The victory of the radical left Syriza party in the Greek national elections is the first time an avowedly anti-austerity party has come to power within the euro zone. With Syriza falling marginally short of a majority on its own, it has sewn up an alliance with the populist rightwing Independent Greeks party to form a coalition. The Independent Greeks have huge ideological differences with the leftists but are bonded by the desire to end biting EU-IMF-mandated cutbacks. The spectacular victory of the Syriza party is widely seen as a clear signal that the Greeks have had enough of austerity economics, a sentiment likely shared by ordinary people in other parts of the euro zone where such measures are in place, such as Spain and Portugal. With this a new chapter in Greece’s uphill struggle to remain solvent—and in the euro zone—has begun in earnest. After five years of austerity-fuelled recession that has driven the vast majority of Greeks into poverty and despair, Syriza cadres described the new administration as a “national salvation government”.
The leftists say full economic recovery can only come if Athens’ bailout agreements are rewritten and Greece’s £238bn debt pile is reduced. Yet Greece’s partners show no signs of letting up. “There are internal eurozone rules to be respected,” IMF chief Christine Lagarde told Le Monde. “We cannot make special categories for such or such country.” With the new government poised to ratchet up tensions with creditors, Greece seems headed for a prolonged period of political uncertainty.
It could hardly be otherwise with the nation facing debt repayments of €4.3bn. While the election results will not likely lead to a sudden breakup of the euro zone, they can be viewed as yet another event that suggests that the union is failing. They offer another example of the “disintegration and fragmentation of Europe as an effective source of government”. It’s a daunting task ahead for the Greece government but one which it cannot but grapple with.