How Twitter became Alexis Tsipras’ secret weapon in Greek negotiations

 
Emma Haslett
Follow Emma
Alexis Tsipras used Twitter to widen his reach (Source: Getty)
Late on Saturday evening, as Europe was still reeling from Greece’s decision to walk away from the negotiating table to hold a referendum on a reform package proposed by its creditors, the country’s Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, started tweeting.
Minutes later, he followed it up with another proclamation:
Then there was another another:
In all on Saturday night, Tsipras tweeted 22 times. By the time he’d finished, not only had he accused his creditors of playing a “game” with Greek people’s lives, he’d also suggested “threats and blackmail” had been used during negotiations, and had outlined the reform proposals in detail. Such ferocity was enough to leave a nasty taste in anyone’s mouth.
It was strong stuff, but Tsipras and his leftist party, Syriza, promised transparency before they were elected in January - and so far, they’ve delivered it in spades. As relations between Greece and its creditors became more strained, the ensuing crisis played out not only in the rooms and corridors of the European Commission building in Brussels, but also across social media.
This is politics, millennial style: while creditors remained tight-lipped about what was going on behind closed doors, only providing hints during carefully-choreographed press conferences; Tsipras and his team spent the past few weeks merrily leaking crucial documents, publishing “private” speeches and even tweeting straight from the negotiating table.
Inside sources have admitted at several points during talks that tweets by prominent Greeks - not least Tsipras and his finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis - have completely thrown off the process, baffling both their creditors and those on their own side. On Saturday, Bloomberg even reported that Greek negotiators in Brussels had only learned of their government’s decision to hold a referendum via Twitter.
“It was the first they’d heard about it,” it wrote. “They soon left the room, their attempts to thrash out a compromise in tatters.”
Does this mean the delicate world of international diplomacy will from now on be divided into 140 character chunks?


Twitter addict? Varoufakis takes to his phone during negotiations (Source: Getty)

“It’s definitely a different approach,” suggests Vincenzo Scarpetta, policy analyst at think tank Open Europe.
“Tsipras’ rants in general - and I’m not just talking about Twitter, but his speeches and accusations at the institutions - have triggered a reaction. Greece’s counterparts were attached to a more traditional approach to negotiations, so they aren’t happy about this. It’s got personal.”
The problem for traditionalists is that it may also have put Tsipras in a stronger negotiating position than George Papandreou, Greece’s leader during the previous Greek crisis in 2011, suggests Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.
“A lot of his rants are done with a purpose - it’s a PR exercise,” he says.
“The EU does have previous with respect to referendums. What happened in 2011 when Papandreou threatened to call a referendum? He was shot down. So by putting it out there the story has got away from EU politicians. They can’t stop it now it’s out there. He’s almost daring them to prevent him from holding [a referendum].”
Still - if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This afternoon, tired and emotional, European President Jean-Claude Juncker had his own moment of candour.
“I feel betrayed,” he complained during a press conference, before urging Greeks to in favour of adopting the reform agreement next Sunday.
“We will never let the Greek people down. And we know the Greek people don’t want to let down the European Union,” he added. Not quite Tsipras-level emotion - but it was close.
Five twitter accounts with the inside track on the Greek crisis

1. Alexis Tsipras, Greek PM - @tsipras_eu

Sample tweet: "The proposal presented to me by EU President @JunckerEU on behalf of the institutions came as an unpleasant surprise"

2. Yanis Varoufakis, Greek finance minister - @yanisvaroufakis

Sample tweet: "Capital controls within a monetary union are a contradiction in terms. The Greek government opposes the very concept"

3. Jean-Claude Juncker, EU Commission president - @JunckerEU

Sample tweet: "We need to remain ambitious, in our partnership and in facing global challenges"

4. Margaritis Schinas, chief spokesman for the EU Commission - @MargSchinas

Sample tweet: "#TeamJunckerEU today presents Action Plan for #fairtaxation, creates Support Group for Structural #Reform"

5. The Greek Analyst - @GreekAnalyst

Sample tweet: "I don't like Samaras at all. I find him a terrible former PM. Also, a populist of the highest level."

Related articles