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Greece Elections: In Times Like These, the EU Has Far More Dangerous Adversaries Than Syriza
Compared to the crises revolving around Isis and Ukraine, the Greek situation is 'wholly soluble'
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In ancient Greece, city states often rebelled against their overlords, who then besieged them to punish those responsible and re-impose outside control. Modern Greeks have likewise rebelled against EU authority by choosing a government led by the anti-austerity Syriza party and now face an economic siege aimed at forcing them to abide by past agreements with the EU.

The Greek government has a far weaker hand than Brussels and Berlin, but in his first days in power Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has acted swiftly in establishing a government, with the names of the cabinet announced today. Yanis Varoufakis, a 53-year-old economist, becomes Finance Minister, having long argued for repayment of Greece’s massive loans to be linked to economic growth.

These are very early days but the new government is so far maintaining its momentum. Nick Malkoutzis, editor of the online magazine MacroPolis, says that “if Mr Tsipras can overcome fears that he will mess things up in his first few weeks in office, then he will have won half the battle”. The problem is that the Greek economy is already besieged – even healthy businesses cannot get bank loans – and things could get a lot worse. However astute a political tactician Mr Tsipras may be, Mr Malkoutzis believes his government could not survive the European Central Bank denying liquidity to the Greek banks “so they have to close”.

Despite economic calamities and a hard-fought election, Athens does not have an air of crisis. The general election on Sunday took place without a shot fired and the old government peacefully gave away to the new. There is a sense that both the eurozone and Greek governments want Greece to stay in the eurozone and not default on its debts so Greek commentators believe a compromise should be possible, if only after a long confrontation.

How capable is the Greek government of sustaining such a siege?

It was established at impressive speed, but only because Mr Tsipras has made a political gamble in allying himself with the Independent Greeks party to give him a majority in parliament. A small right-wing party opposed to austerity and EU dictation, it is notorious for its vicious feuds and racist views. By choosing it as a partner, Mr Tsipras shows the total priority he gives to economic issues.

Panos Kammenos, the Independent Greeks party leader, becomes Defence Minister, an appointment likely to go down well with the army and police. Other advantages flowing from the presence of the Independent Greeks in the government is that it gives it a more national flavour and pushes to one side divisive issues with which Syriza does not want to deal at this time, like gay marriage and relations between church and state.


Mr Tsipras needs to keep his party and government focused on the two issues which won him the election: popular rejection of the EU austerity package and hostility to the corrupt clientist system of government that led Greece into the crisis of the last five years. Contrary to the claims by the Troika (EU commission, ECB and IMF) that it has imposed structural reforms, it has not achieved much.

Bizarrely, the EU’s chosen instruments of change in the two years since the 2012 election have been the conservative New Democracy party and the nominally Socialist Pasok party which had created and benefited from the system they were meant to reform. Predictably, they were unenthusiastic about sawing off the branch on which they had been comfortably sitting for so long. Syriza has greater potential for taking on the oligarchs and vested interests, but could probably only do so if backed by the EU.

The most striking feature in the impending confrontation between the eurozone leaders and Greece is the disparity in strength between the two sides. Yet Mr Tsipras has some strong cards and telling arguments. He has just won the election showing that Greeks reject the EU austerity programme. Experience shows that any Greek government seen as the EU enforcer will lose power. Whatever the Troika thought it was doing, it has failed: the Greek economy remains feeble and signs of modest revival last year were over-sold. This is despite the massive sacrifices made by Greeks, who have seen a quarter of their economy disappear, 26 per cent unemployment and youth unemployment at 57.5 per cent. If the EU genuinely wants structural reforms in Greece then this can only come through a Greek government with a popular mandate.

It is curious to recall that two years ago Syriza seemed one of the most radical threats facing the established order in Europe. It was denounced by media and governments as Bolshevism reborn. But these days, EU leaders have to think of much more dangerous adversaries such as Isis with its newly born state in Iraq and Syria. It has growing franchises in other Mediterranean states – a point underlined by today’s attack by Isis on the main hotel in the Libyan capital. Meanwhile, the escalating conflict in Ukraine means war has returned to Europe.

Compared to the crises revolving around Isis and Ukraine, the Greek crisis is so far peaceful and, says Mr Malkoutzis, is “wholly soluble”. Failure to solve it highlights the political weakness of the EU. The neo-liberal reforms of privatisation and a restricted public sector as a recipe for growth have a dated feel to them.

Compared to 2012, the financial contagion of a Greek exit from the eurozone is less, but the likelihood of political contagion is much greater, as shown by intense Spanish interest in the Greek election results. There is something old-fashioned about the Greek crisis with German and other north European states pontificating to the Greeks about the virtues of balanced budgets and debt payment.

In the days of Isis and tank battles in Ukraine, the danger posed to the stability of Europe by the election of Syriza and the rejection of EU austerity terms should be well down the list of threats.

(Republished from The Independent by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Greece, Syriza 
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  1. KA says:

    Syriza and Syria has much in common but limited to some of the alphabets . ISIS also could be gathered together from the judicious combinations of the two – Syria and Syriza Nothing beyond this .
    So why Europe is worried? What Europe? Elite is happy to have the specter of IS dangling around . More the better for -surveillance ,spending on defense,wars in some faraway pasture,and more opportunities for periodic demonization by unemployed psychopaths like Sarkozy,Blair,Burlosconi,and underperforming Hollande . IS offers hope to thousands other who want to be prominent without having to tax the brain or without having to wake up from the collective torpor induced by the Islamophobe think tanks. The wanna be experts want to follow the path traversed by Pamella Geller,Flemming Rose or Gabriella Bridget ,Spencer or Emerson to shoot to fame under the adoring eyes of those Islamophobic mega donors . IS is the juice that keeps the movement supple and smooth.
    Greece is a nightmare to these elite . Just as is Ukraine . There are tantalizing signs of greed be satisfied but there are uncertainties .
    Common folks in Europe want nothing to do with IS or imbroglio in Eukraine . But they are forced to watch,look,and remain inactive while suffer the consequences of the actions of the elite . Election is no longer fought on answering the issues dear to electorate .
    Can Greece create a new bold,and different narrative? Can it force the Europe wide solution that is needed ? No it can’t. Today’s crisis is built on as much as on the corruption of Goldman Sack ,central bankings. German economic policies as is on the passivity,stupidity,greed,and gullibility of Greeks. The whole thing will have to unravel to end this stage of the European history. The elite will fight Syriza by fighting Syria and IS . They have more sleep to lose than they are ready to spend during the waking hours.

  2. Ka says:

    Will Spain and Italy follow ?

  3. bossel says:

    “the EU’s chosen instruments of change in the two years since the 2012 election have been the conservative New Democracy party and the nominally Socialist Pasok party”
    Hmm, I thought, the Greeks had chosen (in some election presumably) …

    Syriza has toned down quite a bit (already before the election), so no wonder that pretty much everything is quiet in the EU. Many are probably happy that the old elites are (at least for the time being) gone & hope for some real change in Greece.

  4. Karl says:

    i lent some money to Adelson, then I expected the loan to be paid back on the written terms he had signed with me…. did Cockburn say I was “besieging” Adelson? Nope.

    i lent some money to Greece, the I expected the loan to be paid back on the written terms they signed with me…. Cockburn says I am “besieging” Greece.

  5. fnn says:

    I think Greece is even worse than you portray it:

    They have destroyed the right to work (today they offer jobs with bed and board as the only remuneration), reduced people to a state of precariousness and for some to hunger: salaries and pensions have been reduced by 40% in less than five years from levels that were already much lower than those of France, while the transition to the euro had resulted in a general rise in prices bringing them very close to those of Western Europe. Unemployment compensation has been reduced in its duration, the conditions for beneficiaries now exclude the majority of the unemployed, and the amounts attributed are ridiculous. In the cities, the economic impossibility of keeping warm for more and more people has triggered a surge in pollution and fires caused by makeshift wood stoves. Suicide rates and mental illnesses have exploded (while public psychiatric institutions are in an alarming state), as have the emigration rates of the most highly educated to Australia or the United States. Thirty percent of the people no longer have any medical coverage. Today, three hours from Paris by air, they are amputating diabetics who cannot care for themselves, who become blind or die. All preventive medicine has disappeared, cancer is often left untreated until the terminal phase… The WHO has warned about the increase in infant mortality and the collapse of rates of vaccination. Hospitals by the dozens have been closed, waiting lists for certain operations are getting longer, condemning many patients to death. In some places, when you are hospitalized, you must bring your own medicine, sheets and food. Sometimes hospitals have no bandages and make dressings using scotch tape. All public property has been sold off: infrastructures (highways, airports, ports, mines…). Mobility in a country that includes thousands of islands has been reduced, while the rise in the cost of boat tickets now prevents many from leaving the place where they live. Two thirds of the institutions of higher learning have been privatized or closed. Elementary and high schools are often without heat in the winter and the ministry (of Education) has just begun recruiting… volunteer teachers!

  6. I missed the implied connection between Syriza and Syria.
    speculating on the concerns of EU leaders? They’re also worried about many issues: from

    “The interesting question is not whether Greece leaves the Euro, or the Euro leaves Greece, but how many of the opposition will be arrested before the next election.

    The victory of the hard left was made possible by arresting the hard right and forbidding them from campaigning.

    Which had the effect of discouraging anyone from disagreeing with the hard left

    Greek politics is already dominated by police intimidation and the direct use of state power to punish dissent. Election of a hard left party is likely to increase the use of police intimidation and the direct use of state power to punish dissent.

    The left, which is to say the state, talks about the side of history. History tells us that if you use state power to suppress your opponents on the right, by and by your opponents on the left will use state power to suppress you.”

    Liberalism has no “internal contradictions”.

    • Replies: @matt
  7. matt says:
    @Jeff Albertson

    The “hard right” was not arrested. On the contrary, Syriza just formed an alliance with the “hard right” (Independent Greeks/ANEL) and put them in charge of the Defense Ministry.

    Members of the fascist right (Golden Dawn) were arrested. Why? Because Golden Dawn is a criminal organization, charged with extortion, racketeering, kidnapping, and murder.

    If Golden Dawn supporters wanted to vote for a right-wing party, they could have voted for ANEL.

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