Europe News

Varoufakis’ first 100 days: All style, no substance?

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis
Eric Vidal | Reuters

Greece's Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has only been in the job three months but in that time he's hardly been off the front page.

In the 100 days since his leftwing party came top in the country's snap election, the controversial minister has hardly had time to draw breath, crossing the globe and visiting everywhere from Washington to Brussels and Berlin to the shores of Lake Cuomo.

The Marxist economist leapt to international prominence in January 2015 when the leftwing Syriza party won a snap election on a ticket to overhaul Greece's international bailout program and scrap the hated austerity measures imposed on the country by its lenders.

With his less formal open-necked shirts, Varoufakis seemed a breath of fresh air from the stuffy "eurocrats" who dominate the region's political scene.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis settles into his role in the new Greek government
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images

The 54-year old author and professor of Economic Theory at Athens University wasted no time in pushing the new Athens government's agenda on the international stage, championing the end of austerity measures.

Within days of being elected to the position of finance minister (something of a poisoned chalice given Greece's dire economic straits) he began a grand tour of Europe, visiting four governments in four days to drum up support and try to get lenders to renegotiate the country's debt obligations.

However, any hopes of support from Varoufakis were quickly dashed, and Greece was told it had to abide by the rules keep to the conditions of its 240 billion euro ($259 billion) bailout program.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.
Fabrizio Bensch | Reuters

Nonetheless Varoufakis quickly made a name for himself for his lyrical, impassioned speeches about Greece although his somewhat brash negotiating alienated several of his European counterparts. One notable example was the get-together with Germany's Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, where both sides were reported to have believed that the other was "insulting" during talks.


Adding insult to, well, insult, Varoufakis' relationship with Germany was dealt another blow when footage emerged of the finance minister allegedly "giving the finger" to Greece's paymaster Germany during a lecture on the Greek economic crisis in 2013, although the veracity of the footage has been the subject of intense debate.

And here is the 'undoctored' by the unscrupulous media's video:

Read MoreGreek, German tensions rise amid swearing claims

No sooner had #fingergate stopped trending on Twitter, than another scandal hit the headlines – this time of Varoufakis' own making, however.

The finance minister and his wife Danae Stratou posed for a spread in lifestyle magazine "Paris Match," showing posed pictures of the couple including images of them drinking wine and enjoying lunch on their roof terrace, Varoufakis at the piano and reading in his stylish living room.

The pictures sparked a storm of criticism in Greece and beyond, with Varoufakis coming under fire for his apparently comfortable lifestyle while the majority of Greeks are suffering under crippling austerity.


Reacting to the media storm surrounding the magazine feature, Varoufakis said he regretted the photoshoot telling Greece's Alpha TV that he wished "that shoot had not taken place, I regret it," and that he did "not agree with the aesthetic" of the pictures.

The photoshoot sowed the seeds for Varoufakis next run-in with the media. This time with CNBC's own Julia Chatterley when she challenged him on the photos on the sidelines of the Ambrosetti Spring Workshop in Lake Como, Italy in mid-March.

Greece's Varoufakis: I try not to be a liability
Greece's Varoufakis: I try not to be a liability

Asked by Chatterley whether he felt he was a liability to his government as the photo shoot might harm his efforts to promote a serious message about Greece's dire financial straits, he said he "tried not to be" before walking out of the CNBC interview.

Read MoreGreek Finance Minister Varoufakis: I try not to be liability

By the end of March, Varoufakis' love for the media was on a par with optimism – or perhaps morbid curiosity is the better term – in Greece's dire financial straits.

Negotiations with lenders over the future of Greece's 240 billion euro bailout have been ongoing since Greece's leftwing government came to power. And although Greece was given a four-month extension to its bailout in February, little has been achieved in terms of reforms.

As talks dragged on into April, euro zone officials began to moan openly about Greece's stance – and Varoufakis himself as he was in charge of negotiations -- and the fact it was, as the Eurogroup's President Jeroen Djisselbloem put it "wasting time."

Read MoreRead More'Wastingtime': War of words over Greece heats up

The lack of progress raised concerns that Greece's might not be able to find the money for upcoming loan repayments and whether it could avoid default and a potentially very messy exit from the euro zone.


Talk also turned to whether Varoufakis could lose his job as a way for show Greece to show its European partners that it was serious about reforms – serious enough to sack its own champion finmin.

Instead, he was sidelined last Tuesday, keeping his job as finance minister but taken away from the frontline during negotiations – a move that one euro zone official said had helped negotiations to progress.

Getting no love from either his euro zone counterparts or his own government, Varoufakis was verbally attacked and threatened with violence by anarchists in the Exarchia area of Athens, a neighborhood popular with anti-government protesters.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis
Charles Platiau | Reuters

Varoufakis came out uscathed from the scuffle, but whether he can survive the blows and bruises of life in Greece's tumultuous political landscape is yet to be seen. Just this weekend , the Greek finance ministry was denying reports that Varoufakis had offered to resign.

Whether the reports are true or not, if Varoufakis was to leave public office and his life in the public eye, Greece would be the poorer for it, perhaps in more ways than one.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld

Recommended Video
Greece's Varoufakis: I try not to be a liability
Greece's Varoufakis: I try not to be a liability