One week from today Greece goes to the polls to elect a new parliament, in a surprise election after the previous parliament failed to agree on a president. Once again, the election has all of Europe on edge. The leftist and anti-austerity party Syriza is leading in the polls, and the fear is that their victory could lead to a Greek exit from the EU. So what does Syriza want? Will their plan work? And will the Greeks vote for them?
In the last Greek election in 2012 Syriza were painted as the party that wanted to quit the Euro, and their opponents warned of ‘Armageddon’ if they won. This time around Syriza is trying to avoid that sort of rhetoric. They claim they want to work with their ‘European partners’ (Germany), and that they want to stay in the Eurozone. Their young leader Alexis Tsipras speaks of stabilising the economy and ending austerity. He wants to provide healthcare again, raise wages, cut taxes and hire government employees. He also wants a deal to write off their 177% of GDP debt. However, this goes directly against the bailout deal set in place by the EU.
This deal meant that in exchange for hundreds of billions of dollars in new loans. Greece was been forced into austerity. Public jobs have been cut, wages lowered and welfare hammered. Despite recent growth, their economy has shrunk by a quarter and unemployment is 26%. Faith in politicians and the country’s future has been devastated. If the next Greek government doesn’t follow this program of austerity, access to new money – needed both to keep the country running and to pay off older debt – will be cut off.
Syriza wants to solve this issue through negotiations, hoping to get their money and lose the debt The problem is that the IMF and EU are not going to accept that. The way they see it, Greece made a deal to get itself out of its mess, and the deal must be held. The fact that Greece is utterly reliant on their foreign creditors makes this quite a significant disagreement. In a worst case scenario, this could lead to Greece defaulting on its loans and leaving the euro. This would cause financial chaos in the country, with bank runs, fleeing investment and immense uncertainty about the future. However, while it would hit EU growth, many experts think it’s unlikely to lead to complete disaster for the rest of Europe.
So will the Greeks vote for this uncertainty? All polls point to yes.To an outsider like myself, it’s hard to understand this. Syriza seems to be living in a dream world, where all their problems can be wished away. The party includes plenty of Marxists, and speaking as someone who saw the legacy of Marxism in Ukraine, those are not the people you want running your economy. While they might think Greece can simply drop the debt and go back to spending money, that’s not how the world works. Someone has to pay for years of terrible economic mismanagement and fraud. However, I haven’t had to live through 6 years of recession, see homelessness, hunger and suicide rates soar, and say goodbye to my dreams of a good future. In that situation, I might vote the same.
Austerity has had a huge effect on Greek society, and people are tired of struggling to survive. They’re also tired of being told what to do by the EU, and especially Angela Merkel. There is certainly something anti-democratic about the EU telling the Greeks “vote this way, or else”. However, the reality is that Germany and the EU wield a lot of power. Germany has already indicated that they will not be ‘blackmailed’ into making concessions. If Greece does vote Syriza next Sunday, they will be entering very uncertain waters.