26 Jan 2015

What Syriza’s Greek election victory means for Europe

The far left Syriza party won 149 seats out of 300 in the Greek parliament, and must form a coalition to take power. This is close to a done deal, with the Independent Greeks’ 13 MPs poised to approve a government headed by Alexis Tsipras within the hour.

A coalition of the far left and a conservative nationalist splinter group may seem far fetched – but this is Greece: an already chaotic democracy on Europe’s rough edge with Asia, plunged into misery by IMF/EU dictated austerity.

There was stunned relief and worry among Tsipras’ supporters. Many of those dancing and cheering in the party’s marquee were its international supporters – from the Spanish Podemos movement, Portugal’s Left Bloc and every occupy protest for the past five years.

Among the party’s Greek veterans, there was a numb recognition that everything they had dreamed of in a lifetime of protest marches, strikes, petitions, study groups devoted to the writings of Antonio Gramsci, was about to come true.


What this means is, first, that the EU/IMF strategy for dealing with the aftermath of the 2008 crisis is in tatters. They have destroyed centrist politics in Greece: first by forcing political leaders to sign up to austerity, then acquiescing as those political leaders indulged in their tradtional game of graft, patronage and double dealing.

This formed in the minds – not just of  the young but of the moderate middle class – the conviction that the country had been abandoned: a 25 per cent fall in real wages, and 50 per cent youth unemployment were only the start.

So now, there is a democratic deficit at the heart of the Eurozone: a country has voted against the strategy of the majority and can only be forced into line if the ECB pro-actively triggers the collapse of its banks.

Without consensus the Eurozone’s economic strategy can only pursued to destruction.


Syriza’s economics people have been crystal clear: they will no longer deal with the Troika (the EU/ECB/IMF body that runs the austerity programme). They will deal as a sovereign country with each institution separately. They argue the Troika itself was illegal.

So there is a real possibility that, as Tsipras annuls austerity this week, the hawks in the ECB – centred on Germany – will threaten to pull the Emergency Lending Assistance that keeps Greek banks afloat.

Right now Syriza’s economics team are trying to mobilise political support to stop this – from Francois Hollande, Matteo Renzi and, I am told, George Osborne. We’ll see.

For now make no mistake: this is going to become about sovereignty and democracy and the soul of the Eurozone.

Yes the Syriza people like to sing the Italian left anthem Bandiera Rossa; but if you could see the young people’s faces as they sing the anthem of ELAS, the resistance movement that defeated the Wehrmacht in 1944, you would understand what drives leftism here.

Tsipras pulled this off by uniting an alliance of 12 far left groups into a credible party: learning to govern in two years of textbook parliamentary opposition work; soaking up technocratic young advisers from the collapsed social democratic party, Pasok, and then moderating his policies.

The clash with the ECB/IMF will be shaped now not around this or that left policy but over sovereignty.

That’s what turned Syriza’s 2 per cent lead on 7 January into an 8 per cent victory last night. The IMF/ECB and the Greek elite handed Tsipras the opportunity to create the first true left government in Europe since Spain in 1936. But he took the opportunity.

When I got close to him in the melee last night, he looked like the calmest person in Greece.


Keen eyed watchers of the Greek media will have seen that, as I attempted to throw a question to Syriza’s number two politician, Rena Douro, she grabbed me by the ears and kissed me. I’d shouted “A long way from Syntagma Square!” because I first interviewed her as a bedraggled protester there, amid tear gas.

As she is the Prefect of Attica, this is the Greek equivalent of being kissed by Boris Johnson.

I persisted with questions: “What next? How can you govern?” But Ms Douro replied simply “Thank you for being here.”

It’s a bit of a stir among the 50-odd other microphone-toting Greek press pack, who did not get kissed, and happened in front of about 100 cameras, so I thought I’d better mention it.

Follow @paulmasonnews on Twitter.