Wednesday 28 January 2015, Nikos Sotirakopoulos

Can SYRIZA reform Greece?

Nikos Sotirakopoulos on the contradictory ideas of Greece's new governing party

History was written in Sunday’s Greek elections.  For the first time since the restoration of democracy in 1974, a party other than the centre-left PASOK and the centre-right Nea Dimokratia won the elections. SYRIZA is also the first party positioning itself on the radical left to form a government in Western Europe, promising an end in austerity and a revolt against ‘Merkelism’.

The vote was a de facto disapproval of the programme implemented by the Troika (EU, IMF and ECB) and the previous ruling parties to deal with the Greek crisis, and an attempt to overturn the parlous state of the economy, with unemployment near 25 per cent, national debt up to 170 per cent of the country’s GDP and suffocating taxation. However, for Sunday night’s celebrations not to be remembered as a farce, SYRIZA needs to negate many of the things that it currently stands for and disappoint its fans abroad (the International of Keynesianism and the postmodern left, from JK Galbraith and Owen Jones to Thomas Piketty and Russell Brand). Here is why:

1. SYRIZA wants to end the country’s dependence on the Troika. Yet it wishes to achieve this with, basically, more money from the EU - because this is exactly what the ‘New Marshall Plan’, which the party’s leader Alexis Tsipras has been advocating, amounts to. Party officials’ satisfaction upon hearing the easy-money plan announced by ECB chief Mario Draghi last week says a lot about where SYRIZA’s hopes for recovery actually lie.

2. SYRIZA’s scepticism towards economic growth and the party’s sensitivity in issues to do with ‘sustainable development’ cast a shadow over the prospects for real economic growth that would reduce high unemployment and raise GDP, which shrunk 26 per cent during the crisis. SYRIZA has already announced plans to re-examine and maybe cancel the entrance of economic giants like China’s COSCO in Greece and the development plan for the old Athens airport of Elliniko, which would modernise beyond recognition parts of the seafront of Athens.

3. Irrespective of money and help from abroad, there are hopes placed on SYRIZA for socially progressive reforms domestically. Yet SYRIZA’s governmental coalition with the right-wing, anti-austerity Independent Greeks should give rise to a lot of scepticism, as it is a party known for its conservative policies in issues such as immigration and gay rights and has a conspiratorial outlook and lack of dynamism in the way it views change in Greece. This cooperation signifies an attitude more for empty gestures abroad in the negotiations with the Troika than for serious reforms back home.

Red flags waving in Athens and letters of support from radical intellectuals are good for boosting the morale of leftists around the world. However, what Greece and its people really need is a rapid and huge boost in infrastructure, big projects and value-adding economic growth, where those left behind and suffering from the crisis will be able to stand on their feet. There might be indeed hope in SYRIZA. But in order to succeed, it will have to get over itself and disappoint its cheerleaders.

Nikos Sotirakopoulos is a lecturer at the University of Kent, and helps produce many of our Battle satellites in Greece. Last year he chaired the debate ‘Does the EU stand for democracy and freedom?’ at Athens’ Free Thinking Zone. You can watch the debate here.


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