Video: Syriza-Independent Greeks coalition takes office

The leftist Syriza and the Independent Greeks party have formed a coalition government successfully after Sunday’s historic elections.

The Independent Greeks, unfortunately, are a right-wing nationalist party aligned with the Orthodox Church and against the EU and immigrants. However, they are far milder than Golden Dawn, and they are anti-austerity, which is a major point of agreement with Syriza.

Independent Greeks campaigned explicitly on the idea of being a junior coalition partner to Syriza. They also held just 13 seats as the 6th place party, which will provide enough for a governing majority but few enough to significantly prevent Syriza from calling the shots.

Still, I would have thought a coalition with the centrist/pro-European/anti-corruption The River party (4th place) would have made more sense, since Syriza is also pro-European and anti-corruption and neither are right-wing.

Composition of the parliament of Greece following the January 25, 2015 election. (Adapted from JackWilfred/Wikimedia)

Composition of the parliament of Greece following the January 25, 2015 election. (Adapted from JackWilfred/Wikimedia)

Greece’s Syriza, Germany, and the Gordian Knot

The talk of Europe in the past week has been the snap elections called for Greece at the end of January, which may bring to power a new leftist party called Syriza, which seeks to make domestic reforms and EU reforms that will help average working people and end widespread corruption. Critics have called it “populist” or “radical,” but everything I’ve seen indicates it’s not particularly radical in reality:

Syriza’s manifesto proposes that repayment of debt could come through economic growth, rather than from budget cuts. It wants a European new deal backed up by an investment bank; an all-out war against the tax avoidance endemic in Greek society; an emergency employment programme; a raised minimum wage; and the restoration of collective bargaining.


Syriza promises first to achieve a substantial write-off of Greek debt and, second, to lift austerity by aiming for balanced budgets, instead of the surpluses demanded by the troika. It will reconnect families to the electricity network, provide food relief and shelter the homeless. It will take immediate action to reduce unemployment through public programmes. It is committed to lowering the enormous tax burden and to boosting public investment in an effort to accelerate growth.

There is nothing radical, much less revolutionary, in these policies. They represent modest common sense and would open a fresh path for other European countries. After all, Syriza has repeatedly declared its intention to keep the country within the economic and monetary union, and to avoid unilateral actions. There is little doubt that its leaders are committed Europeanists who truly believe that they could help transform the EU from within.

Arsenal For Democracy’s guest post by Etienne Borocco, on the 2014 European Union elections, also drew a strong contrast between Syriza on the populist left and the legitimately frightening populist but ultra-right-wing parties rising across Europe, including in Greece:

Additionally, we should also qualify the right’s surge by noting that the radical left made a sharp increase in Southern Europe and in Ireland. The EUL/NGL gained 10 seats. The Greek party Syriza, whose national leader Alexis Tsipras was the EUL/NGL’s candidate for the European Commission, arrived first in Greece. In Spain and in Portugal, the radical left also earned very good results, via new parties such as Spain’s “Podemos,” which ideologically aligns with parties like Syriza, or via older organizations like the Communist Party of Portugal. The far left collectively won as many seats as the Non-Attached members. Notably, in contrast with the right, leftists like Tsipras are not against euro or the EU as a concept; he only denounced the austerity policies advocated by the EU leaders in recent years.

They are pro-Europe and pro-reform, just not pro-austerity. They are also not neo-Nazis like Golden Dawn, the ultra-right-wing party in Greece that has also been boosted significantly after four years of economic grind on the poor and lower middle class.

In a recent post on his blog, economist Uwe Bott argues that the rise of Syriza in Greece provides an incredible opportunity for Greece to escape the tangle of its debts — like Alexander the Great slicing through the Gordian Knot instead of trying to untie it — and for eurozone-leader Germany to help the country do so in a responsible manner … if it chooses to:

Like many fables or legends there is a moral to this story: Was Alexander the Great cheating when he cut the knot with his sword or was his an act of genius? Or to put the analogy in this context: Would a Greek default be cheating or the only plausible solution to an intractable problem?

Of course, the troika would scream: Fraud! After all, most of the irresponsible lending to Greece has long been transferred from the private banking sector to public accounts at the IMF, the EU Commission and the ECB.

Now, many Greeks would call a default ingenious. After all, Greek GDP has plummeted by 25% during the austerity program. Unemployment stands at 25% with youth unemployment double that. Pensions have been cut in half. Poverty is skyrocketing. Suicide rates have doubled and infant mortality is up as the public healthcare system has collapsed.

So, from a Greek perspective what is not to like about a default? Some of the alleged consequences, such as kicking Greece out of the Eurozone, turn out to be paper tigers. There are no means by which Eurozone countries can actually expel a member. In other words, a Greek default within the Eurozone is possible.

However, defaulting on one’s debt is not to be taken lightly. The default would exclude Greece from access to capital markets important to its private sector and banks.

He also warns in the full post (which I’ve only clipped bits out of) that there is a real risk that an entirely unrestrained default — which Syriza seems to want to avoid anyway, if the EU will help work out a deal — could cause a contagious shock that topples other economies and markets (particularly, he finds Italy a likely candidate). But that’s why Germany needs to lean in and embrace the new movement in Greece, to ensure it has a say in how any default or partial default is managed, so it doesn’t cause panic across Europe: Read more

EU Elections, the Rising Populists, and Why Europe is Worried

Guest post by Etienne Borocco in France: Europe went to the polls last weekend and elected a lot of fringe politicians to the EU parliament. So what does it all mean?

Traditionally, the turnout is low in the European elections: only about 40%. This year, it was 43%. The functioning of the European Union is quite complex, as depicted in the chart below:

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner - Wikipedia)

Illustration 1: Flowchart of the European political system (Credit: 111Alleskönner – Wikipedia)

Why the EU elections matter — and why the media and most voters ignore them:

The directly elected European parliament and the unelected Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers) co-decide legislation. The European Commission has the monopoly of initiative, i.e. it is the only one to initiate proposals. The European Parliament can vote on and amend proposals and has the prerogative to vote on budgets. If the Council of European Union say no to a project and the parliament yes, the project is rejected. So the parliament is often described as powerless and its work, which is often about very technical subjects, does not hold the media’s attention very much. Consequently, the European elections to vote for Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have a low turnout – and a lot of electors use it to express concerns about national subjects.

For example in France, 37% of the registered voters answered that they would vote by first considering national issues and 34% also answered that they would vote to sanction the government. The proportional vote system (in contrast with America’s first-past-the-post Congressional elections, for example) gives an additional incentive to vote honestly according to one’s opinion, rather than strategically for a major party (or major blocs of allied parties in the case of the EU parliament).

The May 25th European election was a shock in the European Union, even after the small parties had long been expected to do well. The biggest parliamentary groups in the European parliaments lost seats, while parties that reject or contest the European Union rose dramatically.

In Denmark, in the United Kingdom, and in France, the anti-euro right wing took the first place. It was particularly striking in France because unlike the traditionally euroskeptic UK or Denmark, France was one of the founding countries of European integration and is a key member of the eurozone (while the other two are outside it). The Front National (FN), which has anti-EU and anti-immigration positions, gathered one quarter of the vote in France. Non-mainstream parties captured significant shares in other countries, although they did not finish first.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

Populist/Right-wing/Anti-EU party vote share by country in the 2014 EU elections. Data via European Parliament. Map by Arsenal For Democracy.

The new seat allocations:

Let’s look at the gains and losses. With the exception of the socialist bloc, the traditional parties lost seats — particularly in the mainstream conservative EPP and centrist ALDE blocs, which virtually collapsed. The May 25 European parliamentary elections also marked the notable appearance of new populist right-wing parties in Eastern Europe, among the newer member states. For example, two conservative libertarian parties (movements that are a bit like a European version of Ron Paul) won seats – the KNP in Poland and Svobodní in Czech Republic. Moreover, the national government ruling parties were hugely rejected in most countries, whether by populist fringe parties dominating (as in France, the UK and Denmark) or by the main national opposition parties beating the ruling parties.


Among the non-aligned (NA) members elected, if we exclude the six centrists MEPs of the Spanish UPyD (Union, Progress and Democracy), the 35 MEPs remaining are from far-right parties.

Among the 60 “Others” MEPs, there are 3 MEPs of Golden Dawn in Greece and 1 MEP of the NPD in Germany, both of which are neo-Nazi parties. The NPD was able to win a seat this year because Germany abolished the 3% threshold. With 96 seats for Germany, only 1.04% of the vote is enough to get a seat. The Swedish Democrats (far right) got 2 seats. In total, 38 MEPs represent far-right parties, out of a total of 751 MEPs.

So why do observers talk about an explosion of far right?

Beyond those scattered extremists, the vote for the more organized euroskeptic, hardcore conservative, and far right parties all increased sharply. The UKIP in UK (26.77%, +10), the National Front (FN) in France (24.95%, +18), the Danish People’s Party (DPP) (26.6%,+10) and the FPÖ in Austria (19.7%,+7) rocketed from the fringe to center stage. The UKIP, the FN, and the DPP all arrived first in their countries’ respective nationwide elections, which is new.

Other parties elsewhere did not come in first but performed unexpectedly (or alarmingly, depending on the party) well this year. For example, although the Golden Dawn only won three seats from Greece, they did so by winning 9.4% of the country’s vote, even as an openly neo-Nazi party. The Swedish Democrats (9.7%, +6.43) and the Alternative For Germany (7%, new) also made a noteworthy entry in the parliament.

Their shared characteristic of all these parties, regardless of platform and country of origin, is that they are populist in some way.

True, under the word “populism,” a lot of different parties are gathered and their ideologies may vary. While most of these parties claim to be very different, we can, nonetheless, put everyone in the same basket for the purposes of this analysis, to understand why the results were so shocking. Their core point in common is that they all claim represent the people against “the elite” and “Brussels” which embodies both “evils”: the EU and the euro.

We could use the following system to classify like-minded populist parties:
Read more