The result of the second Greek general election in September 2015 saw the Leftist party of Syriza, remaining in office. Although without its more radical members, who broke away after the party’s leader Alexis Tsipras signed a third bailout, the Greek voters gave Syriza a new mandate to lead them.
Greece is the first country that a party which existed in the periphery of its political system, managed to form a government. The European establishment together with the Greek one, fought hard to bring the Syriza administration down. Since its first election earlier this year, the Leftist government tried to reverse the harsh austerity policies imposed on the Greek people by the Troika. It engaged with tough negotiations with Greece’s partners, in an effort to convince them.
They were met with a united and strong refusal for any renegotiation, by mainly the Centre-Right wing governments of Europe. The continental establishment-led by Germany- would have none of it. They could not allow a Leftist government achieve its goal and succeeding. They feared that if Syriza was given any concessions on its bailout agreement, other indebted countries would also follow suit. That would be incompatible with Europe’s neo-liberal agenda, which it has been pursuing for the past decades.
Thus the Syriza led Greek government isolated and defeated, was forced into a humiliating third bailout. Its banks had to apply capital controls, after the European Central Bank turned the tap off on funds towards Greece’s financial institutions. Consequently Syriza entered a period of crisis, which resulted in the party’s break-up. But what if there were more Left-Wing governments in Europe already, could the outcome be any different?
If the current economic crisis continues, Syriza may not be the only Leftist party in power in our continent. In Spain the unexpected rise of another “radical” party-Podemos, sends ripples in the country’s and Europe’s political status-quo. Established by a young lecturer, Pablo Iglesias, with his students and supporters, it was officially launched in January 2014. Within this short time, Podemos has already become a political force in Spain, even electing a mayor in the country’s capital Madrid.
But it is not only in Europe’s South that “radical” Leftist forces are gaining ground. In Ireland, the EU poster child, Socialist movements have managed to become more vocal and get organised. Tired of the austerity policies which Ireland has adopted in line with the rest of Europe, the Irish voters are edging towards a turning point. The Anti-Austerity Alliance and the Socialist Party of Ireland have managed to punch through, gaining significant support.
During the last year, they have succeeded in mobilising thousands of people against austerity and water charges. In the upcoming elections in 2016, they are poised to gain more seats in the Irish Parliament, although realistically Sinn Fein would benefit the most from Ireland’s Leftist shift. Yet the biggest surprise, plus a major development in European politics, did not happen in any of the euro-zone member states; but in Britain.
The British Labour Party elected in September Jeremy Corbyn, as its leader. From a rank outsider, to become a major figure in the UK’s politics was something unimaginable a few years ago. Mainly because Britain is one of Europe’s economic powerhouses and we were used to its more neoliberal politics. The country’s Labour party under previous leadership -notably that of Tony Blair- moved away from socialism’s traditional conception.
Now we see a radical u-turn, bringing the British Labour party in line with other Leftist movements in Europe. Could this mean a fundamental change in the overall political orientation in our continent?
Well firstly both Podemos and the British Labour have to win the next elections and form a government. If they do, they will most likely shape a renewed Leftist block together with Syriza, shaking up European politics. It was obvious that Greece alone could not change Europe. But if a larger number EU member states abandon the establishment parties, anything is possible; especially if Britain gets on-board.
Corbyn openly supported Greece in its struggles, as well as being a critic of austerity policies. On the other hand he is not keen of the UK leaving the EU; he believes that Britain should play a key role in reshaping Europe. Thus a Labour victory in the UK could see the country becoming a more engaging EU member state. Although definitely not in the way we are used to. It could now be clashing with Germany not for less powers been transferred to Brussels, rather towards a more socialist Europe.
Even if Podemos and Corbyn fail to win the elections, the establishment parties are facing tough times ahead. All over Europe radical Far-Right or Leftist, populist parties are gaining ground. Bringing Greece as an example, the previously influential PASOK party has seen its popularity crumbling, leaving only the New Democracy fighting for the establishment’s interests.
In Finland, we have observed the first strikes and protests, after austerity measures were announced under the Right-wing and euro-sceptic ruling coalition; shattering the “Nordic Model” of rule compliance. No matter what the outcome of the British or Spanish elections is, we are moving towards an unstable political landscape in Europe. But that is overall a positive development.
Our continent needed a political shake up, reforms and reflection. Our ruling elites have become too complacent and corrupt. Thus an increasing competition and threat from new political parties, could force the establishment to revise. Speeding up in turn progress and development towards a more united, fully functioning European democracy, in which the people are given a bigger say.
Alternatively, if the citizens’ dissatisfaction with Europe’s current affairs continues, we could see a disintegration of not only the EU, but also nations like Spain or Britain under the current form.
In addition we could experience further protectionism, populism, xenophobia, euro-scepticism and nationalism, turning Europe once again into a hostile, rigid society. That is something that should compel our governments to be more cautious. To conclude, this economic crisis and political instability has mobilized the voters to engage more with their national and European politics.
If a socialist revolution never takes place in our continent, at least we could see the rise of many things that Europe was lacking. Like the empowerment of civil society platforms, people oriented policies, direct democracy, necessary reforms and modernisation of our economies and Europe as a whole