One against 18 - How Yanis Varoufakis unified Brussels | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.07.2015
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One against 18 - How Yanis Varoufakis unified Brussels

Some call him a gambler, others a pop star. Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has had an earful from all corners in recent months. He's tied his political future to the outcome of Sunday's referendum.

More than half a million people follow Yanis Varoufakis on Twitter. There, the "economics professor … thrust on the public scene by Europe's inane handling of an inevitable crisis" regularly offers his opinions and shares articles. After an informal meting of eurozone finance ministers back in April, he offered up a quote from former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt: "They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred."

When Roosevelt said this, at Madison Square Garden in 1936, he was talking domestic politics in the heat of an election campaign. But the target of the quote in Varoufakis' case was clear: his 18 eurozone counterparts.

Whatever else, Varoufakis deserves one compliment - rarely has Brussels showed such a united front as during the Greek crisis. On meeting the EU's other finance ministers, the constellation's clear: Varoufakis versus the rest. He's isolated amongst his colleagues - while he and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras repeatedly hint at breakthroughs in the talks, Brussels stays silent.

Not a natural diplomat

Varoufakis' persona and style are among the sources of this European irritation. Barely any newspaper or broadcaster has failed to note his motorbike or his casual dress sense, or indeed to criticize it in many cases. Above all, though, his political opponents dislike that he delays discussions and often arrives to key finance minister meetings without having delivered previously promised reform proposals.

In Riga he got a taste of his counterparts' impatience. The main point of criticism: Athens still hadn't put forward its promised list of proposed reforms. Those numbers that were named were dubbed vague. The head of the eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said that the Greeks were responsible for the lost time in the negotiations.

That evening, Varoufakis did not attend the group dinner, considered a diplomatic misstep in itself. He let it be known that he "finds such functions boring."

Reports followed of Prime Minister Tsipras reducing the professor's influence in the negotiations - partly at Brussels' request - only for Varoufakis to dispute them in his blog.

euro finanzen schäuble varoufakis finanzminister griechenland

Germany's Wolfgang Schäuble has been among the sharpest critics of Varoufakis and Syriza

Falling popularity among Greeks

Celebrated as a political star early on, his star swiftly began to fade in Greece. "It is obvious that Mr. Varoufakis has lost all credibility and clearly cannot bring the much desired … agreement," Athens newspaper "To Vima" wrote shortly after that hate-filled Riga conference. Even the fluffy "Paris Match" magazine profile backfired somewhat, showing the relatively opulent home of the near-bankrupt country's bookkeeper, shortly after he'd urged people to stick to a "simple life."

The genuine severance with the eurogroup came just over a week ago, at around 5 p.m. on June 25, when Varoufakis and Greece's top sub-negotiator Euclid Tsakalotos both left a tempestuous session in Brussels. It was one of several special summits followed by a collective eurogroup declaration - unanimously refusing Greece's call to again extend the expiring bailout plan. Some unusually emotional statements ensued from the finance ministers, with a recognizable theme: We've had enough.

After this abrupt end, it's still unclear whether Varoufakis will again sit down at the eurogroup's table. Now the people in Greece will decide in a referendum about the financing suggestions and reform plans put forward by the international creditors. Varoufakis is calling for a 'no' vote, saying he'd quit in the case of a 'yes,' as he could not sign a deal he considers to be "non-viable."

Economics pop star

This finance minister has rocked the boat ever since taking office on January 27. His language is direct, often even blunt - especially in his numerous interviews. Yanis Varoufakis does not shy away from the spotlight, and often his appearances do backfire: He described the so-called bailout program for Greece as "fiscal waterboarding" or torture; he accused Germany of playing a part in spreading a cloud of fear over Europe; and he said on Italian television that the EU was in the process of becoming worse than the former Soviet Union.

Brüssel Sondergipfel zum griechischen Schuldenstreit

Juncker, Lagarde, Draghi, Dijsselbloem, Tusk - somehow, Varoufakis seems to have unified the lot of them

Having studied mathematics and statistics, followed by a PhD in economics at the University of Essex, Varoufakis graduated into a professor and expert in game theory. He dabbled in politics early, too, working as an advisor to Social Democrat opposition leader George Papandreou. They split, acrimoniously, in 2006, three years before Papandreou became prime minister - writing a column for "The Guardian" in February, Varoufakis said he "turned into his government's staunchest critic during his mishandling of the post-2009 Greek implosion."

'Loss of trust personified'

When Greece's economic slide became so apparent five years ago, Varoufakis began studying crisis management as a lecturer from Australia, Scotland and the US. In his book, "The Global Minotaur," he calls for a fundamental debate as opposed to panicky bailout efforts. The Greek side is holding out for a debt restructuring as a result - a position that the creditors currently reject, but do not rule out in principle.

As finance minister, his job is to forge alliances and generate room to maneuver. He might have done this better with a less confrontational approach. According to one diplomat in Brussels, Varoufakis currently personifies the loss of trust suffered by the Tsipras government in a matter of months. Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem said at a July 1 press conference that it was no longer possible to work in confidence with a government that put reform proposals up for a referendum - and then urged voters to oppose them. Within the EU, at least, Yanis Varoufakis has managed to forge a certain unity.

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