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Syriza’s victory in Greece: a historic change for the EU?

, by Jérôme Quéré, Translated by Nelly Tsekova

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The radical left party Syriza won the parliamentary elections in Greece yesterday. This victory is historic and will have consequences for the European Union. However, they will perhaps not be as important as expected.


  • Nelly Tsekova is a student of Public Policy at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria. She is member of JEF-Bulgaria and has done internships at the World Bank and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria. Her interests include any EU-related topic especially foreign policy and education.

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This morning, according to the latest results of the Greek elections the radical left party Syriza got 36.3% of the vote. Or 149 seats, two short of an absolute majority. Alexis Tsipras’ party will have no trouble convincing the couple of deputies needed to reach the required number of seats. It is well ahead of the “New Democracy” party of outgoing Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, which acquired 27.8% of the vote (76 seats). The anti-austerity party wants to reverse the trend and restore the confidence of the Greek people. Hopefully, it will do the same for the financial markets that remain capricious, despite the many efforts of the country’s people, bent under the austerity reforms introduced by the previous government. These reforms failed and the country is still drowning in debt.

The idle threats of European neighbors

So the Greek people did not take into account the statements of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, sounding like a threat. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, the German Iron Lady reportedly said in early January that she was ready to let Greece leave the euro zone in case the radical left won the elections. They did not let themselves be influenced by what the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said – that he was in favor of “familiar faces” or the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, facing the rise of the radical left party Podemos. These remarks may have even favored the victory of Syriza.

Will Greece be pushed out of the euro zone? No. Alexis Tsipras had said before the election that there is no way for his party to abandon the single European currency. It does not question the membership of his country in the European project. Last night he even said that “the new government will avoid the destructive confrontation with its Europeans partners”.

Is the wind of change blowing across Europe? Despite some disrespectful statements about Greek democracy made by its European neighbors, the political positions seem to turn away from the arid path of rigor towards the greenest land of flexibility and recovery policy. A more accommodating European policy?

The European Commission said it wanted to be more flexible towards countries not respecting the sanctity of the 3% deficit allowed, as provided for in the Treaties, to the delight of France and Italy. The 315 billion euros Juncker investment plan, although often considered insufficient, shows that a little stimulating policy could support better management of public funds.

The latest novelty is the so called quantitative easing as announced by the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi. This last card played by the Frankfurt institution will allow it to buy off debts of countries in the euro zone to 60 billion euros per month for at least eighteen months. Even Angela Merkel was unable to oppose this program, which she believes may deviate countries from the necessary reforms.

Merkel has favored Syriza despite herself

The German Chancellor, in a strong position since the beginning of the crisis, has found herself in the increasingly difficult position in her desire to impose fiscal discipline in the European Union. This change is noticeable, but has been coming a long away. The Head of the German government was able to show her grip in negotiations with its neighbors. Opposed to providing financial aid to Greece at the beginning of the crisis, she only made it worse. Agreeing finally, she managed to get counterparties by strengthening the right of inspection of the European Commission on national budgets, to ensure that it did not sign a blank check.

If the European Union has advanced to the discretion of the crisis, it is only the result of late and non-transparent negotiations between heads of state and government. This method has proved inadequate at the face of the crisis. The best payers, Germany on top of the list, have seen their importance multiply while the others were constrained by austerity plans. The failure of these plans led the Greeks to choose a radical left party to show their opposition to austerity. But recent polls show that they do not wish to turn their backs on the Union or the euro. They want to stay in, but want to see the Union evolve to be more responsive to the people and less to the financial markets.

The high expectations of the Greek voters?

The victory of a radical left party in a Eurozone-member doesn’t jeopardize it nor the European Union because, contrary to what Marine Le Pen wants us to think and who recently supported this victory, exposing the inconsistency of her political vision. This win and the will of the Greeks to remain in the European project shows that they have hope for a new Europe, with more solidarity. Recent measures of the European Commission and the ECB seem headed in that direction.

However, the arrival of Alexis Tsipras to the European Council will not allow this European turn. He remains the only European leader to oppose strongly austerity. The European Council is certainly not the institution to turn to for this change. The radical left in Greece should enjoy this moment of joy, for future negotiations will be tough, despite the recent flexibility of the European Commission.

The victory of the radical left party in Greece allows to fold some cards in Europe. The game starts to turn in favor of the revival of defenders, but the first part was dominated by far by supporters of budgetary rigor, headed by Angela Merkel. If the next round turns out to be complicated for those entering, the German bluff doesn’t work, then the game will be all cards on the table.

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