by Christos Aivaliotis
GREXIT. That was the boogie man for the last years. Greece willingly or by force leaving the Eurozone. Consequences for Portugal, Ireland, Spain (rest of the PIGS), or even Italy or France. Endangering the very existence of the common currency. Personally I never believed it can happen. Not because of blind faith to the competence of ruling political class of Greece to face the challenges of the financial crisis. Neither because I believed other European elites would do anything to protect one of the weakest members of the European family. It was purely because I have spent most of my adult years studying the EU. With such a complex political and legal system, it is unimaginable that such a dangerous decision for the EU itself would be rushed when so many other positive steps had to wait years of treaty reforms, parliamentary votes, national vetoes and referenda. (If it was that easy, I am afraid our friends across the Channel would have left us long ago).
Nevertheless the threat of Grexit worked to keep Greek people, that have benefited a lot and in many different ways by the European integration process, from standing up against so many socially unfair measures to achieve fiscal consolidation (since the government was unable to enforce the socially fair ones or any of the few elements of modernization that could be found in the MoU with the Troika).
“With recession continuing for more than 6 years, Greeks lost faith and also lost fear of the boogie man. Why? The boogie man was already here.”
GRELECTIONS. The ultimate catastrophe takes place on the 25th January 2015. SYRIZA, the leftist anti-austerity main opposition wins general elections (after having led the polls also in the European elections the previous year). And of course there is no major incident. No bank runs, no riots, no asteroids hitting Athens, no GREXIT. What happened is that the main opposition took over the power.
Some fireworks here and there are to be expected like the case of the common declaration on the sanctions against Russia, until some fine tuning is in place. And as a reminder that there is more of a Renzi than a Holland now in Athens.
I have no illusions about the extent of change the new government will be able to bring. I do not expect them to have a direct clash with Brussels or Berlin. Rounding up their rhetoric, since it became apparent that power is within reach, proves it. And for me it’s better that way, as I want my country in the heart of Europe, not at the outskirts as it used to be for centuries. EU capitals and institutions have started rounding up their rhetoric as well. Nothing new for those that studied politics.
“Pragmatism: a word of Greek origin that the Germans probably master more than anyone else in the Union.”
GRESULTS. SYRIZA triumphed, no doubt about that. It represented hope, probably the only one. The new main governing party should have no illusions either. One third of the electorate did not become leftist. SYRIZA just won temporarily the trust of the electorate centre that always offers the victory. And I think they will prove to be worthy of this trust if they deliver in the following three sectors, all at the same time and with equal emphasis:
1. Restoring main elements of social policy: as it is usually the case the middle class has been squeezed, the lower income classes go through situations that we all thought belonged in the past and our own oligarchs – same old, same old. On the legislation level many of the recent acts (especially in labour law) are in direct contradiction to the EU acquis.
2. Ending the general feeling of impunity in the country: the public is disgusted by mainstream politics and therefore has opted lately for extreme forces that used to be marginalised in Greek society. Huge economic scandals of the past as well as organized criminal actions of xenophobia must be addressed now.
3. Modernizing the state in real terms: the Left is synonymous with a big state, which Greece cannot afford now financially and never actually afforded ethically. No more ghost state bodies/committees/agencies that sustain the electoral base of the governing party. We need a big state of teachers, doctors and firemen, all those that offer to the public good. And to do that, we need a sound fiscal policy. Not spending more than we produce, simple as that.
So the main element is JUSTICE. Real justice in social, judicial and fiscal terms. In a European context that Greece always needed and will always need for historical reasons that go far beyond the crisis of the last years.
The coalition with the Independent Greeks… Certainly not my cup of tea (subconsciously I just thought of the Tea Party in the US). An anti-austerity front, they say. Maybe, but no government can govern on pure economic terms even in Greece of 2015. Enlightenment never reached Greece really, if we take into account that Tsipras was the first ever Prime Minister to take a civil oath on the Constitution and not a religious one in the presence of our local orthodox authorities (as did the ministers coming from his coalition partner). We have issues: separation of State and Church, immigration and the right to citizenship, the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities. Details they say, when you have people living with a pension of 300 euros per month. Maybe, to be seen.
The outgoing Prime Minister and its government won’t be missed. That’s for sure. They alienated any centrist or liberal element that could always find shelter in the Greek centre-right in the past. Fighting Golden Dawn and the Independent Greeks on the nationalist and populist agenda offered the centre to SYRIZA (with some fragments staying in smaller formations like the once mighty PASOK and Potami). New Democracy, once a European Christian Democratic Party, has changed fundamentally. With its ministers telling us in the pre-elections period that we will run out of toilet paper with a SYRIZA government or with the Prime Minister using the Charlie Hebdo incident to attack SYRIZA for its immigration policy (or in the last even equalizing the number of unemployed Greeks to the number of illegal immigrants in the country). For sure, we need a different centre-right for the quality of our democracy (and also of a centre-left assuming that SYRIZA won’t transform in it).
GRENTRY. In the end what I see is an entry of Greece back into real discussions about its own future and the future of the Union. An entry of Europe back into Greek politics that could shape the European agenda not as point but as an interlocutor. An entry of both Greece and Europe into a new political phase. For good or for bad, it does not really matter. People needed a change, an exit from this parenthesis of life. They took the risk and probably it’s the turn for Europe to follow.
About the author
Christos Aivaliotis (MA in Southeast European Studies- Athens University/ MA in EU International Relations & Diplomacy- College of Europe) is a Greek Brussels-based Political Scientist with expertise in the EU, the Balkans and all in between – such as Greece. He didn’t vote since his home country still does not allow in the 21st century Greeks to vote from abroad. Not that it would be an easy task as he is most of the time attacked by his left-wing friends for being a neoliberal bourgeois and by his right-wing friends for being a communist… Currently works in the consulting sector and speaks his mind every now and then with or without being asked.