The Times, 19th January 2015
The upcoming snap election in Greece has put Syriza in the spotlight, given that the party is leading the polls. Questions are being raised whether a Syriza victory will result in Greece’s exit from the eurozone.
Syriza (an acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left) was formed a few years ago by various parties, politicians, activists and groups, including democratic socialists, green leftists, Eurocommunists, Trotskyites and some Eurosceptics, among others.
From a party on the margins of Greek politics, it has become the largest political force in Greece. Just a few months ago, it achieved 26.6 per cent of votes in the European parliamentary elections, thus consolidating its position within the European Left. It is now being endorsed even by the Greek Green Party, which has decided to field some candidates in Syriza’s electoral list.
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras was one of the most charismatic figures in the European Parliamentary campaign. Influenced by 1970s sociologist Nicos Poultanzas amongst others, Tsipras expressed a message of hope and solidarity, calling for another Europe, based on a social model beyond austerity.
Fast forward a few months and Greece is faced with a snap election. Syriza’s projected lead is reportedly narrowing and the electoral result can mean a governing coalition.
Syriza is calling for an end to the austerity programme the EU has imposed on Greece due to the country’s unsustainable economy. Austerity has, however, increased unemployment, social inequality and poverty.
Syriza is calling for a renegotiation of Greece’s debt to enable the country to adopt a more socially-oriented programme while remaining in the eurozone.
Is this possible?
It depends on a number of factors.
First of all, the Greek electoral result can mean that Syriza would depend on the support of other parties to put forward its demands. Other parties might have a more moderate perspective than Syriza, especially since the only party to Syriza’s left, the self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (KKE), has spent the best of the past years denouncing Tsipras and company as traitors of the KKE-dogma.
Should Syriza have to negotiate with other parties towards the centre of the political spectrum, the various internal factions within Syriza would eventually have to come to terms with what is negotiated, which, most likely, will be a less moderate programme than what Syriza campaigned for.
At the same time, the new Greek government would have to negotiate with European powers on its debt. Should both sides of the negotiating table have the ultimate aim of retaining Greece in the eurozone, it is inevitable that compromises would have to be made by either part.
Should a Greek exit from the eurozone be a realistic option, then it would be a different ball game altogether.
Either way, the Tsipras leadership will face tough choices and political risks.
Remaining in the eurozone might be more desirable but this might result in compromises that are deemed unacceptable by the more radical wings of Syriza, leading to yet another political crisis.
Alternatively, Tsipras might show sufficient political skill to negotiate a settlement which strengthens his leadership. This might have political repercussions in other parts of Europe, particularly among other rising progressive forces – such as Podemos in Spain – which are campaigning along the same lines as Syriza.
On the other hand, opting to leave the eurozone might please some radical wings but not go down well with Syriza’s moderate wings and allies, equally resulting in political crisis and, possibly, in another election, where Syriza would likely be the net loser.
However, should eurozone exit really take place, this might result in a more isolated Greece, which will ultimately have to come to terms with its debts by finding other international partners. Who knows what such partners will want in return?
Given that there is no such thing as a free meal in international politics, it would be desirable that Greece remains within the eurozone and that negotiators at different levels display a resolve to reach an acceptable way forward.
In this regard, I couldn’t agree more with the words of the co-president of the Green Group in the European Parliament, Philippe Lamberts. He recently appealed to EU leaders and the European Commission to fully respect the outcome of the Greek elections and work with any democratically-elected government to ensure Greece remains a member of the eurozone.
In the final instance, the Grexit debate reflects what type of Europe one would want: a Europe promoting solidarity, dialogue and sustainability or a Europe of nationalism, imposition and austerity.