* Greek EU Commission candidate wants end to austerity
* Tsipras appears for first time in televised debates
* Opposes sanctions against Russia over Ukraine
By Harry Papachristou
ATHENS/BRUSSELS, May 16 Greek radical leftist
leader Alexis Tsipras, running to head the European Commission,
said on Thursday his country's EU-led bailout has been a
failure, despite Athens' recent return to bond markets.
"What happened in Greece is not a success story but a social
tragedy that shouldn't be repeated anywhere in Europe," Tsipras
said during a debate among candidates for president of the
European Commission, to be appointed after EU Parliament
elections May 22-25.
Greece is also holding two rounds of municipal elections on
May 18 and on May 25.
Tsipras, the European Left's candidate in the European
elections, made his first appearance in a string of televised
debates among the contenders. These debates are the first of
their kind as the EU seeks to show its relevance to increasingly
The other candidates to run the EU's executive are
centre-right Luxembourg politician Jean-Claude Juncker, 61-year
old Belgian liberal Guy Verhofstadt, 32-year old Green
politician Ska Keller from Germany and German Socialist Martin
Tsipras reiterated demands for Europe-wide debt reduction
and called for an end to bailout-imposed austerity policies
across Europe to boost economic growth.
"If we don't finish with austerity, we'll never solve the
problem of unemployment," said the Athens-trained civil
engineer, the only debate participant to speak in his native
Juncker, 59, who led Greek rescue talks as head of euro zone
finance ministers four years ago, dismissed Tsipras' criticism.
"I did what I could to make Greece stay in the euro. I will
never accept the charge that we lacked in solidarity," he said.
Tsipras, 39, stands little chance of becoming Commission
president. But he expects the candidacy to boost his radical
leftist Syriza party, which stunned the political establishment
in 2012, coming out of nowhere to become Greece's second-biggest
party and the main parliamentary opposition.
Syriza has since staunchly opposed the terms of Greece's 237
billion euro bailout, which saved the country from bankruptcy at
the price of severe austerity and record unemployment.
The outcome of the European elections in Greece is being
closely watched by financial markets for any sign of growing
political risk in the country, which remains dependent on aid
from the EU and IMF despite its successful bond sale last month.
Greece's pro-bailout government says it will need no
further rescue when the current one expires later this year.
Tsipras has said he would seek to negotiate an
international write-off of about one-third of Greece's debt if
Syriza came to power but said he prefers a consensus solution
rather than using the option of a Greek default as a weapon.
Tsipras has recently moderated some of his more aggressive
rhetoric and sought to position himself as a pro-Europe
Again in contrast with his rivals, Tsipras opposed EU
sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.
Syriza has led in the polls in the run-up to the local and
EU vote in Greece, but Tsipras has failed to open a wide lead
over Prime Minister Antonis Samaras's New Democracy party.
(Reporting by Harry Papachristou; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)