by Marika Frangakis, Attac Hellas
The outcome of the 2012 national elections in Greece took the Greek and the European political establishment by surprise. SYRIZA (acronym for the Coalition of the Radical Left) – a left party that had not obtained more than 5% of the vote in the past – came second, with 26% of the vote, becoming the main opposition party to the conservative-led coalition government that was formed. The ascendancy of SYRIZA was confirmed in the May 2014 European elections in which it came first, while public opinion surveys show it to be comfortably ahead in the present electoral race. Thus a SYRIZA-led government is expected to come out of the national elections to be held on 25th January.
This is unsettling for the European elites and for Greece’s creditors, who have imposed a programme of brutal austerity on the Greek people in order to save the European banks. From the beginning of 2010, SYRIZA has opposed this so-called Economic Adjustment Programme,arguing that it will make matters worse, even if it provides a breathing space for European finance. Five years later, SYRIZA’s predictions have been vindicated. The economy has shrunk by more than one-fifth, unemployment has more than trebled, hitting especially the young, who are emigrating in large numbers, the welfare state has all but collapsed, social misery has become widespread as the middle classes have become impoverished and the poor pauperized.
SYRIZA proposes a radical change of policy, aiming at getting the Greek economy off the ground and at helping large sections of the population to get back on their feet. Understandably, the European and Greek elites are worried. Their privileged position is being challenged. Talk of a new crisis (Grexit) reveals fear of change, because “after hubris comes nemesis and catharsis” as taught by the ancient Greek tragedies and recalled by Alexis Tsipras, the leader of SYRIZA in a recent article1.
SYRIZA advocates a National Reconstruction Plan to replace the present Economic Adjustment Programme. This consists of 4 pillars
- confronting the humanitarian crisis;
- restarting the economy and promoting tax justice;
- increasing employment and
- transforming the political system in order to deepen the democratic process.
Each of these pillars consists of detailed and costed policy measures. Further, the growth initiatives proposed by SYRIZA include a 2-year job creation programme, the establishment of a public investment bank and two state lenders that would focus on providing liquidity to farmers and to small and medium-sized enterprises.
With regards to Greece’s public debt, SYRIZA proposes a European Debt Conference to discuss the issue of over-indebtedness and seek solutions along the lines of the 1953 London conference convened to deal with Germany’s war debt. The party’s goal is to have a large part of the public debt written-off and for the repayments on the remainder to be indexed to the country’s growth rate. On the European level, a SYRIZA government would favour quantitative easing and bond buying by the ECB, as well as the exclusion of public investment programmes from the rigours of the Stability and Growth Pact.
SYRIZA in government will have to deal with many challenges on the domestic and European level. At home, big business, the austerity parties and the Greek media will resist change. Opposition will also come from the European elites which will apply maximum pressure and/or attempt to corrupt the party.
Overall, SYRIZA will have to remain true to its electoral commitments, as well as put forward a project for government. As Yanis Varoufakis, a professor of economics, and a SYRIZA parliamentary candidate, has said “SYRIZA may have the opportunity to transform Greece and change the course of European history, but this is a task that makes Odysseus’ journey look like a walk in the park”3. Hopefully, he has not underestimated the challenges faced by the first ever left government in Greece.
13 January 2015
1 Tsipras A., 2015, On the Cusp of a Historic Change, The World Post, Jan 12