Syriza, the left-wing alliance, have won the Greek elections. This should not come as too much of a surprise to anyone who has been following the situation – all the pre-election polls pointed towards this result. Nevertheless, this is a pivotal moment in not just Greek but European politics: The first time since the financial crash that any Eurozone country has had a government opposed to ruthless austerity.
The votes at the time of writing have not all been counted, but Syriza looks set to win 149 seats in the Greek parliament – just two short of an absolute majority. In order to form a majority government, therefore, they need a coalition partner willing to work with them against EU austerity. That partner is the right-wing Independent Greeks party, led by Panos Kamnenos, a splinter from the centre-right New Democracy. Both parties are fiercely opposed to austerity and to EU interference in Greece.
Independent Greeks have thirteen seats in the new parliament, giving the coalition a majority of eleven – not ideal, but still a massive achievement for Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras. At the age of 40, he is the youngest Prime Minister Greece has had for 150 years, and he has transformed Syriza from a fringe party on the left into the largest in Greece.
Syriza’s victory changes everything. Tsipras has stated that he does not intend to leave the Eurozone, but has made it perfectly clear that he is no Europhile either. Syriza’s partnership with the Independent Greeks will also bring a more Eurosceptic bent to the new coalition government. The policy clash between the two partners on non-economic issues, such as immigration and the position of the Greek Orthodox Church, may also cause problems down the line. However, for now Greece appears to have a dynamic, anti-neoliberal government capable perhaps of overturning the austerity measures imposed by the Eurozone’s central command.
Make no mistake, the election of Syriza is not a panacea. Greece’s Eurozone partners, particularly Germany, will be as determined to preserve the status quo as Syriza is to overturn it. Centre-left figures such as France’s Francois Hollande and Italy’s Matteo Renzi have failed to overturn the austerity consensus at the EU level, and Syriza will have to work with others across Europe if they intend to succeed.
But Syriza, unlike the previous New Democracy government, offer the Greeks hope. The economy of Greece buckled under austerity, contracting by 25% under the ministrations of the so-called ‘troika’ (the ECB, IMF and European Commission). Austerity has failed in Greece as it has across Europe. The Syriza victory will spur the anti-austerity movement across the continent. With general elections set to take place in the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Spain (where the left-wing Podemos is vying with the governing People’s Party for first place).
2015 may well be the year in which the ideology of European austerity crumbles.
We can but hope. And vote.
This article is cross-posted with the author’s blog, Cynical Optimist