by C J Polychroniou
Syriza’s pre-election motto “Hope is Coming” had US President Barack Obama’s narrative written all over it.
The language was not as soaring as that of Obama’s 2008 discourse on hope, but it relied on equally vague generalisations and empty promises as the party’s leadership under Alexis Tsipras declared its intention to put an end to the catastrophic path of austerity in Greece by changing Europe’s economy.
Syriza called for an immediate write-off of the greater part of the nation’s public debt and promised to increase the minimum monthly wage to pre-crisis levels, reverse privatisation, and roll back a series of other neo-liberal reforms.
In other words, Syriza declared its intention to “tear up” the bailout agreement and embark on Keynesian stimulus policies to lift the economy out of depression.
But here lies the paradox. Syriza vowed to accomplish all of the above goals while expressing its firm commitment to keeping Greece in the eurozone.
In this context, the realisation of the above stated goals rested firmly upon a successful renegotiation deal with the country’s international lenders.
Indeed, long before the national elections of January 25, 2015, which gave Syriza a decisive victory over its main political rivals, Tsipras was risking his political capital on promises to strike a “new social deal for a new Greece” with the country’s international lenders.
Syriza’s strategy was influenced by voices that neither understood the nature of the eurozone and its institutions nor had any interest in a radical change in the political economy of Greece as well as by the fact that the overwhelming majority of Greek voters supported keeping the euro.
As such, a social democratic approach towards neo-liberal Europe was adopted under a ludicrous and simplistic interpretation which envisioned a shift in the balance of forces inside the “euroland” stemming from the force of moral claims made by Greece’s new government against austerity and the nation’s overall economic reality.
In less than a month after its rise to power, Syriza’s strategy towards neo-liberal Europe seems to have ended in fiasco.
Greek democracy trashed?
The agreement reached between Greece and the eurogroup on February 20 keeps the bailout framework in operation and, as Paul Mason, economic editor from Channel 4 put it quite bluntly, “trashed Greek democracy”.
For starters, the agreement extends the bailout for four months (otherwise Greece would have run out of funds for its debt repayment obligations in just a few days from now) and Greece promises to fulfil its running obligations with its international lenders. Hence, a debt write-off is officially taken off the negotiation table.
The agreement also underscores the Greek government’s determination to carry out a “broader and deeper structural reform process”. Hence, not only has the bailout agreement been extended, but the Syriza-led government will help to further reinforce the EU’s neo-liberal reform.
The funds that were available in the Hellenic Financial Stability Fund buffer will be held by the European Financial Stability Facility for the duration of the four month extension and will be used only for bank recapitalisation purposes. Hence, not only are Greece’s eurozone “partners” distrustful of the Syriza-led government, but they make sure than these funds cannot be used to finance social programmes of any kind.
The agreement also states that “the Greek authorities have also committed to ensure the appropriate primary fiscal surpluses or financing proceeds required to guarantee debt sustainability in line with the November 2012 eurogroup statement”.
In other words, the so-called radical left Greek government has accepted the same deal over fiscal surpluses as the one that had been agreed on by the conservative government of New Democracy back in late 2012.
But wait. There is a major concession made to Syriza by the eurogroup. The infamous term “troika” has been removed and replaced instead by the words “European and international institutions and partners”. But as the agreement spells out, even the role of the International Monetary Fund remains the same.
Still, the agreement has not been finalised. The Greek government must submit a list of its structural reform proposals by February 23. The list is expected to include measures to crack down on tax evasion and tax avoidance; measures to fight corruption; measures to restructure the Greek public sector; and measures to address the so-called humanitarian crisis. The structural reforms proposals must be aligned with the conditions of the original bailout agreement.
It would take a wild stretch of the imagination to interpret the agreement between the eurogroup and Greece in any positive light for those forces fighting against austerity and neoliberalism, yet this is precisely what the Greek government has managed to do.
In speaking to the media, Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis portrayed the extension of the bailout programme as “a mutually beneficial agreement” while Minister of Economy Giorgos Stathakis went even further and shamelessly described what took place at the last eurogroup meeting as “a very important day for Greece and Europe”. In his view, the agreement reached “showed that Europe has the political will to offer solutions”.
Nothing of course surpasses in hypocrisy the official organ of Syriza, the daily newspaper AVGI, which has been twisting reality in the most crude way in order to keep Syriza supporters from becoming disillusioned with the government’s strategy so early on in the game. The paper’s interpretation of the agreement is that it represents a firm confirmation of the fact that Greece has again become “a sovereign nation”!
To be sure, lots of Syriza supporters are beginning to feel quite edgy and irritable with the government’s handling of the negotiation process and the awareness that the party’s leadership has made a clear shift from radicalism to pragmatism.
The so-called Communist Tendency of Syriza has already denounced the agreement and is calling for a change in the party’s leadership. True, the Communist Tendency has very little influence inside Syriza but other, more influential voices aligned to Syriza are also expected in the next few days to speak out against the agreement.
Indeed, the legendary 92-year-old leftist Manolis Glezos, currently a Syriza member in the European Parliament, is already among those who lost no time condemning the agreement and, in fact, apologising to the Greek people for having “helped to cultivate illusions” regarding the end of the bailout and terminating austerity and its adverse effects.
As Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras admitted on national TV the other day, and in a tone that was hardly celebratory as he must be undoubtedly fully aware that the agreement reached at the eurogroup meeting of February 20 reverses all of his party’s pre-election positions, “a difficult road lies ahead”.
Indeed, Greece remains in debt bondage and with the noose of austerity and neo-liberalism still very much firmly around its neck. But that should not come as a surprise. It is the price paid for remaining in the euro under the aegis of neo-liberal rulers.
It sum, it appears that Syriza’s campaign slogan “hope is coming” will have the same fate as Obama’s revolution of hope: hopes that never materialised.
C J Polychroniou is a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College and a contributor to Truthout.org.