Published on 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.

Addendum

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.

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23 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    “Centrist politics in Greece…”

    Yeah, right.

    That’ll be the “centrists” who caused all this poverty and subsequent IMF ripoff in the first place, then.

    They’re about as “centrist” as you’re not a far right apologist.

    I hope Syriza have triggered a Europe wide political revolution that wipes out capitalism for good and all, and dumps it where it belongs – with feudalism and Nazism in the dung heap of history.

    But we all know what’s likely to happen. There’ll be the usual far right propaganda by bought-and-paid-for mouthpieces like you. Then there’ll be further economic attacks against the Greek people for actually trying to take a stand against Washington, Berlin and London suited-up thieves and their tenth rate apparachiks.

    And if all that fails there’ll be the usual fascist resort to the colonels……You know, like the threat you tried to intimidate the Syriza rep with during an interview a few days ago.

    For the time being it is likely Syriza won’t achieve its goals because it won’t have enough Europe-wide support. But at least it will have tried to set some standard of decency and morality. Which is more than can be said for mouthpieces like you.

    The time is fast approaching when enough people will recognise capitalism for what it is and get rid of it. The only question is how much war and destruction that evil robbery will resort to to avoid its inevitable fate. The last century showed it can scarcely get lower without resorting to nuclear weapons – and I wouldn’t bet against that madness either.

    1. Steve G says:

      Dear Mr Angry,
      “The time is fast approaching when enough people will recognise capitalism for what it is and get rid of it.”
      And replace it with what? Communes based on bartering? Do tell, I’m all ears.

    2. David little says:

      Interesting views if a little outdated. Why not consider him as a man of his time and a patriot who also plays a mean game of poker?

      david

  2. Leo Regan says:

    Thank you for being there, and being you. No one else can provide your perspective, which rings true. The BBC is now definitively pathetic in its bias and submission to the power elite. This is a completely different narrative force, and it won’t be compromised. It is the beginning in southern Europe of a resurgence in favour of the 75% who are losing and can be motivated to break away from the monolithic centrist ideology epitomised by Merkel. She has no clothes.

  3. praxis22 says:

    But no less than you deserved :)

  4. adil says:

    It seems wise for the those that have lent to Greece to look at renegotiating the loans. It is far better to support the creation of a vibrant Greek economy than punish the Greek people with further austerity. It would be really wise to work with this government as the consequences of failure could be dire: swing to the far right and potentially more serious problems for the rest of Europe.
    We do not have to look to far back in history to see the effect of narrow-minded punitive financial actions on an economy had on the rest of the world (the rise of national socialists in the 1930s).

  5. David Peter Smith says:

    I recommend reading Mr Mason’s book Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere, for background to Syriza’s rise to power and placing this result in the wider context of post-2008 economic crash politics. Fantastic journalism.

  6. Nigel Wilson says:

    I have said previously that if you treat a man like a dog then don’t be too surprised when he bites your ankle. Syriza are that man’s teeth. If I were a Greek I would have voted Syriza, but I also thank God I am not Greek.
    This is the moment just before Leftist groups begin to fall out with one another. Syriza are going to have to work probably harder on themselves than on the ECB, EU and all to keep this together. This is now real politics and not the motion before the meeting. Solidarity now gets really tested.
    There is a crying need for reform in Europe. The reform has to embody freedom for the people of Europe as opposed to the careers, salaries and perks of the politicians and bureaucrats. If the state, that is any and every state, cannot work for all the people then what is the point of it?

  7. Constance Blackwwell says:

    One can only thank Paul Mason for his clear – if very rapid explanation of the economics.
    terrific reporting. One can only hope this is the beginning of something good for Greece. One person’s observations are minor – but i personally was shocked at the state of the pavements going up and down the hills of Athens – where all the bannisters were broken -yet at the same time shops in the wealthy areas filled with clothes more expensive than the left bank in Paris – – and underneath it all a deep despair at the total corruption of the wealthy who were not paying taxes -. Part of the Greek problem is an international problem of tax havens – be it Apple – Top Shop – Boots – or the rest – Time to get really serious

  8. Edward Willhoft says:

    Useful slap-in-the face for Mrs Merkel and the unelected Eurocrats. It is sheer madness and dangerous stupidity ever to have invited a corrupt and economically backward nation like Greece, inter alia, into the EC. And these half wits even attempted to seduce Ukraine into the club with the foreseeable result that we now have the threat of military warfare between the west and Russia. The EC has transformed into an ugly and dangerous mess that the UK should get out of asap. It is no longer the noble concept achieved by Dr Konrad Adinauer after WW2 designed to prevent all future European wars. It has become a cesspit of unelected and self-serving plutocrats who don’t understand the need for preserving cultural and economic sovereignty and through their tunnel vision and thereby creating international strife.

  9. nick j says:

    first off thanks for the reporting: I saw anel / syriza in your intra bar tweet.

    surely the Greeks need to throw their banks under the bus, pay out on deposit insurance and go on the drachma? biggest problem would be printing the drachma notes? and over coming the bank run bank bust thing

    but hey, what do I know? apols in advance for typos am inebriated, on the train and on the mobile.

  10. John Ward says:

    ‘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.’

    You have the whole banana right there: Tsipras is a reacher-out – something far too rare on the Left. Given the ridiculous hard line being adopted by Brussels-am-Berlin, you can see the genius in what the Syriza leader has done. He unites and radiates: the KKE merely is nothing more than a factional drain.
    https://hat4uk.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/greece-analysis-syriza-hits-ground-running-as-tsipras-brokers-anel-coalition-deal-to-seal-majority-rule/

  11. David Morgan says:

    The Left in other countries must now mobilise opposition to the methods the IMF, ECB and EU (the Troika) will try to use to force Syriza to back down. For example, with a General Election coming soon in UK, pressure must be brought on the Labour leadership to promise not to support any Troika tactics used that will be harmful to Syriza and Greece.

  12. No2BiasedJournalism says:

    What a biased report!

    Syriza didn’t start at 2% a few weeks ago. They had 71 MPs in the previous parliament. Is Paul Mason REPORTING on Syriza or campaigning for them?
    Ofcom should ask serious questions here on journalistic independence at Channel 4.

    1. Davie says:

      turned Syriza’s 2% LEAD into 7%victory….
      Try reading before commenting.

  13. Duncan says:

    One way out of this seems to not be being discussed… a transition to true economic and political union where Europe really adopts an all for obe and one for all policy. I wonder why that is?

  14. Stuart says:

    The tag lines given to Syriza say a lot about where we are these days. “Radical”, “far left” etc when you yourself I think have described them as wanting to bring a bit of old fashioned Scandanavian welfarism to Greece and you point out here how their programme has been “moderated”. I’m surprised to see you use this language, Paul.

    I hope to see you using similar language to describe other governments or institutions whose policies have brought such chaos and suffering to millions? The Radical Troika perhaps?

  15. Ben wright says:

    She kissed you, I think, because your excitable reports for newsnight were part of the momentum for change. How that square’s with an impartial BBC I don’t know.

  16. Rai Come says:

    16 questions you should ask the Greeks?

    1. Is this election change really going to remove the old power machine?
    2. Whats your priests role in your economic life?
    3. Where is the entrepreneurs?
    4. Is it possible to set up a flat renting rights union in Greece?
    5. Will you teach your neighbors kid mathematics for free, because you believe in the youth?
    6. Can you think outside the Box?
    7. Why are you sitting down and not up and running your own DIY business, employing everybody around you?
    8. Do you pay your sons school teacher under the table for actually teaching him?
    9. Do you think old people are running the show?
    10. Can Greece truly be secular?
    11. What can you export outside Greece, except from Feta, olives and olive oil?
    12. Can you invent a concept which has no connections to Greek culture?
    13. Could you in a fictive situation live without Greek pride, if that was your entire economical problem?
    14. Can you create your own job?
    15. What can you do for Greece?
    16. Will Greece ever rise up and prove its value as a partner in the euro zone?

    And John Snow I will give you a 100 pounds for every truly entrepreneur you find in Greece.

    1. Julian Wells says:

      Given the multi-faceted contributions of Greek intellectuals in classical antiquity and later (yes, Epicurus, I’m looking at you) it would indeed be very difficult to invent a concept that was not connected to Greek culture.

  17. Mike JL says:

    Keep up the good work Paul

  18. John Wayne says:

    Paul, aren’t you a bit old to fall for the PR releases? I’m half your age, and I know ‘RADICAL FAR LEFT’ is code for will do a deal.

  19. Allan Bond says:

    The issue that has been missed by all is this.
    the ‘Euro’ experiment was hastily formed in the post Berlin-wall era 1989-1992. The system of one currency, without fiscal union is fundamentally flawed, especially when there is no effective mechanism for reigning in profligate spending of each individual country. So spending and debt levels quickly spun out of control under the euphoria of the initial union.
    The inevitable attempt at reigning in the excesses (austerity) came too late, and was uneven. You think it doesn’t annoy the Greeks and the Spanish that France keeps delaying its deficit target? Of course when the Union was formed the banks were falling over themselves to lend money to all the peripheral countries. That should have been where the ‘austerity’ started. By the time the markets realized that there was no central European guarantee for debt it was too late. European yields exploded to the upside and countries like Greece could no longer self fund at market rates
    The only solution to this problem is ultimately to have one Eurozone fiscal policy and one monetary policy. For this to happen you would have to transfer all meaningful power to an unelected bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels. Given the rise of the anti-Euro movement this is going to be difficult. People have cottoned on.
    Ironically, many of the anti-euro parties are running on anti- immigration platforms. For the single currency to ever work you have to have mobility of labor, so that when unemployment rises, workers can move to the jobs. This is why free immigration is one of the mainstays of EU policy. If this does not occur you get pockets of chronically high unemployment. How long will the German taxpayer keep funding the 58% of Greek under 25 unemployed youths. Not much longer it would seem.

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