After a promising start, how did everything go so wrong in Greece for Syriza, with redoubled austerity imposed to the detriment of the Greek people and their environment? Yannis Paraskevopoulos analyses some key mistakes Syriza made and the role of the Greek Greens in the process. Second in a two-part series.
Part 2: The European and Greek power game
By early June 2015, a negative outcome for Greece’s re-negotiation efforts was looking more and more likely.
The SYRIZA government had failed to inspire any kind of respect abroad, beyond the broader European Left. A coalition partner with a far-right touch like (ECR-affiliated) ANEL seemed quite unnatural for a leftist government, while recessionary strategies and the lack of any visible alternative plan was undermining credibility of the government in the field of public finances as well. The Greek side was already starting to financially suffocate, while creditors and the stock markets had analysed the short-term impact of a possible Grexit – and evidently found they could somehow live with it. Moreover, Greece’s strategy planning had been quite predictable, as chief negotiator Yanis Varoufakis had been routinely publishing as an academic and an activist (on almost a weekly basis from 2010 to 2014, in most major Greek websites) every single thought of his about the negotiation and the Greece-EU power game.
July’s referendum as a Greek and European power game
At this point, reversing the Greek argument that “the final terms of any agreement had to be acceptable in Athens so that government cohesion was not endangered”, it seems that a dangerous and short-sighted second thought prevailed among creditors’ circles: Imposing an agreement unacceptable for the most radical MPs of SYRIZA (and/or their government partner ANEL), would lead to the latter ending their support of Tsipras, who could then only survive as a Prime Minister by relying on creditor-trusted moderate parties like Potami and/or PASOK (both in the European S&Ds). This kind of short-sighted calculations seem to have played a major role in the creditors’ rejection of the (extremely moderate) proposals Tsipras tabled in mid-June.
European leaders seemed to have in mind the 2011 Berlusconi and Papandreou precedents, when both were smoothly overthrown. That, however, was all about completely discredited governments with no popular support left for them, while Tsipras had now a newly elected government and his opponents were the discredited ones. One more crucial miscalculated fact was the real possibility of Tsipras entirely losing control of his own party in case of a totally humiliating agreement.
Whatever the creditors’ thoughts, the end of the 4-month term mutually agreed as a definite deadline for a final agreement, on the 20th June 2015, found the Greek government in a desperate dilemma. They had to either:
– unconditionally accept all of the creditors’ terms, thus dealing a fatal blow to both its internal cohesion and its popularity in Greece,
– or have to totally suspend payments either for domestic wages and pensions or for due payments to the creditors including the ECB, the only source of liquidity for the half-dead Greek banks back then.
In both cases, Greece would be the one to suffer most: even by opting to openly deny payments to the creditors, the “institutions” could still be optimistic that they would get their money later on, while Greece would have no chance of any better deal (and no other source of funding for a further arm wrestle).
In this context, Tsipras’ decision to forcibly extend negotiation for another two weeks by announcing a national referendum, was clearly a choice in favour of his own political survival at any cost for the Greek society.
The real problem was not the decision to turn to the electorate, but the fact that it was so clearly overdue, when mutually agreed negotiation time had already expired. At the Greek government’s headquarters, they were fully aware that the button for having the Greek banks closed down was already there and they were pressing it themselves (this could only have been avoided with a timely political agreement they had not bothered to prepare), as well as that there was no chance for them to get a better deal this way.
By opting, however, for “a stand-off with the creditors’ measures”, Tsipras was sending a crystal clear message that he remained the dominant player in Greece and no deal could be struck without him. It was all about a De Gaulle-style referendum and a clear power game, at the expense of the Greek society and the country as a whole.
The final outcome
The outcome is well known, as it highlighted in all its intensity the hostageship of Greece: the “institutions” fully recognised the domestic dominance of Tsipras, but still imposed with exemplary asperity maybe the most suffocating terms ever imposed on a European member state. In sum, the July 2015 agreement is even heavier than the previous ones (already beyond the country’s ability to cope), with hardly any prospects for successfully challenging it. The possibility of a Grexit is far closer than it was in 2010 and in 2012, while the country is now even less able to cope with such a scenario.
A hint of how dramatically the power imbalance was aggravated after the Greek referendum is the fact that the Grexit threat was reversed (from a Greek “negotiation weapon” to an exterminating proposal by W. Schäuble himself) as well as that it was only resisted by three countries – France, Italy and Cyprus – all three for vital interests of their own and only under the strict condition that Greece would fully appease all its creditors.
The “democratic argument”, unsuccessfully put forward by the Greek Prime Minister, suffered an even worse defeat. When more than one country is involved (at least economically), seeking to impose the democratic choice of just one country on the others, doesn’t sound very convincing from a democratic point of view: By definition, in a country-vs-country confrontation the obvious winner is the most powerful side. The genuine opportunity for a forceful “democratic argument” had been missed a year earlier, at the 2014 European election: only a Europe-wide rising election result of Left and Greens combined, could have functioned as a “democratic argument” for Europe.
It is really tragic that the final burden of austerity measures was heavier even than the one that could have been agreed by a Greek government willing to accept everything right from the start. More bitter is that, in its rush to save a few last pretexts, the SYRIZA government easily handed out the supposedly protected (including by European Directives) natural areas of Greece for privatization and violent land use changes, while successfully defending to the last man public control of the already outdated lignite plant.
Calling an early national election for Sep 2016 was Tsipras’ only way out: only this way could he reconcile his party platform with the new painful realities, force dissidents out of SYRIZA, and take advantage of the continued weaknesses of his opponents. On the other hand, his victory seems to only be short-term as his vital claim of a “left way to implement the accords” is now gradually fading away.
The Greek Greens and their lost political bet about the crisis
The bitter irony for Oikologoi Prasinoi (the Greek Greens) is that, right from the start, they chose to bet on what their country actually needed and SYRIZA fatally lacked:
- They put forth the outline of a real alternative national plan, a Greek Green New Deal, aspiring to what much larger and more experienced Greek parties completely failed to even attempt.
- They presented a 10-point plan on what a re-negotiation of the 2010 and 2012 austerity packages should seek, in order to radically change their direction and philosophy.
- On a European level, they functioned as an integral part of the green family, who elaborated by far the most concrete and radical proposals for changing Europe and the Eurozone.
However, after their circumstantial defeat in the June 2012 runoff national election, all this work was just put aside. By the end of 2014, when they opted for running in the SYRIZA lists in the upcoming national election, Oikologoi Prasinoi had suffered a couple of splits, a serious loss of active members and a dramatic lack of party funds. Still they were the only green force to maintain a nationwide presence, to be able to gather more than a few dozen participants in their party congresses and to claim 1 to 2% of projected votes in most opinion polls. By deciding to publicly support SYRIZA for the election, Oikologoi Prasinoi also publicly endorsed SYRIZA’s negotiation strategy, which was exactly opposite to theirs.
Supporting SYRIZA and unconditionally being part of its MPs group in the national parliament, Oikologoi Prasinoi also voted for the fatal 2015 referendum power game, as well as for the final agreement a few weeks later. That last vote was in fact an act of taking responsibility, as the painful terms were the fruits of a strategy that they had also endorsed.
Further supporting SYRIZA in the September 2015 election has made this transformation of Oikologoi Prasinoi even more difficult to reverse. After more than a year and a half of alleged Green participation in power, a green influence in government policies is still hardly visible, while remaining ties to the civil society and core green audiences have been abandoned.
The heaviest loss, however, seems to be the belief now almost universal among Greeks, that everything – including green issues – inevitably has to be compromised. New green strategies and new realistic paths to sustainability on a national and European level, able to reverse this dangerous trend, are urgently needed.
For part one, click here.