Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Feature

Greece turns left: What next?

  • Spanish left-wing MEP and Podemos leader, Pablo Iglesias made a guest star appearance next to Alexis Tsipras at Syriza's main elections rally on 22 January in Athens (Photo: Keep Talking Greece)

Across Greece people will tell you the country is a litmus test for the rest of the continent, that where Greece goes Europe will follow.

The country has been devastated by austerity. The far-right has flourished, suicide rates have doubled, half of all young people are unemployed and island paradises have been sold off to Oligarchs.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The victory of the radical left-wing party Syriza marks uncharted territory in anti-austerity politics (Photo: The All-Nite Images)

The victory of the radical left-wing party Syriza in Greece marks uncharted territory in anti-austerity politics. The next weeks and months will be vital in determining if Greece and Europe can steer a new economic and political course.

“First we take Athens, then we take Madrid”

On the final electoral rally of Syriza on Thursday evening (24 January) in the working class Omonia district of Athens, Leonard Cohen was been played to a crowd of enthusiastic Syriza supporters before Pablo Iglesias the leader of Podemos came to the stage.

Iglesias, who heads the one-year old sister party to Syriza born out of the Indignados movement in Spain, came to the stage to chant: “First we take Manhattan then we take Berlin!” quoting the lyrics of the famous Cohen song before voracious applause.

“First we take Athens and then we take Madrid” has since become a regular slogan amongst Syriza supporters.

At a Syriza UK discussion a few days before, Stathis Kouvalakis, a lecture at Kings College and a member of the Syriza central committee and one of the driving ideologues behind the party, said that “the greatest asset Syriza has in Europe is Podemos”.

This sentiment is echoed across Athens. Giving his victory speech outside the Athens University before banners and flags of several tongues and hues Alexis Tsipras the youthful leader of Syriza declared “this is a victory for all the peoples of Europe fighting austerity”.

It is anti-austerity sentiment across Europe that will be the main bargaining chip for Syriza in the coming months. The party wishes to remain in both the eurozone and the EU whilst renegotiating the country's crippling debt with its creditors.

They wish to “repay Greece's debt based on the growth vector of the country” according to Kouvolakis instead of through cuts to public services.

They propose a moratorium on debt in Europe's crisis countries based on the 1953 reduction of German debt following the second world war. Their argument is one that resonates with a lot of people in Europe's south.

Hundreds of Italians made the trip across the Adriatic to celebrate on Sunday night and instigate endless renditions of 'Bella ciao' with the crowds outside the Syriza 'kiosk' on Klathmonos square.

“Hope is coming”

Although the message of hope has attracted a lot of people here in Athens, there are those who feel Syriza's message cannot go beyond rhetoric.

“I like what he [Tsipras] says. But I just don't believe him.” Said Dimitri, a 45-year-old taxi driver as he drove past a rather empty New Democracy tent on Syntagma square.

“He wants to give more money to the pensioners, good. But where will it come from? I don't like [PM]Samaras but he knows how to talk to Europe and that is where the money is. In six months Greece will be bankrupt.”

Ultimately it will be Tspiras' ability to talk to Europe that will decide the country's fate.

Although European leaders have taken a more conciliatory tone toward Syriza as they looked sure to gain power, there will be tough negotiations ahead between Athens and the Troika (of the IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission).

The leftist party's slogan in the run-up to the election has been “hope is coming”. While not everyone buys into the Obama-esque optimism of the campaign, most Greeks want a different economic direction.

“Nobody believes everything will transform from one day to another. But the current deal we have with the EU has to change. If Tsipras stays strong to his word he will be able to force Germany to listen”, said Stamoulis, 24, a waiter from Meganissi in western Greece.

Along with the rise of Podemos, Syriza's other weapon is of course the option of a unilateral default on the country's debt, which would cause turmoil in the eurozone. However this is the last possible bargaining chip that poses a whole range of potential problems.

Two seats short of the absolute majority it was hoping for, Syriza is set to team up with the right-wing anti-austerity Independent Greeks, and will have to make some economic concessions to them too.

This will moderate their ability to go guns blazing to Brussels with drastic options.

Social Pharmacies

Where the state has failed volunteers and communities have stepped in to provide basic services such as medicine, food and social care for society's poorest.

One such community-driven 'social pharmacy' in Galatsi estimates they arrange voluntary health visits by doctors and nurses to 120 people each week, most of whom have chronic diseases.

Austerity has quite visibly caused the state to fail to provide basic services to citizens and the Greeks have protested this at the ballot box.

The question now is to what extent will the new government be able to implement its mandate of ending austerity without causing further turmoil.

How the rest of Europe reacts will determine a big part of that question.

As the broken banners and empty Alfa cans are swept away from Klathmonos square, it remains to be seen how the victory will play out in Brussels and Berlin.

Syriza to win Greek election

Greece's anti-austerity Syriza party is on course to win Sunday's parliamentary elections. The country "is turning a page," said party leader Alexis Tsipras.

Tsipras sworn in as Greek PM

Hours after bringing his far-left Syriza party to election victory, Tsipras has shown he's prepared to play hardball by teaming up with a right-wing anti-austerity party.

Opinion

Hope and fear: Greeks after the Syriza victory

Many Greeks are finding a new sense of national pride in Tsipras' hard stance towards "foreign interests", but where will he find the money to run the country or pay its debts?

News in Brief

  1. German top lawmaker scolds Bettel over Johnson snub
  2. Greens decide on Tuesday on talks on Five Star joining
  3. Belgian mayors give Juncker a tongue-lashing
  4. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  5. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown
  6. Nato rings alarm on Gulf 'escalation'
  7. Luxembourg mockery of British leader sparks 'anger'
  8. Majority of Belgians against excluding Vlaams Belang

Podcast

Trumpworld In Europe

Pastors and plutocrats are sponsoring an ultra-conservative agenda in Europe. Many of them have links to Donald Trump.

Opinion

Why I'm voting against the von der Leyen commission

The new migration commissioner's job title, "Protecting our European way of life", rings not of pan-European solidarity or federalism - but is incorporated from the playbook of the extreme right.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs
  2. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  3. Trumpworld In Europe
  4. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  5. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  6. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  7. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  8. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us