Syriza victory – a direct challenge to EU consensus

Posted: February 2, 2015 in Austerity, EU, Greece, Syriza

The significance of Syriza’s victory in Greece cannot be underestimated. It represents much more than opposition to the failed policy of austerity. It is a direct challenge to the social and economic consensus that has dominated Europe and the liberal democratic world for decades.

 The last democratically elected Radical Left government in Europe was in 1936. The coming to power of the Spanish Popular Front was used as a pretext for General Franco’s fascist coup and forty years of dictatorship.

A similar fate befell Salvador Allende, the democratically elected Marxist president of Chile. His Popular Unity government was overthrown in 1973 by Augusto Pinochet whose brutal dictatorship ruled for almost twenty years.
In Latin America, Radical Left governments still have to contend with occasional right wing coups, as Hugo Chavez found out in 2002.

In Europe however the response of the political and economic Establishment will be much more sophisticated though no less determined in its opposition to the challenge that Syriza represents.

At first glance the programme for government promised by Syriza during the election campaign is far from revolutionary.

They are committed to maintaining a balanced budget. Their stimulus measures are aimed at restoring basic living standards to ordinary people – reconnecting electricity supply, providing food relief and shelter the homeless and public works programmes to tackle unemployment rates of 25% for adults and 50% for young people.

None of this is possible without a debt deal. Extended maturities and tinkering with interest rates won’t allow for the level of investment that Greek society needs.

But the significance of the call for a debt write down is much greater than the spending programmes it is designed to fund. It is a bold challenge to the dominant view in Brussels and Frankfurt that the problems of Greece are solely the result of actors in Greece.

In electing Syriza the people of Greece are stating clearly that political leaders of the core Eurozone member states and the EU institutions bear as much responsibility for the economic crisis as the corrupt former leaders of the Hellenic Republic.

They are rightly rejecting the claim that the EU led bailout programmes are a form of solidarity from the economically responsible core to the fiscally errant periphery.

They are demanding that the cost of economic crisis be borne by all member states equally.

The repercussions of this demand extend far beyond the issue of whether or not EU leaders are willing to countenance a debt write down. It is a challenge to the underlying fiscal and macro-economic consensus that underpins the European Union since the Maastricht Treaty.

While Syriza clearly wants Greece to remain in the EU and the euro – they believe that both the Union and the currency need to radically change if there is to be fair and sustainable social and economic recovery.

Equally troubling for Brussels and Frankfurt is that the new Greek government has made it clear that they are not willing to play by the skewed rules of the EU power game, which treats some member states as more equal than others.

They have asserted their right, as a democratically elected sovereign Government, to make important political and economic decisions without seeking permission from the European Commission.

They moved quickly to form a coalition. They chose partners that had no desire to weaken their opposition to austerity. And they appointed Ministers of substance and agility that will test the mettle of their counterparts at the European Council.

Port and energy privatisations agreed under the previous Government have been halted. Plans to re-employ 15,000 workers have been announced. Election promises to raise the minimum wage and pensions have been confirmed. Foreign policy announcements from Brussels have been questioned.

All of which is evidence of a government that intends to keep to its pre-election promises.

Indeed the speed of action and determination of commitment displayed by Syriza in their first week in office has already started to elicit considerable disquiet in Berlin and Brussels.

The stage is now set for the most fundamental challenge to the status quo within the European Union since its foundation. How the ensuing battle plays out will have profound repercussions for the EU and for individual member states including Ireland.

Any success for Syriza and the Greek people will deal a blow not only to the failed policy of austerity but to those Governments that have so enthusiastically supported it.

It would also give succor to those of us who have been arguing that there is a better fairer way to exit the economic crisis.

It will also open up the possibility of change of direction for the European Union – away from the technocratic social liberalism that has dominated since the era of Delors and towards a more democratic and egalitarian future.
Given what is at stake there is no doubt that the political and economic Establishment across the EU will deploy their considerable resources to defend the status quo.

This will be a battle of David and Goliath proportions with the odds stacked heavily against the Greek people.

In April 2012 Dimitris Christoulas, a 77 year old retired Greek pharmacist shot himself dead in front of the Greek parliament. His pension had been dramatically cut by the Government under instruction from the Troika. In his suicide note he wrote ‘I see no other solution than this dignified end to my life, so I don’t find myself fishing through garbage cans for my sustenance.’

Christoulas was not just a victim of austerity promoted by politicians in Athens, Brussels and Frankfurt. He was a victim of the absence of hope.

Last Sunday witnessed a return of hope to the people of Greece. The question for the rest of us is where do we stand? – on the side of hope or on the side of those responsible for the death of Demitris.


This article was originally published in the Sunday Business Post 1.2.15

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