Further indication that calling Syriza "radical" before all the evidence is in is reckless: Varoufakis (the new Greek Finance Minister) has sworn to the German press that Greece will never again run a deficit – as in "never, never, never!"
Alright, let’s get the two(-and-a-half) obvious objections out of the way. Varoufakis won’t be finance minister forever, and he can’t very well speak for future governments. It isn’t his promise to make. Also, there’s that thing where he’s a politician telling people what they want to hear. Politicians do that a lot, and they’re only telling the truth about 75% of the time. Finally, even if he’s perfectly sincere, he’s only been in office for two weeks, and reality has a way of crashing your party. He might not get what he wants from his meetings with creditors, Syriza’s plan to raise revenue by asking people nicely to please pay their taxes might not work, and, most of all, Syriza might find itself with a hard choice between its promise to keep the budget balanced and its promises to rehire a lot of public servants laid off under the previous government and cover a lot of people’s utility bills. Really, who knows?
The point is that going on record promising to keep the budget balanced is not nothing. It’s a real quote, from the real Finance Minister, to a foreign paper to boot. I’d say world civilization has taken something like a leap forward if even the most left of Europe’s Left is coming around to the idea that a balanced budget is a good thing. Since Germany frequently runs deficits, including several that are large enough to be illegal under the Stability and Growth Pact, it’s also a nice bit of comeuppance for a certain nation that really needs some square in the face right now. If Greece can keep a balanced budget promise, Germany will have completely run out of excuses not to (and will completely run out of credibility if it can’t).
A promise is a promise is a promise and nothing more, so we’ll see if Varoufakis can deliver. Smart money says he probably can’t – but just having said so at all means he can’t spend money hand-over-fist either, not if he wants the rest of Europe to take him seriously. And not only does he, he needs them to.
So again, we have some evidence that however pretty Syriza talks to get elected, they don’t seem to be all that radical in reality – at least not under the current leadership, and not yet. A balanced budget promise of indefinite horizon is about as conservative as things come, really. Meaning, Europe needs to stop pretending that Syriza is scary, or is a huge pie in the face of the status quo. The have the potential to be, but they’re not at the moment. And so there is no excuse not to talk with them and work things out. Indeed, they’re acting in much better faith than the European establishment so far. Rather than holding out these concessions and making Europe haggle to get him to agree to continue meeting his Stability and Growth Pact obligations, Varoufakis has simply come to the meeting hat in hand. He intends for Greece to keep making its payments, and by that he means payments on the actual principle owed – no more haircuts, and he intends to do that without running Greece in the red. Take the Olive Branch, Europe. Extend his loans, lower his interest rates, save the Union. There aren’t going to be better terms than this. Don’t let Germany inadvertantly take the whole project down just because it’s feeling (unjustifiably and temporarily) smug.