The rising star of Europe Alexis Tsipras, the radical left Greek leader, has arrived in Paris to warn EU countries that their turn would come if they failed to oppose the radical austerity that is driving Greece to the brink of “collective suicide”.
Tsipras, who is leading an austerity-backlash, said the future of Europe and the euro depended on the outcome of the Greece debt crisis. And he said he could feel a “wind of change” blowing across the continent that he hoped would lead to the “complete re-founding of Europe based on social cohesion and solidarity”.
To continue down the path of austerity, he warned, would turn the Greek tragedy into an European catastrophe.
“Greece is a link in a chain. If it breaks it is not just the link that is broken but the whole chain. What people have to understand is that the Greek crisis concerns not just Greece but all European people so a common European solution has to be found,” he told a press conference in Paris.
“The public debt crisis is hitting the south of Europe but it will soon hit central Europe. People have to realise that their own country could be threatened.
“We are here to explain to people in Europe that we have nothing against them. We are fighting the battle in Greece not just for the Greek people but for people in France, Germany and all European countries.”
“I am not here to blackmail, I am here to mobilise,” he said.
“Greece gave humanity democracy and today the Greek people will bring democracy back to Europe.”
Opinion polls suggest Tsipras’s party Syriza could be in a position to lead a coalition government in Greece after a second general election next month. He was in the French capital to meet members of France’s far left, including Front de Gauche firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who stood as a presidential candidate in April.
The young and charismatic Greek politician will travel to Berlin to reiterate his message; this is that Greece wants no more austerity and is willing to tear up the country’s €130bn (£105bn) bailout agreement if necessary.
His defiance appears to be catching. Before Greece held a general election on 6 May, the 37 year old and his Syriza party were widely mocked as a motley collection of ex-Trotskyists, Maoists, champagne socialists and greens, who appealed to fewer than 5% of voters. After polling more than 25%, the Greeks and the rest of Europe have been forced to take him and his party seriously.
At a press conference at the French Assemblée nationale on Monday, there was a scrum as dozens of journalists from around the world packed into a small wood-panelled room in the parliament building and jostled for the chance to ask Tsipras questions.
Pierre Laurent, national secretary of the French Communist party and president of the European Left party, himself a former journalist, was having no truck with those waving their arms about and huffing and puffing about not being able to address the Greek politician.
“It’s me who decides,” he said firmly. Laurent added that he was “delighted to welcome” Tsipras and supported his crusade against austerity that was not only “conducting us into a dead end” but was “anti-democratic”.
Tsipras also looked delighted at the turnout smiling as he pushed his way through the journalists, nodding, shaking hands and saying “bonjour”, which, it turned out, seemed to be his only word of French.
Talking through an interpreter, and using his hands to emphasise his points, he was forceful and determined to enlist France in his anti-capitalist crusade.
“We [Syriza] are very happy to discover that even if we are not in government we can feel a wind of change blowing everywhere. Things that were yesterday considered impossible are today being discussed. Today they are being discussed, tomorrow they will be accepted.”
He said if the left in Greece won a victory in the June general election it would be the “start of change and upheaval across the whole of Europe”.
Asked what he thought of the German chancellor Angela Merkel‘s suggestion that Greece should hold a referendum to decide whether to remain in the euro, Tsipras stopped smiling.
“Merkel must understand that she is an equal partner with others in a euro zone that has no tenants and owners. She should not allow herself to behave as if we are a protectorate,” he said sternly, tapping his red ballpoint pen on the table.
“Greece is a sovereign country and it’s not for Madame Merkel to decide if we hold a referendum or not.”
He said he wanted Greece to remain in the eurozone, but was equally dismissive of the German-led philosophy of “growth through austerity” as a means of resolving the Greek – and European – sovereign debt crisis.
“That’s like having sun and rain at the same time. Impossible,” he said.
Sitting next to him, Mélenchon, nodded vigorously. Earlier Melenchonn said recent threats to expel Greece from the eurozone unless the country complied with the German-led austerity programme were “in vain … and counter-productive”.
Tsipras also reiterated his belief, aired in an interview with the Guardian at the weekend, that Greece was being subjected to an austerity programme as part of a “neoliberal shock experiment”.
“This has driven my country to an unprecedented crisis and a humanitarian crisis. If this experiment is successful in Greece it will be exported to other European countries,” he said.
He added: “The war we are fighting in Europe is not between people or nations, it is between the forces of work and the invisible forces of finance and banks.
“It is difficult to be victorious over an enemy when that enemy has no face, no programme, no political party but who governs us even so. If we perfect our victory in Greece it will sent a great message of hope throughout Europe.”
Asked about France’s new president François Hollande, who is also riding the anti-austerity wave after defeating Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this month, Tsipras said the new leader had to show “what he said before the election still counts after it”.
He raised a laugh by adding: “If the French people have sent Mr Sarkozy off to Morocco for a holiday it’s because they want change not more of the same.”
If the cynics in France were of a mind to beware of Greeks bearing revolutionary ideologies, Tsipras insisted he was not visiting Paris and Berlin to engage in blackmail or threats, but to wrest the “values of democracy” away from the banks and the capitalists.