Good tidings from Greece
Last Sunday, the world held its breath as the first results from the Greek election started to trickle in. New Democracy, the centre-right party which is a member of the European People’s Party, emerged as the winner.
So the Greek voters decided. They decided to stay in the euro and to give a majority to the parties that could best secure this objective, notably to New Democracy.
Seven parties secured seats in the new Parliament. But during the campaign all eyes were focused on the struggle between New Democracy and the extreme left party Syriza, which were running neck and neck in opinion polls. And in the end it was a close call.
New Democracy topped the score with 29.66 per cent of the votes, with Syriza running a close second, with 26.89 per cent. In the end, the difference between the two was less than three per cent.
Victory for New Democracy means that Greece is bound to stay in the eurozone whereas victory for Syriza would have precipitated an ominous exit.
To be sure, Syriza insisted that it wanted Greece to stay in the euro. But its main platform was the scrapping of the bailout agreement that gave Greece a financial lifeline to help it overcome its severe economic crisis.
That was a major contradiction because, of course, you cannot have the cake and eat it. So, in the end, Syriza’s populist gamble did not pay off.
But only just. For by promising a mirage to a suffering Greek population, Syriza’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, managed to increase his party’s support from a mere 3.3 per cent in 2004 to last Sunday’s staggering 26.89 per cent.
Thankfully, the fact that New Democracy won the election means that the prospect of a Greek exit is now a remote possibility and a political and economic catastrophe may have been averted. For the time being.
Antonis Samaras, the leader of New Democracy, now has the mandate to form a government and he is to engage in talks with the other parties to form a coalition.
His party secured 129 seats in the 300-member Parliament, 22 short of an absolute majority. It, therefore, still needs the support of the mainstream Socialist Party (Pasok) whose 33 seats could enable it to form a stable majority. But the latter is unlikely to join a coalition if it is the only leftist party to do so. This is ironic considering that the bailout agreement was negotiated by a Pasok government. And all that is needed is to implement it.
Pasok’s reluctance could be overcome if yet another leftist party, the Democratic Left, which won 17 seats, also agrees to join. This grand coalition would give the government an unassailable 179 seats to the opposition’s 121.
And assuming that the three could hang together, they could implement the bailout agreement and introduce the necessary reforms to put Greece back on track.
Whatever the coalition, life will not be easy for any government that is formed as the austerity screw tightens further.
And, in opposition, Syriza need only wait a few years for its chance at the helm, hoping that the coalition will be short-lived. In the meantime, it can continue to fan strikes and resistance to the bailout package and to structural reforms in Greece.
So all is not clear. But it is better than nothing. And, in Brussels, Europe let out a collective sigh of relief.
Wilfred Martens, the president of the EPP, assured Mr Samaras that he has the full solidarity and support of the EPP in tackling the difficult challenges that lie ahead. He said that, at the next European Council summit, due on June 28, the EPP heads of state and government will give the necessary support.
On their part, the European Socialists too urged all Greek pro-European political parties to join Mr Samaras’ coalition and to work together for the future of Greece.
Mr Samaras has his work cut out for him. He stated that he wants to negotiate an EU stimulus package to run side by side with the austerity one. And he will sorely need the European Council to endorse such a package for the whole of Europe. This would send a clear message of support to Greece.
But stimulus packages do not perform miracles and their effect will not be felt immediately. So the euro match is not over.
The euro problems are likely to persist for some time. But, at least, we have good tidings from Greece. If a coalition is formed and if it holds long enough, Greece may yet be saved. That would be good news for the euro and good news for us.
Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.