Martina Seppi discusses the results of the recent Greek elections, explaining why we can’t blame the Greek people for their seemingly brash political choices, and questioning what this means for the future of Greece and the EU.
26th January 2015: it’s a date that many Greek citizens as well as European ones will not easily forget about. The new Greek PM Alexis Tsipras is now not only the leader of his coalition of the radical left (SYRIZA) but it’s also ready to face the problems of his country as the main political figure. This latest election proves that Greece has the desire to hopefully put an end to the period of austerity which has been ruling from the last ten years.
Tsipras has put emphasis on the negotiation with Europe about the revaluation of Greece’s debts, on the future increase of the minimum wage and more importantly on the “humanitarian crisis” which used to spread riots and instability throughout the country. It’s always shocking to imagine that a territory which used to be one of the most florid when it comes to art, science and culture is now the most exposed to the economic crisis challenges.
Greece still faces the ongoing threat of its deficit which comes from both the impossibility of the country to pay its debts and from the enormous interests linked to the repayment of the debt that Greece had to bear. The worst period for the country was around 2012-2013 during which the government had to adopt the so called “austerity measures” to cope with a possible and imminent default, involving tax increases and spending cuts with the inevitable result of unemployment and growing poverty . In 2013 the Greek government agenda was meant to cut €14.32bn and raising from taxation €14.09bn resorting to several restrictions and harsh decisions. As far as taxation is concerned, a luxury tax was introduced- the price of cigarettes and alcohol rose by one third- and general VAT increase was established on every saleable item. These measures added to the spending cuts in the public, security and health sector and the new payroll polices led to a struggle to pay the bills and taxes to the government. The average unemployment rate in 2012-2013 reached 26 per cent. It’s now 28.5 per cent, while youth unemployment is around 61 per cent. These are the challenges that the new government has to face, as well as all of these austerity measures collaborating in raising the “humanitarian crisis” which Tsipras is eager to solve.
The main concern of EU mainly of the German side revolves around the radical left characterisation of SYRIZA and its struggle against austerity measures which used to be imposed by the European Central Bank (ECB) under the German pressure to make sure that every single European country could be able to pay its debts, around €320bn in Greece at the moment against €77bn in Germany. Therefore it’s no surprise that Germany pushed and is still pushing harder and harder to have all the other members of the EU follow its path and eventually get out of the crisis- or at least keep the situation under control. Moreover Tsipras’s party joined the radical right and conservative Anel movement which harshly blames the EU for the current Greek condition. What apparently combines these two extremely different parties is the announced and promised relief from the phantom of the debt which keeps on haunting Greece. However this idea could possibly lead to a direct clash against EU policies. Still Tsipras’ government’s promises are aimed at building a new future for his country starting from a really practical target, such as the increase of the minimum wage from €586 to €751 which should take place “immediately” according to the Labour Minister Panos Skourletis, one of the main spokespeople of SYRIZA.
We should take the time to carefully analyse the situation from the outside in order to have a complete picture of the problem. On the one hand the EU demands all of the countries of its coalition to fully pay their debts, introducing political, social and economic measures to make this process faster; on the other hand we are witnessing the rise of a left-right and ground breaking party representing one of the most stricken countries after the crisis, which still as statistics shows does not leave the rest of the EU without serious concerns. Whereas many countries did try to gain economic support out of moderate governments and political agendas, that’s definitely not Greece’s case. Hence we get to the big question about the future developments in the EU Parliament and the desirable negotiations between these two competing parts.
I do not believe that Greek citizens should be blamed due to their political choice, because although it’s important to reach a uniform level of economic balance among all the EU countries, we should not forget about what these people have had to endure in the last ten years. It’s more than understandable that we now have such a result out of the elections; it’s a signal of hope that things could possibly be better in the future; it’s a hint of Greece’s anger at the price they had to pay for political choices they had not made and due to economic interests which brought the country to its knees. Still, the best way of tackling this issue is by trying to gain a wider perspective of the impact of these elections without being scared of it, to be willing to listen to the enquires and requests and to answer to them bearing in mind that we are part of a union in which everyone should take part and be responsible for, no matter how hard it looks.
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