The triumph of Syriza, the left-wing coalition that became the largest party in the Hellenic Parliament in January’s transformational elections, was supposed to signal the death knell of the jagged little pill Greece had been forced to swallow in the form of economic reforms imposed from by its wealthier European neighbors.
The votes had barely been counted before Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras, en route to becoming prime minister, put the Eurozone on notice. “The Greek people,” he said, according to The Wall Street Journal, “have given a clear, indisputable mandate for Greece to leave behind austerity.”
Many in Greece cheered, even as economists pontificated and a jittery European Union cast a wary eye on other growing leftist movements in countries already laboring under austerity mandates. Those movements’ leaders, it feared, might well be emboldened by Syriza’s political ascendancy and Tsipras’ fiery rhetoric.
The global audience braced itself for what might come next: a renegotiation of terms? A “Grexit”? A domino effect on other economies that would result in the end of austerity and a reimagining of the European political scene?
Six months later, there’s finally an answer. Eurozone and Greek leaders Monday agreed on a bailout — under terms eerily similar to the package rejected in last week’s referendum. Tsipras is now back in Athens to drum up support for the deal, try to quell a revolt threatening to split the party, and explain to a furious electorate that all of his sound and fury signified something, though not what the voters expected Syriza to save them from.
What he secured was a restructuring of the country’s crippling debt and what he termed a “growth package,” all conditional on the electorate’s agreeing to accept such negotiated reforms as streamlined pensions, higher taxes and the liberalization of the labor market.
The Eurozone will then be on the hook for more cash to keep Greece afloat, but it can be argued that it won more than the “total capitulation” enumerated by Ezra Klein and other commentators. It was also handed, by proxy, a near-assurance that other left-wing governments assiduously watching Syriza’s every move will think twice before following in that party’s footsteps.
It is likely true, as Klein points out in Vox, that Syriza never really had any bargaining power and that E.U. leaders could have turned up the heat well before now and skulked away with a similar result. Instead, they shrewdly allowed Syriza first to play its hand and then to double down by calling the referendum.
Following his supporters’ resounding rejection of terms they deemed unnecessarily severe, Tsipras all but ignored this latest groundswell of support as he returned to the negotiating table. It was as if this latest look at the potential abyss awaiting Greece had led to the realization that, in this high-stakes game of chicken, the E.U. had no intention of swerving away.
A clearheaded glimpse into the future revealed, it seems, the horror that Tsipras had so spiritedly insisted would never happen — an economic meltdown that would take at least a generation to resolve. His return carried not just the weight of a humbling defeat — no matter his positive spin — but also the jarring fear that the very next round of national elections will see Syriza swept back into the minority.
E.U. leaders, meanwhile, have reason to be confident that the events of the last few weeks will hammer home to other would-be upstarts an unspoken message: Oppose us, and this will be your fate. Some may already be taking heed. The Spanish left-wing party Podemos, one of Syriza’s closest allies, has branded the deal a “financial coup d’état” and a possible check to its own ambitions.
“It’s not positive for Podemos,” said Antonio Barroso, a London-based analyst, per Bloomberg News. “It shows that if you come from a far-left platform, you still have to live by the conditions of monetary union.”
It may also be telling that, according to Bloomberg, Pablo Iglesias, a former political science professor who took over as secretary-general of Podemos just last year, took to Twitter to lambaste E.U. leaders as “mafiosos” yet issued no immediate official statement.
Similarly, Caroline Lucas, a Green Party representative in the British Parliament, protested on Twitter via #ThisIsACoup, but made no indication that a more substantial demonstration of her party’s displeasure would be forthcoming. For now, angry words comprise the shell-shocked left’s only response.
And so the loudest outcry to date against the Eurozone’s fiscal policies has served only to buy its leaders something that money alone could not – the likely extinguishing of similar movements before they could even get started.