28 January 2015
Over the last five years Greece has been on top of the EU’s economic crisis management agenda.
Looking further back, one may say that leaders’ personalities and their able political reasoning probably played a larger part than economic performance in securing Greece’s membership in the European Union and the Eurozone.
Constantine Karamanlis had maintained close relations with French and German leaders during the years of self-exile in Paris. Following the fall of the junta in 1974 he returned home to lead his people as a respected statesman. He was prime minister when Greece filed its application to join the EU on 12 July 1975. And, he was president when Greece joined on 1 January 1981. At the time New Democracy was in power, but Karamanlis played a major role in the fulfillment of Greece’s European dream.
Joining the Eurozone on 1 January 2001 was largely accomplished by Prime Minister Costas Simitis, leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). A professor of economics who, was not a populist, disliked pomp, spoke seldom but with authority, held his ground on matters of principle, and thus a respected interlocutor for Western leaders.
With Greece in economic crisis, questions have been raised about the eligibility of Greece for the Eurozone at the time of its accession. It is said that Greek figures regarding the budget deficit were tampered with. Eurozone members were expected to have budget deficits below 3% of the GDP and apparently, Greek deficit at the time of accession had exceeded that limit. If such data were indeed tampered with, I find it rather difficult to believe that this escaped Brussels’ attention. It was probably tolerated.
Thus a historic opportunity was given to Greece as the 10th member of the EU to move up to another league or at least put itself well ahead of others who were to join the EU on following expansions. This required leadership, discipline and the restructuring of the economy.
In giving Syriza a chance Greek people must have judged that the current economic crisis is the result of poor political leadership and economic mismanagement on the part of mainstream political parties. With its populist election campaign Syriza has already caused alarm bells to ring in Europe. Now that the new coalition government is formed the battle with the EU over austerity, writing off or rescheduling of foreign debt will start.
Dealing with Greek debt will be a test for Greece and the EU. But in trying to resolve the problem of Greek debt, the EU will also have to address the current European economic crisis in its wider economic, political and social context.
Socialist parties in Europe have failed to energize themselves in the face of the present economic/social turmoil. Whatever the particular circumstances of Greece may be, the victory of a leftist party will be a welcome development for those for those who stand their side of the political spectrum. Turkish political parties which claim to represent the left should be among the first to draw a lesson and hopefully some inspiration from the Syriza victory.
The Greek Government to be formed by Syriza will shoulder problems of great magnitude. Their victory was a surprise to many. Now they must surprise Europe again by displaying cool, moderation and maturity; by avoiding unnecessary rhetoric and brinkmanship; by striking a good balance between campaign promises and what is realistically doable. They must be transparent. Greek people would understand the limits of their power and appreciate their endeavor. Syriza owes this not only to the people of Greece but also to those who still have some hope in the European left.
I wish them all the success.
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