How Greek finance minister's erratic behaviour has undermined trust

11 May 2015

“Yanis"

Mixed economic messages, inappropriate gestures and photo blunders are unravelling the fiscal leadership of Yanis Varoufakis, argues our media training columnist

Will Edwards

Economic problems in Greece show no signs of abating, and the man tasked with solving them has done little in the past few days to inspire confidence. No sooner had the country made a €200 million repayment, competed last Wednesday, than it was forced to stare at another – due tomorrow and stacking up to a far higher €763m. Amid concern over the impending bill, it has emerged that finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has been telling colleagues in other Eurozone nations a radically different story about the country’s recovery plans, compared to what he has already agreed with officials in charge of the bailout process.

Varoufakis took on the role of Greek finance minister in January this year, when his Syriza party won the General Election. His approach and blunt quotes to the media have ensured that he’s enjoyed a high profile ever since. But he and his government are stuck between a rock and a hard place: their own countrymen on one hand, and one the other those in Europe who have bailed out Greece to the tune of €240 billion.

The party came to power primarily because it vowed to fight back against the austerity measures that lenders had insisted upon – but Varoufakis’ initial efforts to cut the amount owed, or relax the terms, have not been very successful. That has been reflected in a deteriorating PR strategy: ever since he took up his post, Varoufakis has been making his agenda very clear with headline-grabbing speeches and a reluctance to bow down to other European finance ministers – including Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble, who reportedly found him “insulting” during their talks. Those poor relations were hardly improved by the recent emergence of video footage from 2013 which, according to CNBC, showed Varoufakis “giving the finger” to German financiers.

But it’s not all work, work, work for Varoufakis, as a photo shoot in Paris Match showed. Images of the finance minister and his wife quaffing wine and enjoying lunch in lavish surroundings went down badly with the Greek people, who are facing severe economic woes. Whether it was as a result of this PR blunder or not, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reorganised his finance team and pushed Varoufakis to a more minor role in ongoing negotiations with Europe.

Varoufakis is still in his position – and still attracting media attention for off-the-cuff remarks. Only in the past week, he was quoted as saying that Greece would make the repayment deadline, but that the country should never have been given a bailout at all.

Courting the media and getting headlines will certainly help you spread your message. But it does mean that the spotlight will be on you virtually all the time – so you really have to be careful of what you say, what you put on the record in official documents, and what kind of photos you allow yourself to be depicted in. Varoufakis’ unusual behaviour has made him an interesting political player for the media. But there’s now a real danger that he’s gone too far and alienated those with the purse strings… and those who rely upon him to restore the country’s economic health.

Will Edwards is managing director at media training consultancy Bluewood Training.

For further thoughts about financial management, check out CMI's special Checklist guide.

Image courtesy of Ververidis Vasilis / Shutterstock

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