Syriza Stumbles

Time for a Course Correction

Merkel and Tsipras at a news conference in Berlin, March 2015. Hannibal Hanschke / Courtesy Reuters

The Coalition of Radical Left, a Greek political party known by the acronym Syriza, took power in January 2015 with a simple, if ambitious idea: it would put an end to austerity in Greece. For years, Greece had cut back its spending in exchange for tens of billions of dollars in bailout loans from the so-called troika—the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund. Now it would play a high-stakes game of chicken by launching new negotiations, betting that its largest creditor, Germany, would grant generous concessions to avoid the risk of a Greek default and exit from the eurozone.

The negotiations turned out rather differently than Syriza expected: Germany refused to budge. And when Athens doubled down, Berlin clung to its position even more tightly. In February, Greece backed down on most of its demands and accepted a four-month extension of the bailout, something Syriza had said it would never do, in exchange for some more discretion in deciding which austerity reforms to implement. Meanwhile, Greece is set to face a new crisis this summer, when it is scheduled to repay its creditors some $7 billion—and it may run out of money well before then. Next week, the country plans to present its eurozone lenders with a list of proposed reforms, with the hope of unlocking more bailout funds.

How did Syriza end up here? By focusing narrowly on Germany, Greece forgot about the interests of the other players involved. Simply put, Athens behaved in ways those actors found deeply threatening, which effectively united Europe against it. To repair the damage, Syriza has little choice but to change course, altering its message and adjusting its demands.


The negotiations involved five actors: Germany, Greece, the countries of northern Europe, the governments on the EU’s so-called periphery, and the European Central Bank (ECB). Understanding why Syriza failed to achieve its objectives requires an understanding of the motivations of each.

For Germany, a conciliatory deal with

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