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What Comes Next in 2015: Greeks elect anti-austerity SYRIZA

  • January 26th, 2015
  • Posted by EU Australia

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The left-wing SYRIZA group entered the week positioned to take government in Greece, with a wave of support for its rejection of the national austerity plan mandated by the European Union.

 

With 75% of votes counted the official projections gave 36.4% and 149 seats to SYRIZA, headed by Alexis Tsipras, 40, (picture), who put the party together, and saw its support grow from less than 5% in under five years.

Alexis_TsiprasHe might be looking for coalition partners to get the 151 needed for a parliamentary majority.

Defeated was the conservative party, New Democracy (27.8%, 76), leader of the national coalition which enacted gross spending cuts and a revenue drive, under the terms of agreement with the ‘troika’: the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank.

Also defeated, the remnants of the centre-left Pasok, long-time party of government, since the early 1980s, which got just under 44% of the vote in 2009, then embraced the first austerity plan, and saw its vote collapse to 13.8% in 2012. This time, it split, with a splinter party (under one-time Premier George Papandreou) getting no seats, and the Pasok rump 4.7% of votes, 13 members of parliament elected.

Others in the calculus:

Golden Dawn (6.3%, 17), the black-shirt movement riding high on opposition to immigration, where an estimated 770 000 to one-million refugees and other recent arrivals (from Albania, Romania, the Middle East especially Syria, and from Africa), are a highly visible presence among some 10.3-million Greek citizens.

To Potami (6%, 17), a centre-left group formed in 2014, which could be a coalition partner for SYRIZA, though determined to keep Greece in the Eurozone currency group if it can.

The Greek Communist Party (5.5%, 15), always a constant, which kept out of the radical left alliance under Tsipras.

The Independent Greeks (ANEL group, 4.7%, 13), centre-right, neo-liberal, mostly split off from New Democracy.

WHY?

A few points to be picked up from covering any elections in Greece in the recent decades: it has the experience of being a poor country; it has a residually rather left-wing electorate; there is a political culture based on fighting out decisions on an ideological plane.

In living memory; a military dictatorship in the 1930s was followed by the Axis invasion and occupation; civil war between the armed forces and communist guerrillas in the late 1940s, and another military government 1967-74, a regime that scarcely stopped short of a fascist terror, which directed its sinister attentions especially towards the communists.

Entry into the then European Community at the beginning of 1981 was promulgated as taking refuge, obtaining an enduring place in the realm of democratic order.

After another decade came expansion of the European Union; access to hard currency through acceding to the Euro (2001); steep economic growth fuelled by large-scale borrowing of money, especially from Germany; then a crippling bust with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008.

Amid deep and ongoing recession and paralysing unemployment, annual government deficits were running at 12.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP of US$343-billion, A$435.2 – xe.com, 26.1.15; set to fall by nearly a third by end of 2014), with public debt then at US$410-billion (A$520.2).

The figures foreshadowed economic dearth and social crisis; the EU provided access to financial guarantees, at the cost of prioritising debt repayment, among austerity measures so immediate and biting they aggravated recession and blocked off effective recovery.

Dissension in the parliament late last year created a constitutional impasse, with failure to fill a vacancy for President of the Republic, provoking the January elections, and confronting Greeks with a hard decision.

At one level, waiting through until a return of some prosperity would be impossible for many family budgets, actual poverty knocking at the door. This would be too much to endure. Among voters, SYRIZA warranted support for its radical break with ‘neo-liberal’ and ‘neo-con’ nostrums.

At a second level, a ‘left’ ideology privileging workers’ rights over corporate accumulation was familiar and respectable talk to this electorate; there is a folk memory of economic hardship and exploitation, and few illusions about the beauty of the other ideology, wrapped up as it was in a blanket of recession.

Perhaps with some sense of desperation by 2015, voters were prepared to give young Mr Tsipras a go.

WHAT NOW?

SYRIZA logo The incoming SYRIZA government of Greece proclaims it must break the “vicious cycle of austerity”, citing the logic that compounding recession disables the capacity to pay back debt, while in the process it ruins lives and disables the life of community.

It can be expected to have senior representatives at a meeting this week in Brussels of Finance Ministers from the Eurozone group, the 19 countries using the Euro currency.

Those representatives will be expected, senior officials at Brussels intimating widely that after the years of restructuring and reorganisation that followed 2008, they do have “tools” for anticipating and dealing with a new crisis.

SYRIZA has telegraphed already it will be looking for a massive write-off of debt, pointing to its democratic backing, arguing that the Greeks have striven, and will strive more successfully without the killing handicap. Inability to pay might mean default of debt, meaning in turn, no return to lenders and bad consequences for all parties. An economy unable to get capital from outside, unable to create wealth, calls to mind the experience of Eastern European states in the Eastern Bloc – most still struggling to fight their way out of it.

Debt rescheduling might be possible for Greece, and might be in order.

Said Le Monde (25.1.15): the incoming Prime Minister would be pressed to honour undertakings to renegotiate debt, promote investment and create jobs.

Leaving the Eurozone and creation of another Drachma could hardly be welcome in the street, in Athens, Frankfurt, or anywhere else. Greek exporters including the tourist industry and shipping might benefit from a brass-razoo currency, reducing their prices overseas; local manufacturers might profit from the country being unable to afford imports; business, and the government, would find themselves crippled anew by the fact of a heavy percentage of their debt being written in Euros. The old donkey-cart economy beckons: picturesque, backward, broke.

Commentary this week carried by the French agency AFP canvasses some of the immediate reactions in Brussels:

“Greek anti-austerity party Syriza’s resounding election win on Sunday leaves the European Union caught between finding a compromise with its leader Alexis Tsipras and making concessions that will be hard to swallow for countries like Germany, analysts said.

“Having won over a frustrated Greek public with fighting talk of renegotiating the country’s 240-billion-euro (A$340.2-billion) rescue package and leaving behind years of painful spending cuts, Tsipras has put himself firmly on a collision course with Brussels.

“’There will be plenty of ‘tense’ moments between Athens and Brussels in the weeks to come’, a top European official said, not wishing to be named.

“‘We will not escape a re-negotiation (of the bailout),’ another European source told AFP on Sunday.

“The first indications of the EU’s reaction will come on Monday, with a long-scheduled meeting of eurozone finance ministers, where talk of Greece’s unsustainable debt level will top the agenda…”

See also, EUAustralia Online: Greece seeks easier terms, 24.6.12; Elections: France, Greece …,(7.7.12); SYRIZA: A new political force in Greece, (7.7.12); Greece: Government must argue with the ‘Troika’, (7.7.12); Ending 2013: Germany’s new government; no easing of the economic headache for Greece, (21.12.13).

Reference

 

The Guardian, Manchester,  Tsipras declares end to ‘vicious cycle of austerity’ after Syriza wins Greek election, 26.1.15

Le Monde, Paris, En Grèce, les grands chantiers de Syriza, (Grand plan of SYRIZA in Greece), 25.1.15

Christian Spillmann, Wary Brussels to seek middle ground with Greece’s Tsipras, AFP, Paris, 26.1.15.  https://au.finance.yahoo.com/news/wary-brussels-seek-middle-ground-145616290.html, (26.1.15)

Wikipedia, SF,  Greek Legislative Election 2015, 26.1.15. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greek_legislative_election,_2015#Results, (26.1.15)

 

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