It has been three weeks since the new government was elected, and as we wait for the outcome of the negotiations between Greece and Europe, it’s time to count the records set: we have the youngest Greek prime minister, the first prime minister to refuse to wear a tie, the first government that used in part political oath in the swearing in, the youngest speaker of the house, and only the second woman in that position, elected with a record number of votes. This was the first time in 92 years of democratically elected parliaments in Greece, that a member of the Papandreou family has not been elected.
And it was the first time a left government that calls itself ‘radical’ has been elected in Greece; it is also worth noting that it is the first time in the history of Greek politics where a government is determined to stick to its pre election promises.
However, out there in political land, there is a well coordinated campaign by the supporters of austerity-for-others policies, both at home and in Europe, urging the government to perform the usual post election volte face and do the exact opposite of what they promised. This is possibly something that is expected of Greek politicians who feel compelled by tradition to deceive the electorate, but it is rather alarming to hear the same call from other western European leaders who were elected on the basis of their political manifestos and, unlike their Greek counterparts, believe in honesty, openness and transparency.
As for the new speaker of the house, she has already made it clear that in the new parliament the prime minister will be expected to be present to answer questions at PM’s question time; that there will be mo more amendments sneaked in as a clause to unrelated legislation; and that there will be no more cover ups of scandals investigated by parliamentary committees. And that is another big first.
Meanwhile, the departing prime minister Samaras who refuses to accept his defeat graciously, announced that his party, New Democracy, will be very soon called upon “to play its historic role” of saving the country from the crisis. Mr Samaras did not make clear what he had in mind. Did he envisage himself becoming the head of a replacement government as a result of a new round of elections, or that he might be appointed to that position by Angela Merkel?
Whatever Mr Samaras had hoped for, it would appear that prime minister Tsipras and his finance minister Varoufakis, who has in the sort space of three weeks achieved superstar status, are doing much better than the prophets of doom had suggested in the weeks before the election, and the popular support of the new government is exceeding all expectations. At the same time, there is a groundswell of political sympathy from Europe and all over the world, but which has not yet been converted to political support from Eurozone governments. And thus the pre-election question of ‘what would you do when the rest of Europe says no to the Greek plans?’ is still asked by the Greek opposition, disregarding the possibility that they might say ‘yes’.
And there is a good possibility that the rest of Europe will say yes to the Greek government’s plans when they manage to remove their narrow ideological blinkers and realise that their ‘radical left’ proposals aim to create in Greece similar conditions to those of ‘moderate’ governments in western Europe. What the European partners take for granted, namely some basic social welfare provision, more jobs opportunities and a fair taxation system.
Yet, these are the very proposals Europe rejects under the principles of ‘a deal is a deal and a debt is a debt’ even if the deal has not delivered the desired outcomes after five years of being painfully applied. Instead, they urge the prime minister to follow in the footsteps of the previous government. Does that include turning a blind eye to tax evasion and smuggling , to corruption and cronyism, to increasing poverty and unemployment and further reducing the living standards for the majority of people?
“We call on the new government of Greece not to jeopardise the economic progress achieved during the leadership of Antonis Samaras. The sacrifices made by the people of Greece cannot be put at risk through unilateral behaviour. Prime Minister Tsipras has to respect all commitments made by the previous Greek government. Europe is ready to help the people of Greece overcome their economic problems; we call on Prime Minister Tsipras not to be an obstacle in helping the people of Greece,explained European Peoples Party President Joseph Daul after the EPP summit. The EPP includes major parties such as Mrs Merkel’s German Christian Democratic Union, which not surprisingly is the dominant force in the alliance, the French Union for a Popular Movement, the Spanish ruling People’s Party and the Polish Civic Platform.
EPP’s support for the previous coalition government reflects the German view of Greece’s position in the EU, and not just because in the past, German interests contributed to the political funds of both the dominant parties, and now want to see some value for their money. (see Siemens Scandal investigation ). There is a more direct link to the national interests of Germany.
Far from being an obstacle, the Tsipras government has shown a calm determination to negotiate and has not asked for additional loans, arguing that the biggest loan in history is enough. The Syriza proposals do not even mention debt reduction at this stage of the negotiations, but I suspect that the Greek negotiators are aware that during the term of this government there will be significant political changes in the rest of Europe and that the issue of unsustainable debt will be raised again in the future by a number of other governments.
Judging from the numbers of demonstrations across the continent in support of Greece, it looks like a European Spring is sprouting out, a movement against debt and the German-imposed austerity, spearheaded by the Greek government. Elections are due in several European countries and opposition to austerity is gathering popular support, as people realise austerity is not the only way. Important elections in Spain, Portugal and Italy are taking place this year, and in Ireland in 2016. These are all countries where the anti austerity opposition is said to be more popular than the government; and there is also a very fragile government in Holland where provincial elections are held next month, and an anti European right on the rise in France. All of which are a threat to the German position of dominance in European politics which Mrs Merkel has successfully exploited to strengthen the position of the German industry and financial institutions. The German government itself faces state elections in Hamburg , and after convincing the German public that their taxes have been spent on loans to the lazy Greeks who do not want to pay back their debts, cannot now backtrack without further damaging the already week position of Mrs Merkel’s party in Hamburg. Fortunately, the decisive eurogroup meeting takes place the day after that election, which may allow a less hostile German attitude towards Greece. But until a deal is agreed, Greece is still in the grip of winter.