"The future has already begun."
That's what Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftwing Syriza Party in Greece, reportedly said on Monday after parliament failed in its third attempt to elect a new president and the scheduling of a popular general election was announced for next month.
Syriza, which is polling ahead of rival parties and boycotted the parliamentary elections in order to force a popular vote, has vowed to renegotiate regressive bailout conditions that the ruling government of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras agreed to with European creditors, including the so-called "Troika"—the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission.
"With the will of our people, in a few days bailouts tied to austerity will be a thing of the past," Tsipras said.
In an op-ed published on Sunday in the leftwing Avgi newspaper, Tsipras explained his party's thinking in clear terms:
SYRIZA’s victory will be the start of a great national effort to save society and restore Greece – a national effort with international repercussions, since our historical responsibility is to pave the way for an alternative policy in Europe, turning a Eurozone country from a neoliberal experiment to a model of social protection and growth. [...]
[W]e are coming to unite, not separate [Greece]– to build on the ruins of a looted society. That is why SYRIZA’s government will not be a single-party government, it will be the government of the people.
With rhetoric like that and Syriza's victory in a popular election a very possible outcome, the financial markets in Europe are reportedly jittering about how an anti-austerity takeover of the Greek government will impact the Eurozone.
As Bloomberg reports:
Stocks and bonds plunged after the government defeat, recalling the height of the Greek financial crisis in 2012, with investors concerned a victory by the opposition Syriza party would jeopardize the terms of Greece’s rescue struck with the so-called troika of international creditors. Syriza, which opposes austerity measures imposed in return for outside aid, leads Samaras’s New Democracy movement in opinion polls.
"These elections will be a struggle between fear for euro exit and anger against austerity," George Pagoulatos, professor of European politics and economy at the Athens University of Economics and Business, said by phone. "The government will be emphasizing the risks associated with Syriza’s anti-bailout stance and Syriza will try to convince voters that it can offer a viable alternative, without endangering the country’s euro membership."
However, according to Reuters:
In a bid to reassure international partners, Tsipras has sounded a more moderate tone recently, promising to keep Greece in the euro and negotiate an end to the bailout agreement rather than scrap it unilaterally.
But he has stuck to his promise to reverse many of the tough austerity measures imposed during the crisis, reversing cuts to the minimum wage, freezing state layoffs and halting the sale of state assets.
As Channel 4's Paul Mason explains on his blog on Monday, "people all over Europe who’ve opposed austerity see [these developments in Greece] as a turning point" in the years-long fight against regressive cuts to public services, pensions, and the privatization of national assets across the continent.
Asking readers to understand the pervasive impact of austerity across Europe, Mason describes how the economic crisis in Greece—where youth unemployment is now 60 percent—has become emblematic for economic policies that have "destroyed the prospects for much of a generation."
In an interview with the Guardian last week, John Milios, one of Syriza's top economic advisers, gave a rounded view of his party's economic agenda, which would include, according to the newspaper's summary, "concerted efforts to help those hardest hit by the crisis - free electricity for Greeks who have had supplies cut off, food stamps distributed in schools, healthcare for those who need it, rents covered for the homeless, the restoration of the minimum wage to pre-crisis levels of €750 a month and a moratorium on private debt repayments to banks above 30% of disposable income."
"The people created us," Milios told the Guardian, explaining that Syriza's commitment to the poor is absolute and that its economic agenda, though grounded in Marxism, is well-proven and not threatening in the ways powerful financial and political forces often describe it. "Alternative approaches to the economy and society have been excluded by the dominant narrative of neoliberalism," he said.
A strong re-negotiation of its debt would not be unprecedented, Milios explained. "More than 50% of Greek debt needs to be written off," Milios explained. "The solution [of debt forgiveness] that was given to Germany at the London conference in 1953 is what we must do for Greece."
If elected, he explained, Syriza will have "no other option" but to "stay calm and deal with" the economic crisis that has come to permeate modern Greece. He rejected the idea that his party would push for an exit from the Eurozone, but equally rejected the idea that Greece should continue to be pushed around by those who have pushed austerity as the only solution.
"Greece, in its weakness," argued Milios, "is actually very strong."