One thing the Eurozone crisis has brought is a much greater relevance of the EU for domestic politics and party competition. While very often European voters are indifferent about the EU and feel detached from what goes on in ‘Brussels’, the Eurozone crisis has linked EU and national politics together and has allowed the EU to shape public opinion and therefore political parties and elections. Last Sunday’s elections in Greece, the country at the very heart of the crisis, and the resounding victory of a left, anti-austerity party, is the best example of this.
While historically the EU has not played an important role for Greek party competition, the Eurozone crisis gave birth to two main camps: on the one hand, those parties that promote themselves as strongly pro-EU and support measures that satisfy the conditions of the EU bailout agreements, and, on the other side, those that opposed these deals and austerity.
This impact of the EU on political parties and their debate is most evident in the case of Syriza and its journey up until claiming victory in last Sunday’s elections. As the crisis unfolded and Greeks became more eurosceptic, Syriza’s share of votes went up, from 5% in the elections just before the crisis to 36.3% in last Sunday’s elections. But on their way to government, Syriza had to take into account that, while eurosceptic, the vast majority of Greeks wanted to remain part of the EU and use the Euro. For that reason, Syriza has toned down some of its more radical rhetoric and has tried to promote itself as a more moderate and pro-EU party – albeit with an alternative vision for Europe and with many different voices on what the future should look like – which does not negotiate the place of the country in the Eurozone. This is an interesting difference to other countries, not least the UK, where a large section of society and politics challenges the very fundamental aspects of the country’s relationship with the EU.
But for all the obvious impact of the EU on the Greek elections battle, the big question now is what sort of government Syriza will lead. And, since Greece has often been seen as the country that could set the tone of an alternative solution to the Eurozone crisis, this is a question crucial for the rest of Europe too. Because, despite all the transformation that has brought it closer to the EU, Syriza remains a party that evangelises a different, more radical, anti-austerity agenda for Greece and for Europe. The words of Alexis Tsipras following the election results do not leave room for misunderstandings: ‘The verdict of the Greek people … annuls … in an indisputable fashion the bailout agreements of austerity and disaster.’ The following months could well prove to be the final act in the crisis’s drama, testing whether a different Europe can actually exist.
Dr George Kyris, Lecturer in International and European Politics, University of Birmingham