Decision time strikes for Greek enigma Tsipras

Fri Jun 26, 2015 3:12am EDT
 
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By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - After five months in power, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has 48 hours to make a decision that will shape his country's future for decades, yet his negotiating partners cannot be sure which way he will jump.

The 40-year-old leftist, elected in January on a promise to end austerity, must decide whether to swallow an unpalatable deal with international creditors to avert a default next week at the risk of losing part of his Syriza party, or refuse and risk economic chaos and ejection from the euro zone.

European Union leaders made crystal clear to Tsipras at a summit on Thursday evening that their patience is exhausted and Greece will be given a "take it or leave it" choice at a finance ministers' meeting on Saturday.

If it rejects the cash-for-reforms proposal put together by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the Eurogroup will turn to "Plan B", preparing to cope with the fallout from a Greek default and limit the damage from ensuing financial turmoil.

Yet the firebrand premier remains an enigma to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, who have spent many hours talking with him in person and on the telephone since February, according to people familiar with the conversations.

"Is he a pragmatic politician or an ideologue? Is he in charge or under the control of his Syriza party? Even after all these weeks, we don't really know," said an EU official who has been involved in the talks.

There are many other unknowns, including whether Tsipras cares more about getting rid of international controls on Greece than about keeping his country solvent, and whether he thinks being in default would strengthen Greece's bargaining position rather than weakening it.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (L) with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ahead of a meeting in Brussels, Belgium June 24, 2015. REUTERS/Julien Warnand/Pool