Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Analysis

Syriza: Bearing the hopes of many non-Greeks too

  • Spain is due to hold a general election before the end of the year (Photo: Ametxa)

Every Sunday evening millions of Germans sit down to watch a crime series called ‘Tatort’. It is middle-of-the-road viewing signaling the end of one week, the beginning of another.

The TV equivalent of sitting down to sausages and green cabbage. On the Sunday just passed, the ‘Tatort’ reached 28.5 percent of TV viewers.

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  • The eurozone is in a state of flux (Photo: John D. Carnessiotis, Athens, Greece)

Yet for them too, the momentous events going in Greece made their presence felt.

At some point during the programme, a bright ‘Breaking News’ ribbon flashed along the bottom of the screen. It informed viewers that the first projections in the Greek elections put Syriza party in first place.

It was a neat illustration of how what was happening in Greece over the weekend, became what was happening in Europe over the weekend.

It’s hard to exaggerate the state of flux in the EU just now.

Greek voters have brought a radical left-wing party to power – the first in post-World II Europe. That same party has chosen to team up with a nationalist and populist party on the right. They have virtually nothing in common – bar a visceral hatred of the troika and the outside-imposed austerity.

As a first message to Berlin, the International Monetary Fund and other fiscal hawks, it was clear: the new Greek government is going to fight hard to get what it wants.

Which is, briefly, further debt relief and an end to austerity.

The response to the economic crisis brought Syriza to power. A few years ago it barely featured on Greece’s political landscape. But the hardline austerity that has seen economic output slump by a quarter; led to 60 percent of its youth being unemployed and poverty rates to spiral, has propelled Alexis Tsipras, now prime minister, into office.

Tsipras is offering an alternative. An alternative that the centrist main stream parties – on the left and the right – did not offer.

Success or failure?

And now it is not only Greek voters who are wondering if Tsipras will be able to deliver. Other political upstarts are watching closely too.

Any Syriza successes will become their potential successes. Any failures, their potential failures.

The most obvious case is Spain’s Podemos. The left-wing party slipped into being in early 2014. It is now the country’s most popular party.

Podemos’ leader Pablos Iglesias Turrion was in Athens ahead of the elections. “The wind of democracy that is blowing in Greece is called Syriza, in Spain it’s called Podemos. Hope is coming,” he said. Spain is due to have a general election before the end of the year.

Tsipras himself made a reference to another left-wing party which has seen its political fortunes rise on the back of the crisis, Ireland's Sinn Féin.

“On 25 January, we started a new era, and the victory of Syriza will be followed by the Spanish people electing Podemos and United Left, and next year, in Ireland, with Sinn Féin," he said.

Although the Irish economy is set to be the eurozone's top performer this year, large swathes of the population feel resentful about the heavy social price paid for the country's (now exited) bailout. Voters have been flocking to independents and to Sinn Fein, which is enjoying unprecedented levels of popularity. A general election will be held in 2016.

All of this puts Germany, as the commander-in-chief when it comes to the eurozone's austerity, in a tight spot.

If it shows leniency to Syriza's demands, it is likely to spur the rise in other member states of populist parties who want similar things.

If it plays tough with Greece, making no concessions, it might force the country out of the eurozone. And although there is less overt fear about the prospect of an exit, it would still be a messy and unpredictable event.

For Germany there is also the wider sense of losing control over policies it considers of key importance. It suffered a bodyblow with the European Central Bank's historic decision last week to start a quantitative easing programme.

As governments from Madrid, to Paris and Rome feel the pressure from populist parties, the more they are likely to baulk at carrying out unpopular structural reforms - reforms Berlin considers to be essential.

The eurozone is now entering an uncertain phase. The potential winners and losers remain unclear.

Opinion

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The victory of Syriza in Greece is important not only for Greek people, but also the rest of Europe. With the crisis and the rise of the far-right, a left alternative is urgent.

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