Greek debt crisis: Alexis Tsipras attacks austerity programme at European Parliament

Like the stage début of the pantomime villain, Mr Tsipras arrived to a chorus of excited boos and nervous cheers

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The Independent Online

There are plenty of people who mock the legitimacy of the European Parliament, and plenty more who can think of better ways to pass a morning than tuning in to a session in the hemicycle. But with 751 MEPs, there is a diversity of political opinion unlikely to be found in any other chamber in the world, and the eccentrics love little more than a feisty debate on the potential breakup of the eurozone.

So when the Greek Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, turned up to lambaste austerity and defend his handling of the debt crisis – a combative approach which has driven the 27 other EU leaders to the end of their tethers but earned plaudits from the political fringes – the chamber sprung to life.

Like the stage début of the pantomime villain, Mr Tsipras arrived to a chorus of excited boos and nervous cheers. And no pantomime is complete without a turn from UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who has always treated the parliament like his personal joke. His contribution was to blame “Goldman Sachs and German arms manufactures” for Greece's entrance into the euro, before urging a nonplussed Mr Tsipras to “lead the Greek people out of the eurozone with your head held high”.

Nigel Farage at the European Parliament, where he was one of a number of fringe figures to applaud Tsipras (EPA)

Viewers were also treated to a bow-tied far right Polish MEP praising the late Chilean despot Augusto Pinochet and calling for the destruction of the EU, while at the other end of the political spectrum a Sinn Fein MEP branded the Socialist Parliament President Martin Schulz a “dictator”.

Mostly, however, Mr Tsipras had opened himself to a sustained chorus of criticism, with the floodgates of opening to the pent-up rage at events of the last few weeks. Manfred Weber, the German who leads the centre-right European People's Party, took umbrage at Mr Tsipras' ministers branding EU leaders “terrorists”. “You are destroying confidence in Europe,” he wailed, before pointing out that Mr Tsipras had unsavoury bed fellows on the far left and right for a man who insists he wants to remain part of the eurozone.

Guy Verhostadt of the Liberal bloc spelled it out for him: “I am angry,” he said, red-faced and gesticulating wildly as he accused Mr Tsipras of hypocrisy by refusing to address “the privileges of the ship owners, the orthodox church, the military, the Greek islands and especially the political parties”. “How do you want to be remembered in history, Mr. Tsipras?” he asked. “An electoral accident who made his people poorer or a real revolutionary reformer? Don't betray your own people. Show that you are a real leader and not a false prophet.”

For the most part, Mr Tsipras sat rather impassively listening to a translation on his headphone and taking a few notes, interjecting with the occasional finger-wagging, head shake or chuckle. At times he appeared glum, especially as right-wingers sang his praises. But he remained largely impervious to the attacks of the mainstream politicians, a tactic many fear he will fall back on once again this weekend when he faces his counterparts at an EU summit that will decide Greece's future.