Next up in our profile series of the EU Commission President candidates is a look at motorcycle-riding former-communist and political firebrand Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Greek Radical Left SYRIZA (the second-largest party in the Greek Parliament) and the official Commission President candidate for the Party of the European Left in the upcoming 2014 European Parliament elections.
Born in Athens in 1974, Tsipras is unusually youthful for a Member of the Hellenic Parliament (and he was the youngest ever leader of a Greek political party when he became head of Synaspismos – the largest party in the SYRIZA coalition – at the age of just 33). A civil engineer by training, Tsipras joined the Young Communist Society in the late 1980s and quickly drew attention to himself as a prominent student activist.
Whilst he claims to have moderated his views somewhat since his radical student days, he is still a fierce critic of what he sees as anti-democratic neoliberal capitalism and the “powers of the oligarchy”. He believes in withdrawing from NATO, imposing a 75 per cent tax on the rich and nationalising public services (including the banking system, which he argues should be operated for the public good and not for profits). Despite criticising existing EU policies, Tsipras is not a traditional eurosceptic, and he says he wants to keep Greece in the euro whilst tearing up the bailout agreement and ending the policies of austerity which he argues have decimated society.
His critics call him unrealistic, inexperienced and a populist. But, under Tsipras, SYRIZA has (along with the neo-fascist Golden Dawn party) emerged as the surprise benefactor of Greek rejection of the mainstream. From taking 3.3% of the vote in the 2004 elections, support for SYRIZA shot up during the 2012 elections to almost 27% of the vote. Most polls today put his party in first place. But can he replicate these results across Europe?
If you want you can vote for the Radical Left in our Debating Europe Vote 2014. If not, stay tuned as we’ll be publishing profiles of the rival candidates over the coming weeks.