Jun 19, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Who Won in Greece After All

Antonis Samaras, leader of the center-right Greek party New Democracy

So the conservatives won in Greece. Given that this is the second elections in a very short period of time and that the winners of the last one were of the opposite side of the political spectrum, this victory per se can hardly be said to show any sort of trend stemming from the crisis. All it shows is confusion.

Still, the mainstream interpretation is that the forces pushing for austerity were strengthened, and that that is the path to follow.

To many, that is not the conclusion of a sound analysis, but the result of moral imperatives: the sinners must be punished. It doesn’t matter that the chosen path does not solve the fundamental issues, especially around the feasibility of the Euro. It finds someone to blame, regardless of the justice of that, and it points to corrections (never mind that these might be an illusion). For a large part of the public opinion (i.e. voters), that is enough.

Nonetheless, the victory should not be seen as an approval for the forces of austerity. Fear of collapse and threats of removal from the European Union and of the Euro zone are more likely to have been what prompted Greeks to prefer the bitter pill of structural adjustment. But no matter the reason, now the country and its fellow Southern European nations will suffer the consequences.

One of them, speculates the New York Times, may be that “the vote may delay concerted pro-growth steps by central banks and governments around the world, as well as the hard choices within Europe over deeper integration that are likely to prove necessary in the long run”.

For now, though, all of this helps Angela Merkel and the rest of the bosses in Germany. Merkel’s pro-austerity, pro-bail-out stance was becoming isolated, particularly after leftish Francois Hollande took over from Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Unlike Sarkozy, Hollande defends more spending to promote growth, and not more cuts and fiscal austerity. In addition, in the latest G-20 meeting in Los Cabos (Mexico), other countries, including the US, asked Germany to cut its neighbors some slack and at least ease a bit the pressure for immediate cuts. Still, with conservatives in power in Greece, Merkel feels a little more support.

I doubt that it’s what the Greeks want. They are already bearing an enormous burden; they are simply trying to choose the least bad option. Which option is that is not clear for them at this point. It is not even clear if Greece is being “saved” for its own sake or for the sake of others. At this point, what is Greece being saved from exactly? Most projections say that if the Greeks can endure the current suffering, they will be rewarded with more suffering in the future, with even more unemployment in 2-3 years.

It goes without saying that before anything else the Greeks must form a coalition government that lasts for a while –not such a tiny detail, particularly given that all that the last election shows is confusion.

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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