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Greece Elections: Syriza and EU on Collision Course After Election Win for Left-Wing Party
Success for Syriza party may provoke economic siege by European Union
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Greek voters have rebelled against the austerity programme imposed by Brussels and Berlin in return for loans to fund Greece’s massive debt. The radical left Syriza party, which promises better terms for Greece, won a decisive victory in the general election today and is close to winning an absolute majority in parliament.

Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, won between 36 and 38 per cent of the vote compared to between 26 and 28 per cent for the conservative New Democracy Party of the Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, who has led the government over the past two years. He was defeated because he failed to end the bailout, get a Greek debt reduction, lift the economy out of deep recession despite some recent improvements and get the IMF removed from the much-hated troika (EU, ECB and IMF) that has exercised a near-colonial control over the Greek economy.

Syriza may seek to form a government on its own or it could look for allies such as Pasok and the Potami party. But it will soon find itself in a confrontation with the EU as it look for relaxation in the austerity that has reduced four million Greeks to poverty.

At the same time, Greece remains saddled with €240bn in debt that it is unable to repay but must continue to service. Continual cuts and tax rises made it impossible for Greece to escape from a deep recession despite marginal improvements last year.

Mr Tsipras says he does not want to leave the EU or the euro and neither option is popular in Greece. The EU will not want a relaxation to austerity in Greece because of the impact this would have on heavily indebted countries such as Italy, Spain and France.

Third place in the elections after Syriza and New Democracy was a tie between the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn and the newly founded centrist Potami party, each winning between 6 and 7 per cent of the poll. Other parties elected include the Communist, the socialist Pasok party and the Independent Greeks, a right-wing party with a taste for conspiracy theories explaining Greece’s troubles as the result of foreign machinations. The leading party receives a bonus of 50 seats in the 300-member parliament.

The Greek rebellion against its EU economic overlords may provoke a prolonged economic siege as Syriza seeks to negotiate new terms for a bailout while the EU waits for a lack of money to force Greece to comply with existing agreements. Professor Aristides Hatzis of the University of Athens says: “It is like a game of chicken, with Greece and the EU driving towards each other and each hoping the other will swerve first to avoid a collision.” He adds that one must keep in mind the disparity in power between the two drivers. “The EU leaders are driving a German Mercedes and the Greeks are in a beat-up old jalopy.”

A new Greek government will immediately face problems because the creditor states have frozen \$8.8bn (£5.9bn) in loan disbursements while the present government has reached a \$17.4bn ceiling for bond sales under the EU programme. A Syriza government would have to rely on taxes but tax revenues are down as people wait to see if taxes will be reduced by the new government. This means that Greece may only have the money – though this is disputed by Syriza leaders – until the end of February to pay state employees and pensions and service the debt. At the same time, eurozone finance ministers will extend negotiations until September.

This impending collision with the EU frightens Greeks, but they also feel that five years of being dictated to by Brussels and Berlin has brought them nothing but pain. The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras told his supporters at a final rally, held in a closed stadium built for the Taikwondo championships in the 2004 Olympics, that Greeks would be “committing national suicide” if they voted for the radical left in the shape of Syriza.

Expectations are not that high even among Syriza activists. At a polling station in central Athens today, Vanda Theodorou, a keen Syriza supporter, said: “When it comes to unemployment I don’t think we can do much if we form the government. But we will make improvements in health by providing healthcare for the unemployed.” The unemployed receive €300 to €400 a month during the first year they are without a job and after that nothing.

Ms Theodorou, formerly a journalist, said she had been unemployed since 2007 and so were her two daughters. She said “the state has not provided any social safety net and treats people like garbage”. She pointed to her mouth, which was swollen, and said that her jaw had been broken in a car crash last year and she needed to have many of the smashed teeth replaced, but could not afford to do so.

The degree of radical change Syriza can introduce even with an absolute majority will be limited by its lack of money and the unwillingness of 75 per cent of Greeks to leave the euro because a return to the drachma is not really feasible. Greece imports most of its needs and has no important allies in its confrontation with the EU. On the other hand, as the first radical-left government in Europe for decades, it will fight very hard to show that it can deliver on its promises to give free electricity to those cut off, provide food stamps for children, provide healthcare to the uninsured, provide accommodation to the homeless and raise the minimum wage from under €500 a month to €750.

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Greeks view the outcome of the election with a mixture of hope and trepidation. Antonios, a businessman in the financial services sector who supports the New Democracy Party, says he fears that a Syriza victory will destabilise the country and lead to a reverse of many reforms. “Already people are moving money out of Greece,” he says. “The recession that is beginning to ease may get worse again. I hope there won’t be a bank run on Monday, but it could happen.” With the economy so badly damaged, Antonios understands why popular resentment runs very deep.

The election has once again opened up the deep traditional divisions between left and right in Greece, rooted in the German occupation, the civil war, the rule of the colonels up to 1974 and the unprecedented economic collapse of the last five years.

“A vote for Syriza is a vote for anger,” says Professor Hatzis. There is fury that the better-off and the oligarchs have succeeded in avoiding paying for a financial disaster that was largely of their making. He says that Mr Samaras’s government wanted to satisfy the demands for reform by the Troika by introducing “across-the-board cuts in order to avoid structural reform”. The corrupt clientist system in which financial oligarchs had a large measure of control over Greek politics was largely the creation of the New Democracy and Pasok parties that lost so heavily in the election. “The Greek government has protected the oligarchy and the cartels over the last two years,” says Professor Hatzis.

In theory, a radical party like Syriza is in a far better position to introduce structural reforms than that of Mr Samaras representing the political and economic establishment. One of the problems for the Troika is that it is the very fact change was being imposed by abroad, and most notably by Germany, which delegitimised necessary reforms. Compromise between Greece and the EU should be possible, but the problem remains that the EU leaders hold all the high cards and may be tempted to impose their will regardless of whom the Greeks vote for. The Greeks also fear that the priority for the Germans and North Europeans is to continue to be tough on Greece in order to send a warning to governments in Spain, Italy and France that they must stick to austerity.

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

    The Greek people have a long, hard road ahead of them. But today is a day for celebration.

  2. Wally [AKA "BobbyBeGood"] says: • Website

    Now what are they going to do? The Greeks are not exactly known as hardworking.

    They want the good life, but do not want to pay for it.

    On the plus side, let’s hope this is just the beginning of the end for the EU. A god awful authoritarian, unelected, all consuming Keynesian mega state.

    [Okay, you’re that slippery fellow who’d been going around changing his name for almost every comment, sometimes in rapid succession on the same thread. I’ve repeatedly warned you that I find this sort of sock-puppetry completely unacceptable. However, I’m prepared to give you one last chance. Henceforth, your one and only handle shall be “BobbyBeGood” and if you start to use any other handles, I’ll just summarily trash any of your future comments I encounter. So think it over and behave yourself.]

    • Replies: @Wally
  3. There is fury that the better-off and the oligarchs have succeeded in avoiding paying for a financial disaster that was largely of their making.

    Indeed, it wasn’t the huge portion of the population which got busy spending the money the oligarchs were borrowing for them, it was the oligarch’s fault for borrowing it and handing it out in the first place. LOL

  4. @BobbyBeGood ” The Greeks are not exactly known as hardworking” is complete nonsense. A recent OECD study found that the Greeks worked the most hours in the EU. The country that worked the least was Germany.
    The problem with the Greek so called “dept” was caused by the banks. 90% of the dept was sent to pay out the banks as was done in the US. If the shipping tycoons paid their fair share of taxes as too the other oligarchs there would not be a problem. Funnily enough the same thing has happened and is happening in the US but most can’t see it.

    • Replies: @The Anti-Gnostic
    , @Wally
  5. bob sykes says:

    Why can’t the economists and economic press understand the extreme suffering of the Greek people? They are not in a recession, they are in a deep 1930’s style full-blown depression. Overall unemployment is 26%, and youth unemployment is around 50%. The economy has shrunk by something like 25%. This morning the BBC economic reporter was confused. Didn’t the Greeks understand that unemployment had fallen all the way from 28% to 26%, the the Greek government actually ran a surplus last year and paid down some debt? Why vote for Syriza when everything was so wonderful?

    Germany will not negotiate, so Syriza will have to default on the entire debt. This has happened many times in Greek history since it got independence. Seeking revenge, Germany will probably force Greece out of the EU and the Euro. And the Greek people will suffer more. Next election, the Communists will come to power, and Greece will abandon NATO. The budding Russo-Chinese alliance will get an opportunity to expand into Europe.

    • Replies: @George Taylor
  6. Wally [AKA "BobbyBeGood"] says: • Website
    @Wally

    Understood, Ron. Please note that ‘BobbyBeGood’ has been consistent in only using that name.

    You really should build a ‘guidelines’ section where issues like ” sock-puppetry” and any other “slippery” behaviors are defined in advance. Heretofore that has not been done, hence my use of different names. I mean, who knew?

    I also suspect others here would appreciate knowing the rules in advance rather than on an ad hoc, ‘I don’t like your views so I will makes rules ex post facto in order to censor them’, basis.

    I would appreciate you allowing this reply to be seen. I’m more than willing to play ball, but do not appreciate being dramatically demonized without my replies to your attacks being viewable. What’s fair is fair.

    Je Suis Revisonniste.

    • Replies: @Wally
  7. @Silver Miner

    LOL. Yeah, they pay the most taxes too.

  8. Wally [AKA "BobbyBeGood"] says: • Website
    @Silver Miner

    “Nonsense”?

    Not really. Only 6o% of working age Greeks actually work. Ahem.

    And the ones that are working are disproportionately doing so in unsustainable government provided jobs, not exactly known for productivity and hard work.

    Paying back loans is actually a secondary issue. The primary issue is that they allowed themselves to over spend in the first place. IOW, they are living above their means and curiously expect someone else to foot the bill. It’s convenient to blame those who lend the money, but not so convenient to look inward and ask why they borrowed it.

    Nonetheless, I hope Greece dumps the EU. Their new Marxist government can print all the drachmas it likes, and then …. ? Well, then they will have no one to blame but themselves.

  9. Wally [AKA "BobbyBeGood"] says: • Website
    @Wally

    Thanks, Ron.

  10. Renoman says:

    They’re goin Iceland and I hope they do. Living under the EU thumb only serves the 1%. Better to have less and have hope.

  11. @bob sykes

    Germany will not negotiate, so Syriza will have to default on the entire debt. This has happened many times in Greek history since it got independence. Seeking revenge, Germany will probably force Greece out of the EU and the Euro. And the Greek people will suffer more. Next election, the Communists will come to power, and Greece will abandon NATO. The budding Russo-Chinese alliance will get an opportunity to expand into Europe.

    Next election, the Communists will come to power, and Greece will abandon NATO. So? The budding Russo-Chinese alliance will get an opportunity to expand into Europe. Really?

    Me thinks a failed Greece will be more like Mexico, fertile grounds for drug lords, illegal immigration into the rest of Europe and possible Islamic infiltration. If for whatever reason Russia and China wish to destabilize Europe via Greece I don’t think they’d have to do anything.

  12. The Greek determination to keep the euro no matter how bad it gets is breathtaking. I wonder if this will ever change. Syriza’s position seems to be that they want free euros and the EU must hand them over. I can’t see this working out.

    • Replies: @matt
  13. matt says:
    @Simon in London

    Greece’s ability to leave the Euro is leverage in possible debt-forgiveness negotiations with Germany. If they announced up front that they are blow up the Euro, they would be abandoning a major negotiating chip right away.

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