I am amused by the Financial Times headline Tsipras shrugs off gaffe about Hollande.

When Evangelos Venizelos, the Greek socialist leader, boarded a 7.30am flight to Paris on Tuesday, only his closest aides knew he was on the way to a hastily arranged meeting with the French president.

The last-minute invitation to meet François Hollande came after Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left coalition Syriza and Greece’s new political star, caused a stir in Paris with a typically blunt put-down of the French leader.

Mr Tsipras, whose Syriza party surged to second place in Greece’s May 6 general election, advised that Mr Hollande stick to moderate policies, or risk being abandoned by voters as “Hollan-dreou”.

The reference to George Papandreou, the Greek socialist premier forced to resign after rowing back on pre-election promises and accepting the harsh bailout terms imposed by international creditors, was “very poorly timed”, said a Greek diplomat, noting that French parliamentary elections are due on June 10.

Syriza denied that the comments constituted a gaffe, and pointed out that members of the French far-left had used the “Hollan-dreou” phrase before Mr Tsipras.

However, the jokey comments at the expense of France’s socialist president may have also clouded the young Greek leader’s visit to Berlin, the next stage of his trip. There, the left-of-centre German politicians who met with Mr Tsipras insisted that Greece must implement reforms agreed under the bailout if it wanted to stay in the eurozone, refusing to countenance Syriza’s demand for a renegotiation of the deal.

Gaffe? What Gaffe?

For his statement to be a gaffe, Tsipras would have to care. Instead, he is laughing all the way to the voting booth. Being snubbed by Merkel and and Hollande plays into his hands as I suggested earlier today.

Some recent polls have shown New Democracy back into the lead but the Financial Times continues with …

Yet the firebrand leader’s travails abroad did not appear to have dented his popularity at home. While polls suggest that Mr Tsipras is viewed as the politician most responsible for blocking the formation last week of a coalition government – an outcome that more than 60 per cent of Greeks would have preferred to a fresh election – Syriza nevertheless increased its support by two points this week, to 30 per cent.

The Financial Times article is as of May 25, 2012 11:21 pm. So, if Tsipras made a gaffe, pray tell where is it?

Note the irony of Hollande refusing to meet with Tsipras, just as Merkel refused to meet with Hollande until Hollande defeated Sarkozy.

Greek Polls? All Over the Place

Bear in mind there are numerous conflicting polls. Reuters reports Greek pro-bailout conservatives regain lead.

Greece’s conservatives have regained an opinion poll lead that would allow the formation of a pro-bailout government committed to keeping the country in the euro zone, a batch of new surveys showed on Saturday.

Greece was forced to call repeat elections for June 17 after a May 6 vote left parliament divided evenly between groups of parties that support and oppose the austerity conditions attached to a 130 billion euro bailout agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund in March.

Polls up to Saturday had showed pro- and anti-bailout parties running neck-and-neck ahead of the vote which could determine the country’s future in the single currency.

Five polls published in the weekend press showed the conservative New Democracy party, which supports the bailout, with a lead of between 0.5 and 5.7 points over the anti-bailout leftist SYRIZA party – though analysts said the race was still too close to call.

I suspect but cannot prove the poll cited by the Financial Times is more accurate. Reuters continues …

FRAGILE LEAD

Analysts said New Democracy’s lead was precarious. “These polls show that people got scared from SYRIZA’s lead in previous surveys,” said political analyst John Loulis.

“This is still a very tight race. New Democracy has a small advantage but whoever called them favorites would be dead wrong,” he added.

SYRIZA, led by its charismatic 37-year old leader Alexis Tsipras, is doing particularly well among the young who are particularly hit by unemployment, pollster Pulse said.

New Democracy, by contrast, had a big lead among the over-60s, Pulse said.

In a bid to woo anti-bailout voters, conservative leader Samaras said on Saturday Greece should be given more time to comply with a bailout term to generate about 11.5 billion euros in savings over the next two years.

“All new spending cuts … should take place over four years, not two,” he was quoted as saying by Real News.

Greece’s bailout deal allows for a possible relaxation of the country’s bailout targets if its recession worsens.

Greece’s new government will have to act fast. Without new bailout funds, Athens may run out of cash by end of June, newspaper To Vima reported, citing a memo compiled by former Prime Minister Lucas Papademos on May 11.

“From June 20, the government’s available cash will cross negative territory to the tune of 1 billion euros,” the document said, confirming earlier reports by finance ministry officials that Greece might run out cash by the end of June.

Given the highly inflammatory statements of Lagarde regarding no renegotiation of terms (please see Harsh Language from Lagarde: “IMF Has No Intention of Softening Terms”; From Head of Deutsche Bank: “Greece is a Failed Corrupt State”; Purposely Inflammatory Statements to Force Greece Exit), New Democracy leader Samaras is disingenuous at best in his call to renegotiate the terms of the bailout.

 I believe Greek voters will see through Samaras’ lies, preferring the “no bailout” message of Tsipras.

Regardless, intense fear-mongering  by the New Democrats, Pasok, Merkel, and Hollande is likely. Some of that will be counterproductive.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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