Jan 29 2015

From hope to concern and from concern to hopefulness

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Vassilis-June-201485x116By Vassilis Monastiriotis

SYRIZA’s central pre-election motto was ‘hope’ – ‘hope is coming’. In fact, what would perhaps describe better the pre-election sentiment of the Greek public, including a big part of SYRIZA’s voters, is the word ‘concern’: concern over whether SYRIZA will ‘make it’; whether “they will throw us” out of the Eurozone; whether they will back-track, emulating a U-turn similar to that of Samaras’ New Democracy after the 2012 elections; and whether they will be able to really alleviate the pain of 5 years of austerity and, indeed, end it.

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Jan 27 2015

Syriza’s win and the Greek elections: many shades of grey

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By Maria Kyriakidou

Reading the press headlines all over Europe today, one gets the impression of a schizophrenic Europe, with images of glory and gloom about what Syriza’s win means for the future of the Eurozone being painted by different newspapers. On the one hand, the win of the left party is constructed as the win of hope over strict austerity and its grave consequences, and the answer of the long-suffering Greeks to the policies of Brussels. This answer gives hope to the Left around Europe, from Spain’s Podemos,who have closely supported Tsipras, to UK’s Labour Party. On the other hand, the elite press highlights the risk of a rekindling of the crisis and the possibility of a ‘Grexit’, if Tsipras sticks to his position of renegotiating the terms of the Greek bailout and getting rid of the Troika.

The image and the sentiment in Greece is much more complex than these two opposing indexnarratives. Syriza’s win is indeed a historic moment for the country, which is to be governed by a party of the radical left for the first time in its history. Another important reason to celebrate is that the two parties that have monopolised power over the last thirty years through a system of corruption, clientelism and nepotism are for the first time left out of government, with PASOK receiving a mere 4,7 % of the votes, and facing oblivion. Illustrative of this tremendous change is the fact that for the first time in the last forty years a member of the Papandreou family is not in the Parliament. The last one was George Papandreou, the PASOK Prime Minister who signed the memorandum for the first Greek bailout in 2010, and participated in the last elections with his own new party, the Movement of Democratic Socialists, which failed to enter the parliament.

But apart from the supporters of Syriza, the majority of Greek people, even those who did vote for the party, do not probably feel like celebrating today. The result of the election is not only a huge win for the Left but also the reflection of the frustration and disenchantment of the Greek public with the practices and failures of the political system over the last forty years. Tsipras has not necessarily convinced the majority of Greeks that he is the right answer for the future of the country; but the rest of the parties have convinced them that they are not. This does not mean that Syriza’s win is any less significant; but it implies that the political climate in Greece is not so much of a turn towards the Left as a turn away from the politics of the Metapolitefsi and the grave situation it has led the country into.

For a part of the population, this turn has been towards the far-right. Golden Dawn, the neo-nazi party whose leadership along with the majority of its MPs are currently in jail awaiting trial for a number of criminal activities, is the third party. This is an important piece of news that has gone rather under-reported in the post-election celebrations. Golden Dawn is a symptom of the deep social turmoil the country has undergone over the last years. But it is not a symptom that will be easily alleviated, even when – and if – the Euro crisis will come to an end. The entry of Golden Dawn in the parliament has legitimised racist and xenophobic sentiments that might have sparsely existed in the country long before but found space for expression for the first time. Dealing with these voices and marginalising them once again will be a hard and long-term task. Tsipras’s government will have to take this task seriously, on top of the challenges of dealing with the country’s debtors, in order to implement the social agenda Syriza promoted before the election.

Even this social agenda, however, seems to be compromised in the choice by Tsipras to form a government coalition with the Independent Greeks, a nationalist, conservative right-wing party. Founded by a former member and constituted mostly by former deputies of the conservative New Democracy, the only obvious point of agreement between the Independent Greeks and Syriza seems to be their anti-austerity stances. At the same time, however, the Independent Greeks stand for a national education centred on Christian Orthodox values and have explicitly nationalist, anti-immigration and even anti-Semitic positions. How this coalition will work out, not only in terms of renegotiating Greece’s debt, but also with regard to internal politics and social policies is open to speculation and wild imagination.

As the world, therefore, either celebrates or condemns Syriza’s win, Greeks are once more confused. The political powers of the last forty years seem to have died with yesterday’s elections; however, remnants of it have made it to the government through the coalition. Tsipras will be the first Greek Prime Minister to ever take a political rather than religious oath during his swearing-in; but then he is also dependent on the support of nationalist party, which embraces religion as a pillar for the country’s wellbeing. Change is in the air but what the direction of this change will be is unclear. For Greece, and indeed for Syriza as well, this is not a time of celebration but a time of dealing with challenges, both the economic ones imposed as part of the country’s financial deals but also the social ones, so far largely neglected by the previous governments. Because hope has indeed won in yesterday’s elections; but for the Greeks, this is their last hope.

Note: This article was originally published at the Euro Crisis in the Press Blog. It gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog, nor of the London School of Economics.


Maria Kyriakidou is a Lecturer in Cultural Politics, Communications and Media at the University of East Anglia. Her work focuses on the mediation of distant suffering, the role of representation in globalisation, cosmopolitanism and discourse theory. She is also interested in the way media discourses on the Euro Crisis construct and reproduce national stereotypes and divisive lines among the European counterparts. She holds a PhD in Media and Communications from the LSE and is an Associate to the Southern Europe International Affairs Programme of LSE IDEAS

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Jan 27 2015

Greek elections 2015: a short overview

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By Vassilis Paipais

First reactions after such ambiguous and hotly disputed events always hide considerable dangers and possible errors of judgement. Nevertheless, some analysis has to be attempted bearing in mind that many unknowns remain to be seen and many riddles to be imagessolved. The Greek elections are already heralded across Europe as a watershed signalling consequences of enormous proportions for better or worse. The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. Three things can be said with certainty.

First, what has to be granted unambiguously is that, despite the loss of the outright majority in parliament, this is a landslide victory for Syriza which managed to capitalise on the people’s frustration and anger after five stagnant years of brutal austerity. It is not a coincident that electoral support for Syriza cut across the dividing Left-Right fault lines as the Greek population experienced the troika-backed programme as a form of collective punishment. Syriza is now confronted with the challenges of the next day. ‘Re-negotiating’ a new package deal may prove a lot more dangerous than what the party’s masterminds might have initially expected. Even if some breathing space is granted to the new government and a new less burdensome agreement is eventually struck, some version of an austerity programme will have to be put in place possibly renamed as a ‘national reconstruction plan’. If Greece is going to benefit from Draghi’s huge QE scheme, the new government will have to call its revolutionary dreams off for a later stage.

However, if this new reconstructive plan does not combat widespread corruption, tax evasion and state bureaucracy the deadlocks that led to the collapse of the Samaras government will soon be reproduced. Syriza leaders seem to understand that the only way Europe will listen is if they are prepared to unravel the oligarchic structure of the Greek economy and bring down the domestic kleptocracy. This is a herculean task and doubts are raised about their ability, or even sincerity, to dismantle the clientelistic networks that hold the country captive and stifle its economic potential. After all, Syriza was quickly embraced by ex-members and voters of the totally discredited socialist party (Pasok) and many fear a repeat of the hollow hopes engendered by the rise to power of Andreas Papandreou in 1981, a figure Alexis Tsipras is often compared to. Despite the possible setbacks and doubts, however, the people’s feeling is that the country is making a fresh start. Yet, if this feeling is not to be quickly turned into a nightmare, Syriza has to rapidly show signs that it can achieve what Samaras failed to deliver, i.e. put the country on the track of sustainable growth by reforming the state and attracting investment. In other words, success for Syriza is a two-side story: negotiate a new debt restructuring deal that will inevitably include some austerity measures in order to secure the country’s inclusion in the QE programme and launch a large-scale plan of internal reform. Both tough to achieve and interrelated as one cannot be had without the other while time is extremely limited. A mind-blowing challenge even for experienced politicians.

On the other hand, the right-wing party ND was heavily pounded by the electorate for two main reasons. After the negative result of the last European elections, populist sentiments prevailed leading the party astray of its reform pledges. It seems that Samaras himself never really believed in the reform agenda preferring to introduce a hugely unpopular property tax (ENFIA) rather than fight corruption, reform the tax system and oppose crony capitalism that is eating up the Greek economy. The majority of the people felt that their sacrifices were being squandered by a government that was bent on raising revenue from the usual suspects (wage workers and pensioners) rather than squeeze its clients. The second reason is almost a necessary outcome of the first. ND’s electoral campaign was a sheer disaster investing on fear and admonitions of doomsday and bank runs should Syriza win. The pre-election competition became a Manichean struggle between ND’s petty fear-mongering and the promise of hope represented by Syriza. Passion and emotional investment are always inseparable elements of the democratic process but, when fury and despair abound, terrorising tactics tend to backfire. Reason, in any case, is a rare commodity in Europe at the moment given the slumber of the European elite that produces populist ‘monsters’ in the periphery, to remember Goya.

Speaking of monsters, the third remarkable feature of these elections is the tenacity of extreme-right wing populism. GD managed to secure 6.3% suffering only a slight reduction of its electoral power from the previous elections despite the fact that most of its leaders are incarcerated. GD represents a phenomenon that leaves most domestic commentators rather disoriented and at a loss for analysis. The Greek media and political system tried many tactics against them, first co-optation and then isolation. Both failed miserably inviting the conclusion that GD is a political formation with a rock solid base and permanent characteristics. However, the conclusion that Greeks were reborn racists or Nazi-sympathizers overnight must be resisted. This is a nationalistic party whose electoral base needs further investigation but the extreme right is not a new political force in Greece (it is often forgotten that it had scored a similar result (7%) in the 1977 elections). It was simply hibernating or subsumed under ND tutelage until the crisis unleashed centrifugal forces that restored the extreme-right as an autonomous contender.

Syriza is not a disaster for Europe neither a panacea for the toils of the Greek people. What the future probably holds in store for both sides (EU and the new Syriza government) is a series of hard negotiations and brad-de-fers that one can only hope won’t lead to an accident. Syriza’s victory might signal a long-overdue policy change that would remedy the imbalances of a poorly designed currency union. On the other hand, if the Greeks labour under maximalist illusions of debt write-off and return to a paradise lost they are surely in for a sorry landing.

Note: This article was originally published at the Euro Crisis in the Press Blog. It gives the views of the authors, and not the position of the Euro Crisis in the Press blog, nor of the London School of Economics.


Vassilios Paipais is Lecturer in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the LSE. He has published in the Review of International Studies, International Politics and Millennium and held various teaching posts at the LSE, SOAS, UCL and the University of Edinburgh. His work focuses on International Relations theory and international political theology. He is a co-editor of Euro Crisis in the Press.

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Jan 19 2015

Can Greece make the choice?

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Kevin Oct 2013 croppedBy Professor Kevin Featherstone

So, Greece has reached the end-game, but it is one with uncertain choices.  A political shambles has led the country to this point and more political games may be on the way.  To many European observers, the election may not offer voters real or credible choices: on the one hand, too many reform promises may prove paper-thin, as in the past; or, the offer of a radically-different path may be eradicated by events and external pressures.

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Jan 13 2015

A note on Greece’s Net Investment Position

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By Panagiotis Konstantinou (AUEB) and Theodore Panagiotidis (University of Macedonia)

The extent of the crisis the Greek economy has been experiencing has raised questions about the fundamental factors that led to the massive recession and the sovereign bankruptcy. The role of debt, both public and private, has been discussed extensively as a key factor which has intensified the problems the Greek economy is facing. Additionally, accumulated deficits of the current account (manly trade deficits) were also pivotal, reflecting the anaemic capabilities of the Greek economy to export traded goods. The latter is mainly due to the underdeveloped manufacturing sector. Continue reading

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Jan 12 2015

Debt relief for Greece is necessary to avoid a crisis in the Eurozone

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By Paul De Grauwe

On 25 January Greece will hold parliamentary elections. The elections have generated uncertainty in the Eurozone given the potential for the radical left party Syriza, which has called for a renegotiation of the country’s bailout conditions, to emerge as the largest party. Paul De Grauwe writes that even if Syriza fails to win power in the upcoming elections, the debt problem in Greece will ultimately require a balance to be found between the interests of creditors and debtors. Unless the political leaders of the Eurozone accept some form of debt relief for the country (and for other countries in the Eurozone periphery) a crisis will be inevitable in the long run.

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Jan 8 2015

Between two poor alternatives, either is ok(-ish)

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Vassilis-June-201485x116By Dr Vassilis Monastiriotis

The forthcoming snap elections in Greece will inevitably be conducted in a polarised setting, between a (perceived as) pro-memorandum pro-reforms camp, represented mainly by the parties of the coalition government (New Democracy and, less so, PASOK) and an (also perceived as) anti-austerity and anti-reform camp, represented mainly by SYRIZA. Quite inevitably then, the electoral debate is destined to be framed around two scare-mongering propositions. On the one hand (the ‘pro’ camp), that a vote for SYRIZA will jeopardise all the sacrifices made by the Greek people so far, will destabilise the economy and will lead to a deadlock in negotiations with the troika thus producing a very real threat for a Greek exit from the Eurozone. On the other hand (the ‘anti’ camp), that a vote for New Democracy (ND) will maintain the current status quo of permanent austerity and will moreover empower the country’s political and economic establishment to intensify their ‘neoliberal’ programme of market liberalisation and ‘impoverishment of the masses’. [A third emerging rhetoric supports the view that once/if elected into government, SYRIZA will inevitably register a humongous U-turn and more or less continue to implement, with minor differentiation, the programme and measures already pursued by Greek governments since 2010 – my take here is slightly different.]  Continue reading

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Dec 29 2014

The inevitable European showdown has arrived – between Tsipras and Schauble

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By Kevin Featherstone

The Greek Parliament has just had three rounds of voting for a candidate whose credentials mattered to very few and for a post that is, in itself, of little consequence.  Moreover, the outcome – fresh parliamentary elections because no President of the Republic was agreed upon – is one that the majority of Greeks, according to the opinion polls, do not want.

So, Greece now stumbles towards national elections on January 25th amidst a climate of tremendous uncertainty at home and renewed jitters across the euro-zone.  Once again, a small partner threatens to shake the system as a whole: akin to Connecticut risking plunging the USA into a full-blown crisis.  The international financial markets have been worried and the euro exchange rate has immediately fallen.

If the Greek Parliament has proved unable to deliver what most – in and out of Greece – have preferred there is, however, an inevitability about the looming clash that voters face.  Since Greece secured its bail-out in May 2010, it has been governed by a succession of leaders that have shared an overriding commitment to the nation’s participation in both the EU and the euro.  These are totemic issues for the country’s mainstream elite and have defined agendas of ‘modernisation’ as advanced by Costas Simitis who took Greece into the euro.  It has been a political elite that has proved unable to weather the crisis, however.  The politicians have squabbled and stepped away from consensus, while successive governments have only partially-delivered the necessary domestic reforms.  Amongst business leaders, by contrast, there is a more evident consensus on the kind of reforms Greece needs.

Having lambasted the weakness of his predecessors, the current PM, Antonis Samaras promised to be tougher with Greece’s partners and the ‘Troika’ overseeing the bail-out.  With signs of recovery this year and some progress with reform, Samaras appeared to ease his foot on the reform peddle since a government reshuffle last May.  He talked of the end of the Troika, but Greece’s partners have insisted on her fulfilment of the reform programme before the final tranche of the loan and a future credit-line could be sanctioned.

In short, Samaras’ leadership has presented Europe with a government in Athens that it has found difficult to champion.  And the Greek political system, for all its existential commitment to ‘Europe’, has continuously struggled to achieve the structural reforms that this entails.  So, with relatively modest differences in approach between Papandreou, Papademos and Samaras as successive PMs, Greece is now faced with the alternative strategy of Alexis Tsipras and SYRIZA’s opposition to austerity, while being in favour of euro membership.

The real clash that looms, however, is between Tsipras and Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister.  The latter has been the ‘hawk’ insisting that Greece must fulfil all its obligations before any relief can be contemplated.  Chancellor Angela Merkel has felt the electoral pressure at home to adopt a tough stance, but she is probably more willing to find a basis for compromise and avoid a further euro-crisis.  She cannot move, however, without Schauble.

At the same time, the strategy of Tsipras is far from clear.  If he becomes PM after 25th January, he’ll have no more than four weeks to negotiate a deal with the Troika before the current (extended) bailout ends on February 28.  Without a settlement, Greece could quickly face bankruptcy.  Added to that, a SYRIZA government will seek a re-structuring of Greece’s long-term debt from its creditors. And these negotiations will take place amidst the frenzy of trying again to elect a President of the Republic and avoiding yet more parliamentary elections.

It is by no means clear that SYRIZA will achieve the 36-38% that would probably give it an overall majority in Parliament.  It may well have to strike difficult party deals at home while trying to battle with Europe.  The rightist nationalists of the ‘Independent Greeks’ might not make it into the next Parliament.  Any compromise by SYRIZA with the fragmented centre-left – of the reduced PASOK or the new untested ‘Potami’ – will risk alienating its own voters and make it difficult to deliver on its promises.  The post-election scenarios are plentiful and also include a repeated election.

Domestic chaos may face Schauble’s intransigence in a struggle for Europe’s direction.  But, in reality, it was always thus from the beginning: between a system of governance in Athens that was barely fit for purpose and a German political leadership hell-bent on an ordo-liberal philosophy that is inappropriate for a heterogeneous currency union.

Kevin Featherstone is Director of the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics.

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Dec 10 2014

How likely is a credit-less recovery in the euro area? The role of a capital markets union

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Eleni Louri-DendrinouBy Eleni Louri-Dendrinou

It is often discussed how bank-dependent for financing investment euro area firms are. It is estimated that 80% of their investment needs are financed from banks and only 20% from capital markets, while in the US the reverse is true. One of the reasons for this may be the large number of small and medium sized firms (SMEs) in Europe that are relatively small to be analysed and rated by rating companies. Hence, they remain dependent on the assessment of their local bank branch. Another reason may be the fragmentation of national capital markets where asymmetry of information, differences in regulation and savings availability issues are important. Continue reading

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Dec 10 2014

Banal, benign or pernicious? The relationship between religion and national identity from the perspective of religious minorities in Greece

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By Dr Effie Fokas

‘Kokkinakis is in the drawer. With these words a representative of the Greek ombudsman offers important insight into religious freedoms as experienced by religious minorities in the Greek context. His reference is to the 1993 European Court of Human Rights case of Greek Jehovah’s Witness Minos Kokkinakis, against the Greek state, after he was arrested over 60 times for violation of the Greek ban on proselytism.  Continue reading

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