If Greeks choose EuropeEditorial 28 September 2015
Last Sunday, the party led by Alexis Tsipras, the current Greek Prime Minister, had won the Greece’s fifth election in six years, emerging with 35.4% of the vote over the centre-right New Democracy party on 28.1%. Albeit, Syriza looks more vulnerable than it did the first time round, with only 155 seats in parliament compared to 162 last time, this victory took analysts by surprise. Indeed, few would have bet that a party, who was elected on January pledging to end austerity could have been re-elected once voters knew that austerity is on the way. This is particularly true if we think that, not later than July, Greeks rejected the EU’s bailout.
Syriza’s victory shows that Greece wants a permanent break from its past and from its old political order, in power since the collapse of military rule in 1974 and widely blamed for the country’s economic decline and dysfunctional public sector. For this point of view, Tsipras has well interpreted the feeling of his people, campaigning along the need for the Greek politics to tackle corruption and face deep-rooted problems. “The mandate that the Greek people have given is a crystal clear mandate to get rid of the regime of corruption and vested issues,” he said.
Furthermore, in spite of the U-turn on austerity, which caused a revolt by party radicals, Syriza campaigned on a pledge to implement the €86bn bailout, while promising measures to protect vulnerable groups from some of its effects. He vowed Greeks to soften austerity measures for the country’s poorest citizens, describing the package as a “living organism” , in which some areas still open for negotiation, including debt reduction, privatisations, labour relations.
Thus, voters decided it was better to give the Prime Minister a second chance than to support factions minded to pull Greece out of the eurozone altogether. As matter of fact, the vast majority of Greeks never fancied the idea of Grexit, which was perceived as a recipe of uncertainty.
This vote is an important outcome for Greece, which will now live through a stabilisation period with a solid majority, said the French President, François Hollande. Nonetheless, apart from having to form a new coalition that can withstand the rigorous implementation of the third bailout, Tsipras has a list of challenging reforms to quickly enforce in order to persuade EU lenders that Athens is doing its best to implement the agreed steps that will ensure the next payment. Most likely, on the long term, the Prime Minister will have to strenghthen his majority, but now he has all the tools to modernise his country, in order to make it a more reliable EU partner.
In the end, this victory has a positive implication also for Europe at large.