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Greece’s new finance minister: Change in style, if not substance

A file photo taken on April 30, 2015 shows Euclid Tsakalotos, then head of Greece's negotiating team in loan talks, arriving for a cabinet meeting at the Greek parliament in Athens.
A file photo taken on April 30, 2015 shows Euclid Tsakalotos, then head of Greece's negotiating team in loan talks, arriving for a cabinet meeting at the Greek parliament in Athens. AFP PHOTO/ LOUISA GOULIAMAKI

If sartorial style is anything to go by, the point man for Greece’s financial crisis has switched from leather biker jackets to corduroys and fuzzy sweaters.

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But that does not mean Greece’s new Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos will necessarily cave in to the suits in Brussels.

Hours after the tough-looking and even tougher-talking Yanis Varoufakis announced his resignation Monday, the 55-year-old Oxford-educated Tsakalotos was named Greece’s new finance minister, tasked with jumpstarting his country’s stalled EU-IMF talks.

Born in Holland into a prominent Greek family, raised in Britain and an alumnus of London’s elite St. Paul’s, Tsakalotos is made of softer, more polished stuff than his predecessor.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras certainly hopes his new finance minister will not ruffle EU feathers the way Varoufakis did. Nor is the mild mannered economist likely to have headlines proclaiming him “a sex icon” – as a German conservative paper described the athletic Varoufakis, who seemed allergic to tucking in his shirt or wearing a tie while in office.

But if EU finance ministers were expecting a pushover to replace Varoufakis, they will be sorely disappointed in the weeks and months to come.

Tsakalotos might have a milder disposition, but he shares Varoufakis’s – and the ruling Syriza party’s -- leftist economic ideals. As a prominent British business editor tweeted, “New Greek FinMin is Tsakalotos. Brilliant man. My view (not consensus) more hardline than @yanisvaroufakis who is a passionate pro-European”

The leftist politics and economic policies date back to Tsakalotos’s student days at Oxford, where he belonged to the student wing of Greece’s euro communist party and was influenced by the anti-globalisation movement.

From academics to politics

After graduating from St. Paul’s, Tsakalotos read politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford and returned to his alma mater to complete his doctorate. His academic career as an economics professor includes stints at the University of Kent and Athens University of Economics and Business.

A prolific writer, Tsakalotos authored and co-authored several books, including “Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone and the World Economic Crisis,” which was published in 2012 and argues that the neo-liberalisation policies his country has been subjected to are responsible for Greece’s huge income disparities.

But the 55-year-old economist is no novice to the world of politics. The Syriza party member was elected to the Greek parliament in 2012 and re-elected in the January 2015 election. Since the left-wing Greek party’s historic victory earlier this year, Tsakalotos has served as chief economic spokesman and for all practical purposes, Greece’s shadow finance minister.

In other words, the Greek style may change in the tough talks to come, but certainly not the substance.

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