Greece elections: Merkel has lost, hope has won

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist, who is based in Russia
Supporters of radical leftist Syriza party chant slogans and wave Greek national and other flags after winning elections in Athens, January 25, 2015. (Reuters/Alkis Konstantinidis)
Syriza’s landslide victory in this weekend’s Greek elections has immediately been called a ‘political earthquake’. It’s more accurate to say that Greek voters have gatecrashed the Euro elites’ party and let off a grenade.

Megalomania is a condition characterized by delusional fantasies of power and relevance, combined with inflated self-esteem. There are sufferers all over Europe but they can most frequently be spotted in Brussels, at the EU’s headquarters. There’s something about the institution; contact with it can turn a perfectly decent person into an eminently dislikable sort in short order.

In the aftermath of Greece’s seismic election, I assumed the eurocrat elite would follow the diktat, “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” So, I cranked up the Twitter machine and within 5 seconds, I encountered this ‘gem’ from our old friend Carl Bildt. Bildt was the the Swedish Foreign Minster – and one of America’s favourite European poodles – until his own electorate voted him out last year.

Bildt’s Tweet is important because it reveals a mindset among the elite. They extol the benefits of democracy for others, while pouring scorn on the results, if they fail to suit their own agendas. An example was when they forced Ireland to vote again (twice) after initial rejections of EU treaties. Or when they speak of bringing free elections to the Middle East while refusing to deal with Palestine’s elected government, or even recognise the state’s existence.

Two-party systems

For decades, the eurocrats had it their own way. Every member state operated a ‘Tweedledee and Tweedledum’ system, where both dominant parties expressed fealty to the EU ‘project.’ Hence, when the former were voted out, Tweedledum would only make superficial changes, largely restricted to domestic matters. As national elites benefited from the Brussels’ gravy train, with its fat pensions and perks, they system was designed so that ‘important people’ wouldn’t rock the boat.

Supporters of radical leftist Syriza party celebrate in Athens January 25, 2015. (Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)

That tradition changed on Sunday. Greece’s establishment parties, New Democracy (ND) and PASOK were knocked off their perch by Syriza, founded only 11 years ago. In 2004, the radical leftist grouping secured only 3.3 percent of the vote and 6 seats. On Sunday, exit polls suggested Syriza would win around 38 percent of popular support, leading to about 150 parliamentary slots. It’s worth noting that PASOK had already been crippled during the 4 other ballots Athens has held since 2007, but ND were the outgoing government.

What happens next will be key. Syriza has won power on a fervent pledge to cancel the Brussels-imposed austerity programme which has reduced Greeks to penury. Now, we are in unchartered waters. If the incoming Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, backtracks on his promises, the prospects are unclear. Should he maintain his hardline stance, there’s little doubt that Greece will be forced out of the euro currency zone. However, if Europe (read Germany) relents to his demands, the floodgates would open for radical, populist parties all over the continent.

Effects of a ‘Grexit'

Of course, the biggest nightmare for the eurocrats would be if Greece left the Euro, and even the entire union, and became a success story. A resurgent Greece, freed from the shackles of Merkelism, starting to prosper, would serve as a beacon for other put upon nations. Merkel and her fellow euro power-brokers are now faced with an existential choice. Giving in to Tsipras would risk a political tsunami of radical European administrations. On the other hand, standing firm could lead to a Greek exit and others following them out the door, leaving a diminished bloc for Brussels to rule.

The head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras raises his fist to supporters after winning the elections in Athens January 25, 2015. (Reuters/Giorgos Moutafis)

Spain and Ireland are the next eurozone strugglers where elections are due. In Madrid, Podemos, who are riding high in opinion polls, are essentially a copy of Syriza. Whatever about Greece, a Spanish euro exit would surely mean the end for the single currency. Meanwhile, in Dublin, Sinn Fein (the former political wing of the IRA) echoes many of the radical left policy platforms with some heavy nationalism added to the mix. British security services believe that it leader, Gerry Adams, is a former IRA commander (which he strongly denies).

As of now, Podemos look likely to form the next Spanish government. However, Ireland’s economy is improving (less to do with benefits of austerity and more to do with demographics and the US recovery) and my guess is that Sinn Fein will narrowly lose out to the pro-Europe Fine Gael, who are in situ.

One wonders what Merkel, the chief architect of austerity, makes of it all? Europe’s economic crisis presented her with a historic opportunity to build a united continent with Germany at its centre. The Chancellor has blown it, and she’s entitled to feel nervous now. Syriza’s victory reminds Europeans that there is another way and that fealty to neoliberalism isn’t the only show in town.

A ‘forgetful’ Germany

In 1953, the London agreement granted generous debt relief to (West) Germany, which had previously buckled under a credit mountain in the Weimar Republic-era. Half of what it owed to the rest of the world was written off. West Germany, freed from the shackles, boomed during the subsequent wirtschaftswunder (‘economic miracle’). This was in addition to Marshall Aid which Bonn, and other parts of Europe, had received from the USA a few years earlier.

Supporters of opposition leader and head of radical leftist Syriza party Alexis Tsipras cheer at exit poll results in Athens, January 25, 2015. (Reuters/Marko Djurica)

Nevertheless, when the so-called PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) began to creak under a pile of loans, Germany decided not to do unto others as had been done unto it. Merkel spearheaded a counter-productive austerity drive and the arrogant Berlin media blamed the PIIGS for their own misfortune. How they laughed at stories of homeless, abandoned horses in Dublin and ‘lazy’ siesta-loving Andalusians. They aren’t as smug now.

Merkel has one last chance to change course. To do this she has to embrace the concept of forgiveness and permit the eurozone’s victims to write off portions of their debt. This would allow public sector salaries to rise and pensions to be increased, thus rekindling economic growth by boosting consumer demand. In turn, a rising tide would help to alleviate the hardship of Europe’s ‘lost generation’ of youth.

If Merkel doesn’t perform an uncharacteristic u-turn, the EU, as we know it, is finished. With that, Germany’s opportunity to lead the continent, which flickered briefly, will be extinguished.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.