In the aftermath of the Greek general election, which put SYRIZA, an anti-austerity left wing party, into power in coalition with far-right Independent Greeks, Dimitris Papadimitriou Professor of European politics at The University of Manchester, explores the situation and assess the possible impact.
So, there you have it! Greek bailout politics have come full circle. On Tuesday a new coalition government was sworn in in Athens. SYRIZA has won a landslide victory against their conservative rivals, New Democracy, but have failed to win an outright majority in parliament. The new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, was in need of a coalition partner and it did not take him long to find one. The right wing populist party, Independent Greeks, will join the new government and will be rewarded with a number of senior ministerial appointments. Earlier hopes of a coalition between SYRIZA and the moderate centre left party, To Potami, were dashed the day after the election. Apparently, To Potami was not ‘anti-bailout enough’ for Mr Tsipras.
In Panos Kammenos, the leader of Independent Greeks, the new Prime Minister of Greece finds a partner with impeccable anti-bailout credentials. Mr Kammenos and his party are indeed a product of Greece’s polarised bailout politics. He broke away from New Democracy in 2012 and since then has been a fierce critic of what he regards as Greece’s “occupation” by its creditors. Last year a prominent member of his party accused the EU of being a “bunch of gays”, prompting a humorous rebuff by the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Earlier, Mr Kammenos himself had warned Greeks that they were being sprayed with secret chemicals in order to subdue their opposition to the bailout. He is a die-hard defender of displaying paraphernalia of the Orthodox Church in public buildings and believes that Greece’s future lies in a strategic partnership with his political idol, Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
On Monday, Mr Tsipras became the EU’s youngest leader and the first PM in Greek history who refused to take a religious oath when he assumed office. How can these two agendas co-exist in the same government? Why didn’t Mr Tsipras opt for a more moderate partner? Drawing a parallel to Britain, recent developments in Athens are the equivalent of having Michael Foot and Nigel Farage in charge of renegotiating the UK’s membership of the European Union.
In understanding this farce, one has to look at the effects of the bailout programme on Greek politics. The two-party system that emerged following Greece’s transition to democracy in 1974 has been shattered by the austerity of the past five years. In 2009 the collective strength of the Greek Socialists, PASOK, and New Democracy was in excess of 77% of the vote. On Sunday their share of the vote was just over 31%. The old guard has been swept away, discredited in the eyes of ‘indignant citizens’ as corrupt and subservient to the demands of the ‘Troika’. The implementation of externally-prescribed austerity has led to the electoral annihilation of the mainstream. Anti-bailout rhetoric sells. Even if it comes wrapped in homophobia and religious fervour.
The arrival of Mr Tsipras’ colourful coalition in Greece is the shape of things to come across Europe. Above all it reflects the bankruptcy of the German moralistic austerity dogma. Mr Tsipras and Mrs Merkel are the opposite sides of the same coin. If Mr Tsipras succeeds in changing the dominant economic paradigm in the Eurozone, he will expose the shortcomings of German economic thinking over the past five years. If he fails, Greece’s descent into the abyss will remind Berlin what any good history book will tell you: extreme economics breeds extreme politics. Those who set the foundations of the German economic miracle after the war knew this very well.