Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 28, 2015

Greek breach Greece has followed the election script widely touted for it, albeit not completely. The left wing party Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras has been sworn in as prime minister at the head of a hybrid coalition with the right wing Independent Greeks (IG) party. Two more unlike partners, akin to chalk and cheese, could not be imagined. While they disagree on many social issues, for example immigration, the new allies have found common ground in their opposition to the austerity-based bailout programme Greece has been in for five years, with budget cuts dictated by lenders such as the IMF and the EU, the latter’s policy heavily influenced by Germany’s insistence on financial discipline to put ailing economies like Greece’s back on track. The necessity for the coalition was the results of the election, which gave Syriza 36.3 percent of the vote but this meant it fell two seats short at 149 in a house of 300. The IG garnered 4.7 percent of the vote. By coming together, the two unlikely allies ensured the extreme right wing Golden Dawn party, which came in third, would not be able to get a niche in power. The significance of Syriza’s win has both domestic and external facets that bear examination. Domestically, the Greek left victory has denied, for the first time in 40 years, power to the two mainstream centrist parties, New Democracy and PASOK that had dominated between them the Greek political firmament since the military junta fell in 1974. That implies that the centrist consensus is fragmenting amongst the public. One major reason for this turning away from the centre is the inability of these traditionally dominant parties to bring to a close the protracted debate on how to pull Greece out of the pain of the lenders’ austerity straitjacket, a vise that has produced over 25 percent unemployment and pushed millions into poverty. Now that the 19-nation European Union (EU) is faced for the first time with a member led by parties rejecting German-backed austerity, it could prove a stern test not only for Tsipras but also for an EU still struggling with the consequences of the global recession. Syriza’s coming to power in Greece will reignite the fears of new financial troubles in the country that was at the centre of the 2009 regional crisis. However, the austerity programme imposed on Greece as part of a Euro 240 billion bailout programme has caused widespread misery, especially amongst the young, as social spending was slashed. However, Tsipras’ ambition to dig in his heels with Greece’s lenders may not turn out easy. Greece faces its first challenge in persuading its lenders to unlock Euro seven billion of outstanding aid it needs to make debt payments in summer. So far, all the indications are that the election campaign demand of Tsipras for a debt write-off has been given a cold shoulder. The Greek political development is no less than a breach in the wall of right wing or centrist parties in power in the EU countries since the recession bit. It was to be expected that Syriza would speak for its people, but it remains to be seen how and to what extent the needs of the suffering Greek people can be balanced against the EU’s received wisdom that only fiscal discipline can pull stuttering economies out of the woods. In fact the debate has seen challenges to this view by dissidents arguing that in fact a stimulus is required to put purchasing power in people’s pockets so that demand, and with it industry and commerce, can be boosted. Critics of the German-led EU consensus point to the US as an example of successful calibration of a stimulus package that has seen a partial economic recovery. However, these ideas have travelled badly across the Atlantic and fallen foul of the conservative tight fisted approach characteristic of countries like Germany. The problem though is that the EU’s dark underbelly has been exposed by the crisis. What has become increasingly clear is that the EU is not a grouping of equals, but rather one in which some are more equal than others. Germany in particular, because of the size and dynamism of its economy, is considered first among equals. The flaw this exposes is that what may make perfect sense for economies like the German may be nothing short of disastrous for other countries, amongst whom Greece is part of other suffering peoples on the southern rim of the EU. These strains within the EU have raised fears for the survival of the common currency, the euro, as well as, in more alarmist circles, the very notion of the EU. Without a dialogue and compromise that goes some way towards meeting the demands of Greece and other countries suffering because of the austerity programme, the EU project faces conflict and possibly a bleak future.

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