The 'People Versus the Powerful' as Greece Faces Down Troika in Brussels
As Syriza government meets with European financial elite, expressions of support for anti-austerity agenda spread
After weeks of heightened rhetoric and promises regarding Greece's economic future, the country's new leftist Syriza government on Wednesday at last met with European Union finance ministers in Brussels to discuss the plan to end the EU lenders' punishing austerity regime.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Financial Minister Yanis Varoufakis are attending an emergency meeting with officials from the so-called Troika—composed of the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund—to introduce Syriza's plan to cancel the deeply unpopular bailout program and, among other measures, tie the country's debt repayments with future economic growth.
The newly elected Syriza government has found wide support among its countrymen. On Tuesday, the Greek parliament voted to back Tsipras' 10-point anti-austerity plan. And as the talks commenced Wednesday, thousands of citizens physically demonstrated their approval with rallies across the country.
Meanwhile, across Europe, calls to "let Greece breathe" have also grown.
In London, the Greece Solidarity Campaign, Syriza London and other organizations are holding a protest in Parliament Square Wednesday evening in solidarity with the anti-austerity movement in Greece. Another mass rally will be held Sunday February 15 in London's Trafalgar Square. Other expressions of solidarity are being shared online under the hashtag #mazi, Greek for "together."
"Troika austerity policies have been the wrong path; we are dealing with a deep crisis in our democracy."
—Gabi Zimmer, GUE/NGL
During a EU Parliament meeting early Wednesday, officials with the EU leftist bloc, the Confederal Group of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL), argued in favor of canceling the austerity program.
"It is very difficult for politicians to face up to failures of political strategies which are the foundations of their own policies. To deviate from them and come up with different strategies and policies is more difficult still," said GUE/NGL President Gabi Zimmer.
She continued: "Troika austerity policies have been the wrong path; we are dealing with a deep crisis in our democracy. If the Eurogroup and Council meetings are able to appreciate what has happened and to take some of this responsibility, people may stop worrying."
And Spanish MEP Marina Albiol added: "Today this Parliament should condemn the extortion which the European Central Bank is exercising on the Greek people. It is clearly punishing those who voted for the Left, those who are challenging the powerful and putting life and dignity before macro-economics. This is not a question of Syriza against Europe; it is about the people against the powerful."
"This is not a question of Syriza against Europe; it is about the people against the powerful."
—Marina Albiol, Spanish MEP
However, the stakes are high as many observers note that the negotiations could be taken to represent a bigger shift in EU politics. As some—particularly Germany—fear, negotiating with Greece might buoy other nation-states who seek similar bargaining rights. The meeting with EU finance ministers comes a day ahead of an assembly of other European heads of state.
Eleni Panayiotarea, a senior research fellow at Greek think tank Eliamep, told the Guardian's Helena Smith: "What is uppermost in Germany’s mind right now is political contagion given elections elsewhere in Europe later this year and so for them to change position now is going to be very, very hard."
Last week, a leaked document revealed that the German government had been pressing Troika officials to refuse any debt restructuring and instead demand that Greece maintain the austerity program.
As reported by the EU think-tank Open Europe, EU Economics Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said before the meeting Wednesday, "We can't not listen to Greek voters, but the Greek government needs to understand there are commitments made by its predecessor," alluding to the reigning austerity regime agreed to be the previous ruling party. Moscovici said that the austerity program "is the basis for the discussion" and that compromise will only occur "within this legal framework."
Earlier Wednesday, Tsipras announced that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) had agreed to work with Greece to draft a program of reforms aimed at boosting growth, AFP reports.
The new program will be based "not on what was previously decided but on popular mandate," Tsipras told a news conference after meeting with OECD head Angel Gurria. He added, "This isn't someone from abroad coming here and telling us what to do."
Though there were whispers of a possible Greek exit from the Eurozone, reports indicate that neither side is interested in such an outcome. According to Reuters, when asked if the country was interested in a departure, Yanis Varoufakis declared: "Absolutely not."
The Guardian is blogging the latest developments from Wednesday's meeting.