3/10/15 - Is the EU Ready for Greek Politics?

The following article is part of the Greek Politics Specialist Group Pamphlet No 5, published on 30 September 2015

GPSG Pamphlet Series provide ‘rapid response’ analysis after each Greek election.

The GPSG Pamphlet Series is edited by Dr Roman Gerodimos, founder and convenor of the Greek Politics Specialist Group, Principal Lecturer in Global Current Affairs at Bournemouth University, and a faculty member at the Salzburg Academy on Media and Global Change.

Vasileios Balafas

Is the EU Ready for Greek Politics?

“United in diversity” is the motto of the European Union which first came into use in 2000. The financial crisis added another dimension to the term “diversity” by emphasising the fiscal differences between EU and especially Eurozone countries. The multilevel gap between North and South put the monetary union at risk, and the cyclone of the crisis is still rocking countries such as Italy, France, Portugal, Greece and Spain. New fierce words were added to the EU vocabulary: extreme austerity, fiscal discipline, crucial Eurogroup meetings, Troika, Greek statistics, solid monetary policies. Public perceptions of the EU changed. Notions such as prosperity, unification, integration and solidarity were tested, some of them suffering under political pressure and contrasting national interpretations.

Nowadays, as economics return to the background, politics seems to strike back at those who were thinking that everything is about norms, rules, regulations, rationalism, or just about some good financiers, bankers and accountants who, after serving in big firms, believed they could stabilise the European ideal and to make economically weak countries accept fiscal austerity and extreme measures as a new European dogma. But even this is about politics, isn’t it? This was clear when many northern countries only reluctantly accepted Jean Claude Juncker’s presidency. And now the EU and the Eurozone are facing the ‘Greek Politics’ factor, a deeply political issue that is changing the strict rules of the game of a fiscal one-dimensional utopia. Nothing seems rational in Greek politics anymore. A country in deep crisis, dangerously close to Grexit, delivered two national elections and one national referendum in seven months. As the European parliamentary proceedings showed, it is very difficult for the EU to understand what is really happening in Greece. This is not the first time and has happened before, in European parties too. Remember the period between 2011 and early 2012, when the EPP (European People’s Party) couldn’t relate to its own member, New Democracy (the Greek member party) and its leader?

The years after 2012 radicalised Greek voters. They didn’t become left-wing, but rather totally unpredictable, and the process of politicization – especially of young people – was unconventional. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza, a leftist Greek party without many official allies among European parliamentary parties, won both national elections (25th of January and 20th of September). He won before and after signing a Memorandum with Troika. He won twice presenting an anti-Memorandum rhetoric, even after signing! He persuaded people that, under his government, things can be softer, more mild-mannered, in some cases reversible to the good old days. Is anyone surprised? This is completely normal. Who would vote for more measures? In light of this, Syriza’s share of the vote, 35.46%, seems weak.

Tsipras and Syriza are not a “phenomenon”. They are the epitome of politics, of Greek politics. The case is now returning to the EU/EMU’s field. Are they ready for a political management of the Greek situation and the economic crisis as a whole? Can they ‘afford’ Greece with its cons and its many pros without continual dilemmas that are making its political life venomous and maybe incomprehensive? Is Europe ready for a return to politics which takes into account so many other issues that have to be dealt with, such as the migration crisis, global instability and the arrival of a new form of American isolationism?
In other words, is Europe capable of achieving things without being rhetorically ‘cynical’? In my view, this is exactly the potential case of Tsipras.

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Vasileios Balafas is a Postgraduate Researcher at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese