Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Alexis Tsipras - Bill Clinton Chat: A Missed Opportunity For Greece!

On September 27, the Clinton Global Initiative gave PM Alexis Tsipras a unique opportunity to 'sell' Greece to an audience of potential US investors. Tsipras failed miserably in this task.

A rejunivated, girlish-looking Madam Ambassador Yanna Angelopoulou (59), in a short dress, first introduced "the man who inspires me, inspires all of us with his energy, his passion and with his compassion" - former President Bill Clinton (69). And then she introduced the man "in whose hands the Greek people put their faith and their future" - Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (41). A gentlemanly Clinton politely received Angelopoulou's kiss on one cheek but as she prepared to kiss the other cheek, he abruptly turned away. For Tsipras, Angelopoulou only had a handshake. And off the father-son conversation went.

A somewhat frail sounding Clinton felt it appropriate to kick off the conversation by reminding everyone that "it is important not to forget that this is a very rich country, Greece. It's rich in natural resources, it's rich in human resources, it's people work on average 25% more hours per week than German workers." So why, then, is Greece in so much trouble? Clinton's answer: "It's been victimized by a tax base that does not include the wealthiest people in the country (the camera forgot to shift over to Angelopoulou) and by a long past of promises from the public sector that can't be funded or fulfilled." And then Clinton turned to Tsipras and asked him true to form: "I want you to say whatever you want to say but I would like to begin by asking you 'Where do you go from here?'" Tsipras seemed a bit caught off guard by that simple question which prompted Clinton to follow-up with a big grin: "You are like the dog who chases the car. What do you do when you catch it?"

Tsipras then managed to get all the right buzzwords into his first sentence: "Greece as a negative example of tough limitations of austerity measures; a bad recipe increased public debt from 120% to 180% of GDP; a memorandum based on internal devaluation and austerity, etc." And the second sentence followed up with the delaration that "this is not a Greek problem. It is a European problem". And just in case Clinton did not know it, Tsipras said: "You know, there is a conservative spectrum in Europe". "Unfortunately," he added quickly.

Tsipras then remembered that Clinton had asked where he planned to go from here. That was easy to answer: "We have to continue the fight to recorrect the direction of Europe". But when it came to specifics, Tsipras quickly had to revert to his briefing papers where it said: "For the first time we have a realistic program to implement which does not exhaust itself on recessionary austerity". But the most important thing was, Tspras now speaking without notes, that "there is a commitment on the part of our partners to start the crucial discussions to reprofile and to restructure our debt. So were are going to deliver our commitments even though we have difficulties ahead but it is necessary for the other side to deliver their commitment for the relief of our public debt." That had to be said!

Tsipras then embarked on a summary: "All of this is necessary to create an atmosphere of trust and credibility to the markets and to regain, to reclaim economic stability in order to have investments in Greece. This is very important in order to come back to growth. We must fight for the necessary reforms. Internally, in my country, it is necessary to make changes, it is necessary to make reforms in taxation, in the public administration and to try to create a friendly environment for investors, to cut the ties with the clientilistic state of the past, to hit tax evasion and corruption, to create a meritocracy in the public administration and then to try to have foreign investments because this is very crucial to come back to growth" - Milton Friedman could not have phrased it better!

Clinton did not let Tsipras get away with lofty phrases. In his inimitable way he asked Tsipras: "Do you believe that the path of the next 4 years is clear enough so that you would feel comfortable, if everyone in this room was a potential investor in Greece, telling them that it's safe to move now?"

Tsipras seemed totally surprised by this simple question and he started shuffling in his preparatory notes. "This is a good question!", congratulated the former Nobody the former two-time President of the United States at long last (Clinton probably thought to himself "Kid, that is not only a good question, that is THE most important question!"). So what was the answer?

"Positive", Tsipras finally managed to say. Grexit is no longer an issue. The conservative forces had wanted a division of Europe but Greece joined with the progressive forces that work towards a united Europe.

Clinton seemed uninclined to let Tsipras get away with small talk: "If you had a wishlist that could be immediately fulfilled, which sectors of the economy are most important for foreign investments and which would create, from your point of view, the largest amount of growth and the largest amount of employment?" Oops, Tsipras' assistants had forgotten to make preparatory notes for that question. Tsipras meandered from tourism to agrigulture, to healthcare, to pharmaceuticals, to energy, etc. It would have been better if he had handed Clinton the McKinsey Report "Greece Ten Years Ahead".

Clinton, the devil, still did not let Tsipras off the hook. "You said energy investments are very important. Are the laws such that, if one comes in there and makes a significant investment in making you more energy independent, that they can recover their investment". And pointing at the audience of investors: "If we bring these investors there, have they got a way to get their money back? You know, they could put a lot of people to work!".

Regrettably, Tsipras had not been coached that if one does not immediately respond so such a question in a determined and specific way, the audience will conclude that the answer is negative. And instead of responding immediately, Tsipras squirmed and put on an artificial laugh. No Alexis, Clinton did not mean it as a joke! And then Tsipras - brace yourself! - explained that Greece was still a corrupt country and that the question could only be answered affirmatively after the reforms have been made!

At this point, Tsipras had clearly become uncomfortable. It seemed to have dawned on him that his memorized campaign slogans were insufficient to answer Clinton's specific questions. Perhaps he even condemned in his mind his advisors for not having prepared him better for the interview. Clinton, who had obviously noticed how Tsipras gradually disintegrated, decided to let him off the hook and offered the following way out: "So you are saying, in no uncertain terms, that it is not necessary for people to wait until every last detail of the new arrangement on the debt refinancing is worked out. To know that it will be worked out, that the government is going to be there for 4 years and that better to invest sooner rather than later, so if you buy low, sell high, increase growth in employment and that in itself will stabilize the political and economic climate." No reaction from Tsipras. "That's basically your message, isn't it?", Clinton followed up. Only nodding from Tsipras.

Tsipras no longer seemed part of this conversation by then. In the presence of the seasoned Bill Clinton he had recognized his own insufficiencies and seemed extremely uncomfortable with his role. So Clinton turned the tables and made himself the spokesman for Greece. He made the pitch for Greece, Clinton-style. He was thinking of finding ways how millions of Greek-Americans who may not have a great deal of money individually could pool their money into a fund to start new businesses. Investors should not wait because at some point "we undermine your position by waiting". Clinton went so far as to justify why Tsipras hadn't said much: "The time is now to do something. The time has come to stop fooling around with it. And you are being awfully kind for not saying it that bluntly but I think that's accurate. Basically, your message is 'I got this under control, please don't wait any longer to start investing'. Is that a fair statement'?

If only Tsipras had managed to say "Yes, that is a fair statement. Thank you for making it on my behalf!" Instead, he managed to say - nothing. Just an uncomfortable laugh. And then he fell back into campaign soundbites about Greece.

What a wasted opportunity!

The obvious intention of the Clinton Global Initiative was to promote foreign investment in Greece before an audience of potential foreign investors from the US. One wonders why the staffs of both sides had not gotten together beforehand and scripted a question-answer routine which would optimally serve that purpose.

As it turned out, Tsipras was absolutely unprepared to act as his country's 'chief salesman'; perhaps even incapable of a task like that. Tsipras simply could not make a convincing sales pitch for Greece before a very friendly audience and with the support of a most friendly host.


  1. Interesting, no doubt. I like your commentaries.

    CNBC: The endless Greek debt drama has finally hit the US, Nasos Koukakis

    But there seems to have been a larger setup at the CGI, suggesting if we are a little patient there is more to come:

    "CGI Conversation moderated by Fareed Zakaria, CNN host & Washington Post columnist

    Fareed Zakaria and President Clinton were joined by an array of leaders, such as Louka Katseli, Joseph Stiglitz, Gianna Angelopoulous, Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras, Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi, and George Soros to discuss the current economic climate in southern Europe and solutions to its most pressing challenges.

    The conversation will be aired on Fareed Zakaria GPS at a later date.
    - See more at:CGI - Annual Meeting Highlights

    Maybe we have to check here occasionally, at a later date is a bit vague:
    Fareed Zakaria, CNN, Global Public Square

    I'll ask them. Maybe its scheduled already.

    I wonder what Soros suggests. I was a bit surprised how well he is informed he is about EU funds and financial tools, when I read his ideas how it could finance Ukrainian debts. ;) Of course I shouldn't have been.

  2. Great blog. Let's hope Tsipras reads it and gets his act together.

  3. He had his act together, this was one of his better days.

    1. There is no question that he came across as a rather likeable fellow. It was also obvious that he had some arguments memorized and when he had to recall them, he did that quite well. But they were all generalisms. The sort of statements one can make in campaign speeches where no one is given the chance to ask specific follow-up questions.

      To me there were two key embarrassments. First, when you are out on a fund-raising tour and someone asks you if you have a wishlist what you want the money for, and you don't have an immediate answer, a less polite person than Clinton would probably ask "Why are you waisting our time?" And if a potential investor asks "Will I get my money back if I invest now", and if you don't immediately say "Of course, and with a good profit!", well then you are not going to get investments.

      I was afraid Clinton would aks Tsipras about the goldmine drama in connection with investor protection but Clinton saved him from that embarrassment.

  4. Hi Mr. Kastner,

    I also saw some of the above meeting and truly it makes my stomach turn. I would have talked 100 times better than Tsipras having English/American Mentality background to woe the billionaires. It was pathetic. And as for the you comment....

    "....One wonders why the staffs of both sides had not gotten together beforehand and scripted a question-answer routine which would optimally serve that purpose...."

    It is better that it was not scripted as it was a real interview. A real discussion. It shows how much road we need to cross before we can talk to people of this economical magnitude.

    There is no real plan. Just troiak plan but at least it is a plan. And the sooner we are rid of public sector companies the better, because with the reduction of public sector workers will result in less votes for "socialists of this sort" maybe then we can have real politicians with balls. (BTW see leventis (Centralist party) interview on Enikos 28th Monday this past week.)

    I have a sensitivity for socialism and i know i have expressed this but if you want growth you need capitalism or the system of which western society runs by.

    I truly do not understand why he did not do this interview in greek with a translator. He would have done better. he made so many vocabulary mistakes that if i was a billionaire i would do exactly what they did. Laugh.

    Clinton made better speeches on behalf of Greece. Although he does have a personal motive of his own. His son inlaw has a hedgefund for Greece which has lost 2/3 years.

    Regardless, i can not stop thinking about what is going on in this country. So much potential so many ideas and i feel we are living in a communistic country oppressed by both extreme neo liberal capitalists (Troika) because we have socialistic/communistic/clientalistic system.

    I sometimes seriously think about if i should folow the news anymore. It is too depressing.

    I was at a supplier today. He purchased a machine (300,000 euro) in 2013 under the ESPA (european investment program) where financial assistance is provided by the EU mainly and GR at 20%. It was purchased with a downpayment and loan. Usually you should get the EU cooperation funds back within 1 year. He has yet to acquire this money from the program. I truly do not understand what the hell Troika and the EU are doing. Forget the greek government, they are useless. But how can the eu provide investment funds to a country and payments not made to the companies under this approved program. How can this accounting manipulation be allowed and not reallocate funds from one part of government to another accounting line of arrears owed to the private sector.

    So annoyed, so frustrated,


    1. I am not sure that a translator would have helped. If you have nothing specific to say, even a translator can't help. And I think Tsipras made good points by showing how much he had improved his English in the last couple of years. As I said before, he appeared rather likeable.

      The real question would be who was in the audience. I am not sure that they were true potential investors who went to the presentation to figure out whether or not to invest in Greece. Such people are not so likely to come to an event of a retired President. My guess is that it was more of a society even. But still, even such an event could have been taken advantage of.

      The professional way to handle this sort of thing would have been for Tsipras to make a solid pitch for investments in Greece but avoid too great details. No one expects a Prime Minister to be competent with details of foreign investments. Instead, Tsipras - after having made his solid pitch - would have informed the audience that, on the way out, they would find prepared presentation folders about all aspects of foreign investments in Greece including a list of the most attractive investment opportunities in the near term.

    2. Hi Mr. Kastner,

      With a translator his absense of good english would not be evident. And if a mistake is made you can always blame it to translation. Anyway.

      The issue is that there is no plan no strategy. We have hundreds of possibilities and hundreds of problems. Choose your battles is what one should do. Rather most of our politicians muddle through everything.

      Pick any sector and pitch it. For example.

      What is an easy project which make Eu smile and private sector and does not directly affect socialism. Energy. renewable energy.

      For gods sake i was in Germany and Holland last month and i was laughing how little sun they have but i saw solar parks, solar collectors. For gods sake. make a simple stratgy for this, bring in some experts and agree with the eu the selling price. Pick 10-20 huge government properties that are in the middle of no where,lease them and make a bid to the private sector to sell solar energy to the DEH. Or better yet just use the grid of DESMH cut out DEH and create a new competitor to DEH. So easy. In the meantime there is a solar panel factory in northern greece that German company subcontracts there production to. Award bid to German company, manufacture panels in Greece easy renewable sellable energy with low necessity for many laborers. Only maintence crews. Multiple this by 10 companies interested, you have suddenly a huge addition to your GDP.


      You don't want foreigners. Ok go make the same agreement with the church who has made this offer to you already.

      Another example:
      Next month we are giving the bid to sell Trainose. What is the strategy. Be the biggest port and piggy back system from the east to the eu. I even have the masters thesis on the same example from t he USA. Its ready. Its easy. Sell it. Give the private port to Cosco the expansion to Cosco, the rails to anyone with knowledge and build the rial grid to the mainland eu through the balkans. (Ok this is a 5 year plan but it is huge.)

      It is so huge that if it was done athens outskirts will need hundreds of warehouses. Just the coming and going of products. I would even dare to say big car manufacturers would make a car distribution center hubs in greece. Imagine the Mercedes BMW etcetc piled in Greece ready to be shipped to asia or middle east.

      Another project which is cultural. How many ancient dig sites do we have in Greece. Thousands. Bid this site out to all univesities in the world with the ovesite of your own archeologists. Universities seek to be the ones who find this or that. Re create the ancient sites and make them into museums. or archi sites. The maintence by these foreign or local university. Imagine the addition tourism it would attract, meanwhile stop the illegal sale of ancient artifacts.

      So many ideas so low use. so damn depressing.

      What about argriculture. In theory Mr. Kastner i have created a 95% renewable farm. Nothing goes to waste. And i know it works because i watched my grandfather as a child. He lived a good life on the equivalent of 400 euro pension today because he managed his lands as a farmer perfectly. The produce he made was nothing less than heavenly. How much would a german austrian or ducth person pay for such a produce. You know exactly what quality i am talking about. No Belgium hydroponic tomatoe can compare.

      Having such a farm system you have low costs. No need for german chemical fertilizers and spraying agents. nothing. low cost high quality high value. Farmers complain because the previously mentioned is easier. the easy way out.


  5. You may sell sexy cars with beautiful women, as the IAA has just reconfirmed. You don't sell major investments by being a likeable fellow but by being a reliable fellow, Mr. Tsipras is not very strong in that department. The reason he did not confirm that investment could turn a profit is, that he still don't believe it should, investment should be provided to create work in Greece. If he should use the word profit he would face the music in Greece, the nation does not understand the concept of a positive sum deal.

    1. SYRIZA's hang-up with the simple word 'profit' has caught my attention before. Here is what I had commented about it before. The link for it is below.

      "The document takes pains to never mention words like 'profit' or 'profitability'. Instead, one reads about 'maximizing the value of underlying assets' or how 'asset values should increase by more than the account amount spent on modernization and restructuring', about 'boosting the value of the assets according to the probability of future privatization', etc. The fact is, however, that the value of an asset is driven by its real or anticipated profitability. So what we have here is an erratic Marxist emphasizing profitability and that makes the document revolutionary."

  6. I'm quite sure Tsipras has worn out his potential international audience. Any topic from Japanese food to world politics, in his myopic eyes, automatically becomes a question of Greece and debt forgiveness. Much like Cato and the destruction of Carthage.
    PS. "And that makes the document revolutionary." You have a way with words, I smiled all the way home.

  7. I found this different take on the chat. I guess everything can be looked at from two sides and this one is looking at it from the other side, as this comment reveals:

    "Things started to get difficult when Clinton asked some questions: Will you make it through the end of your four-year term? Can you guarantee political stability? Where exactly do you need investment? How quickly will you implement reforms? Will you guarantee that investors won't lose their money?

    It was clear that Tsipras did not have answers prepared, and he was not willing to improvise, especially not in English."

    Ok, it wasn't lack of competence that he didn't answer the questions competently. It was lack of willingness.

  8. Give the poor man another chance. Let Tim Sebastian interview him. With or without translation.