The battle in Greece

July 12, 2015

Despite two overwhelming victories, the Greek government is still struggling to moderate the overwhelming power of the unelected troika

The battle in Greece

In my last article on the subject, I had argued that the rise of Syriza and its future fortunes will determine the type of Europe we are going to get few years down the road. The election of Syriza sharpened the growing struggle between those seeking a social Europe and new liberal Europe. Syriza won election on the pledge of humanising the austerity while preserving some modicum of Greeks’ welfare system.

Ever since coming into power, Syriza has struggled to square its ambition of finding a sustainable way out of debt while meeting its social obligations. The troika on the other hand has never revised its original aim of solving the crisis by reducing budget deficit. The troika’s orthodoxy has exacted huge toll on all sections of the Greek society.

Syriza, in turn, has bent over backwards to find the middle ground with the Troika (European Commission, IMF and European Central Bank) and the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance minister. Despite this, Syriza government has been relentlessly dubbed as an irresponsible bunch of Marxists. With each electorally feasible concession by Greece, the troika has tightened its noose further. However, the troika’s punitive latest bailout package was a bridge too far for the ever conciliatory Greek government.

The proposals put forward by the troika were in the nature of an ultimatum with take it or leave it message attached to it. This amounted to putting gun to the head of the Greece government to accept the bailout package. Alexis Tsipras had no choice but to go back to the electorate in a snap referendum on the humiliating terms of the bailout package offered by the troika. This did not go down well with the troika which had torpedoed a similar attempt by the Greek socialist prime minister in 2008. However, this time round, despite tremendous pressure piled on Alexis, he went ahead with the referendum any way.

The Syriza government actively campaigned for No vote which meant rejection of the latest bailout package proposed by the troika. As soon as the referendum was announced, the Eurocrats got in on the act and began painting the referendum as the choice between Greece membership of the EU and the Greek exit from the EU which was never the case. The Syriza government portrayed the referendum as a way of sending out anti-austerity message from the people of Greece to the elite in Europe, bolstering the hands of the squeezed and cornered government of Syriza.

The Europe being espoused by the troika is one of technocratic expertise rooted in neo-liberal politics. The battle in Greece is part of the wider struggle between social democratic and neo-liberal politics in Europe.

The ‘No’ vote was also seen as a vote for dignity and democracy for the people of Greece. When the referendum was announced, the Troika, with its political outrider, went into overdrive to gain an outcome favourable to its position. Martin Shultz, the president of the European parliament, also counselled the Greek people to vote ‘Yes’ so that they could stay in the Eurozone. Some observers saw such statements as interference in the internal politics of Greeks by the Eurocrats. There is also a view that this represented a blatant attempt to change the left-wing regime in Greece.

The troika has been hostile to Syriza for its espousal of humane and lasting solution to debt and austerity since the party won election in January this year. In recent weeks, the IMF research has also backed Syriza’s position on the debt relief issue. The report has suggested that Greece needs some sort of debt relief to kickstart economic growth. Yet this research has never made its way into the deliberations on the Greek debt crisis. Thus, cornered, Alexis Tsipras called a snap referendum to put the issue to general public since the latest package spelled disaster for the already austerity exhausted Greece.

This took the EU elites by surprise. Although the result of the referendum was predicted as a close run thing by a large section of the press, the ‘No’ campaign won in a big way by securing 61 per cent of the vote. This came as a shock to the troika which was invested hugely in the ‘Yes’ vote through its political allies in political parties and the media.

Without sounding triumphalist, despite winning the referendum by a huge lead, Alexis Tsipras again extended a hand of cooperation to the unelected troika. In his first televised speech after the referendum vote, Tsipras made it clear that the No vote would strengthen his position in the negotiation. Yet despite the Greek people expressing a clear opinion on the matter, the troika and the Euro group of finance ministers have continued with bullying.

As a sign of the troika’s unrelenting pressure on Syriza government, the troika demanded of the prime minister Alexis Tspiras to sack his flamboyant finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, an economist who has been a vociferous opponent of austerity and has tabled a set of sensible proposals in an endless round of negotiations with the troika. One day after the referendum, Yanis resigned in deference to the wishes of the Eurogpu to exclude him from the meetings and to be helpful to Alexis Tspiras to move the negotiation forward in the wake of the referendum. However, the deal still seems elusive as the troika is doggedly sticking to its old formula of shoving punitive austerity plans down the throat of the weary, exhausted nation.

As Johan Cassidy of the New Yorker said, Alexis Tsipras has won a huge political victory but it is not an economic victory. The battle for economic victory is a long and drawn out process. Here unelected Eurocrats and financial elites seem to have more clout than is generally attributed to them. At the bottom, nothing has changed since the Syriza election.

Despite two overwhelming victories, rejecting all aspects of austerity package crafted by the troika, the Greek government is still struggling to moderate the overwhelming power of the unelected troika.

At another level, this battle is also about a new political Europe which lives by the values of solidarity, fairness and socialisation of austerity measures. The Europe being espoused by the troika and its outriders is one of technocratic expertise rooted in neo-liberal politics. The battle in Greece is part of the wider struggle between social democratic and neo-liberal politics in Europe.

The battle in Greece