Despite increased discussion regarding a Greek economic ‘recovery’, it will take an extremely long time before the state bounces back from a period in which average household income has dropped by 27 per cent, unemployment is at 22 per cent, and one in three Greek businesses have gone bankrupt.
Ominously for the current Greek government, Syriza is largely blamed for this, which is simultaneously unreasonable, because Syriza did not cause the crisis, or come up with the enforced-austerity policies which have driven living standards down, but also understandable, because it did promise there would be no austerity, and that it would bring Greece out of the EU if the latter attempted to force such policies upon it.
That point is in fact at the heart of the problem for Syriza, largely because it is hard for the party in its current mindset to break away from. The argument about the EU was made for a number of reasons; in part to galvanise the support of those who had lost faith with the more ‘pro-EU establishment parties; in part because some within Syriza genuinely did and do want to make a break from the EU; and in part because Syriza’s leadership believed that if they were granted a strong mandate to oppose the EU on economics for Greece, they would have a strong base from which to negotiate a better deal.
The problem is that the EU is far larger and more powerful than Greece, and – as Syriza itself came to recognise, though in an unnecessarily and unpleasantly humiliating way – Greece requires its EU membership, without which there is every possible it would have disintegrated in the face of the economic disaster it went through.
Knowing this, the EU simply refused to ‘deal’, effectively saying Greece did not have to follow a policy of austerity, but if it did not, it would receive no financial aid, and be forced to leave the Eurozone.
For Syriza, this was itself a catastrophe, because it meant that it was forced to enact policies it had promised the electorate it would not, and to appear ‘weak’ by refusing to leave the EU, while presiding over pain and misery for the population it was supposed to represent.
The simplest way for it to deal with this, and reduce its disastrous effect on its prospects of re-election, would simply be for it to admit that it had underestimated both the potential impact of leaving the EU for Greece, and the desire and capacity of the EU to simply refuse to negotiate.
The problem is that first of all, the Greek people – particularly now, while they are suffering from policies forced on them from outside – do not particularly want to hear that they are regarded as small and peripheral by the EU.
Second, Syriza is new to governmental politics, and therefore feels particularly vulnerable to accusations of weakness or incompetence, and in political circles admitting a mistake is far too often seen as an indication of one or both.
Simultaneously, Syriza too feels like it has been pushed into policies it did not want to follow, and any admission which would require it to admit that it made mistakes which helped to lead to this would be regarded by it as too humiliating to suffer on top of that experience.
As a result, the centre-right Nea Demokratia, which actually promises more policies similar to those heralded and forced on Greece by the EU, is well ahead in the polls, and Syriza appears to be banking everything on being able to come out of the bail-out process in August 2018, and using the 12 or so months it has between then and the next Greek elections to ‘prove’ to the country that it can govern in people’s interests.