister is under at home.

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Media captionAs debt negotiations continue, many Greeks feel they have reached the limit of what they can pay, as Chris Morris reports

He was elected in January when his party, Syriza - the Coalition of the Radical Left - swept to power. Now his supporters expect him to deliver, and some are taking a hard line.

Twenty-two Syriza MPs wrote a joint letter to Mr Tsipras on Tuesday urging him to implement election pledges as soon as possible to bring back collective bargaining and raise the minimum wage - reversing reforms pushed through over the last few years.

And a Greek court ruled this week that the government should reverse cuts that were made to private sector pensions in 2012, because they were depriving pensioners of the right to a decent life.

Further pension cuts certainly represent one of a number of red lines for the government, but ministers involved in the negotiation process are also aware that a majority of Greeks believe they have to be prepared to compromise in order to avoid national bankruptcy.

"The Greek delegation is ready to intensify deliberations in order to conclude a deal soon," said the government spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis, "even in the coming days."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption An anti-austerity protest in Athens on Thursday as Alexis Tsipras negotiates in Athens
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Activists took over the finance building in Athens to drive the message home

But all the while, the critics are circling.

"Increasingly, I've become more convinced that they don't know what they are doing," said the opposition MP Harry Theocharis from To Potami party.

"We needed a breath of fresh air in politics, but I think Mr Tsipras is probably out of his depth."

One possible solution under discussion would be to extend Greece's current bailout deal, which expires at the end of this month, until March next year.

And there are still those who believe some kind of face-saving agreement could emerge at a meeting of Eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg next week.

But the dilemma for Alexis Tsipras is that any deal that will now be on the table will represent a betrayal of a large part of his electoral programme.

Eventually there will have to be a serious examination of Greece's unsustainable debts, as Mr Tsipras demands.

But for now, Europe's only prime minister from the radical left may have put himself in an impossible position.

He wanted less austerity and fewer structural reforms, and in the Eurozone you cannot have both.

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