Don't count on a return to the sensible centre. Daniel Howden reports from Athens ahead of the election on 7th Julyby Daniel Howden / June 12, 2019 / Leave a comment
Greece in crisis has been a looking glass in which observers saw what they wanted. The outsider’s view typically contained a flourish of Ancient Greek in the lede and an argument to suit the author’s prejudices. Britain’s eurosceptic right saw the imminent death of the euro; the left saw the coming end of capitalism and in some cases the chance to relive a Trotskyist youth. Neither view had much merit.
Undaunted, Greece’s European election results have spawned a new narrative, that of the country sobering up and rejecting populism. A first glance on the results appears to support this conclusion. Greece’s conservative New Democracy beat the ruling leftists of Syriza by 9.5 points. More support for this reading could be found in a halving of the vote for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn.
Before the election, Syriza was in populist form with a flurry of giveaways, such as cash bonuses to pensioners. Its campaign called on “the many” to strike back against the elite. The late-night chatter among Athens politicos was that its conjuror of a leader, Alexis Tsipras, would limit the damage to fewer than five points. He could not. The defeat was emphatic enough to compel him to announce a snap general election on 7th July. Reversing this loss of momentum now looks impossible, even for Tsipras.
After four years in power Syriza is exhausted. The grassroots organisers who once distinguished the movement from the sleazy two-party system have long since walked away. Sympathisers will say that Tsipras is leading his party on a tough march from the hard left to more orthodox social democracy. They should look at the three MEPs the party succeeded in getting elected: the son of one of the oligarchs the party once promised to confront, a television anchor from the national broadcaster and an actor.
New Democracy’s roster of MEPs is equally dismal, consisting almost entirely of shop-worn ex-MPs from the old system. They include a flag-waving former national football team captain and an MEP under investigation by the EU’s anti-fraud office. Greek voters had fresher faces among the candidates but largely ignored them.
The argument that Greeks voted to return to the sensible centre hinges on the reform of New Democracy…