An Election in Greece, a Quake in Europe
It’s hard to overstate the significance of Sunday’s general election in Greece. In the 2009 general election, the two neo-liberal parties in New Democracy and Pasok collected a combined 5,308,261 votes. Together, they could only manage to collect roughly two million votes in yesterday’s election. Their austerity policies since 2009 repelled three million voters from Greece’s political center and into the arms of the left-wing and the nationalist right-wing.
This result does strike of inevitability. Indeed, make people poorer and they’ll punish you at the ballot box. But thus far we’ve only seen voters alternate between the two mainstream parties. In Spain, voters threw out the ruling socialists who worsened a downtown with austerity and replaced them with a right-wing government that imposed further austerity. The same occurred in neighboring Portugal. For years we’ve seen politics reduced to punishing the incumbent rather than a vote in favor of a fresh policy prescription. In Greece, this alteration between the two neo-liberal parties was fundamentally broken. Yesterday, in the mind of Greek voters, it was more dangerous to cast a ballot for the two mainstream parties than it was to vote for the nationalist right-wing or the anti-capitalist left-wing.
With Greek voters having overhauled the composition of parliament, the task is now underway to form a government with a combination of parties out of the seven which were elected. No party won more than 20% of the vote; another figure that commentates on its own. Parties opposed to EU-IMF austerity demands hold a 151 seats of the 300 total seats in parliament. The significance isn’t that they’ll form a new government; anti-austerity parties consist of Neo-Nazis at one end, Marxist-Leninists at the other. What matters for both Greece and the whole of Europe is that these parties would collectively deny any coalition government the votes needed for the new austerity packaged demanded by the Troika in June.
Any combination of parties in a coalition government would have to include one party that wants some kind of alteration to the current bailout conditions imposed on Greece. This fact is solidified by Pasok party head Evangelos Venizelos proposing renegotiation in his plan to form a coalition government. This is from a man who previously insisted on following European diktats to the letter because the alternative was alleged to be disaster. The days of IMF and European officials dealing with a fully complicit Greek government are over.
The European response to the Euro crisis has wielded both the carrot and the stick. The stick is that if Greece deviates from the bailout conditions the Troika will cut off funding support, resulting in an uncontrolled default and possible Euro exit soon after. The carrot not just for Greece but for Portugal, Spain and Italy is that a fiscal union will come into effect, a fiscal union being indispensable for the monetary union’s stability. If the stick is wielded against Greece after all the austerity it subjected itself to, why should Portugal, Spain and Italy endure further austerity if the fiscal union is a bluff by Angela Merkel?
The Euro crisis has dragged on for several years now. European politics have been an effort to delay a disastrous climax rather than to expedite a resolution that preserves the livelihoods of the Greek, Portuguese and German public. Long overdue, one country’s public has finally intervened and thrown down the gauntlet to both the Greek and European political class. No more taxes and budget cuts can be extracted out of the Greek public. If the existence of the Euro is at stake, the cost of saving it must be carried elsewhere.