Athens 31 July 2015

Evaggelos Venizelos
Article in Huffington Post

Greece's Current High-Wire Act

Six months after the January 2015 elections and after Greek society lived through the novel experience of a referendum that posed misleading questions and gave self-defeating answers, the country is in much worse shape than the that which it found itself before the notice of elections at the end of December 2014.

The cost of the last six months is enormous, no matter how one calculates it: as a return to the recession, as a negative consequence to the dynamics of public debt, as a need for new loans from the EU and the IMF, as a leak of deposits, as an explosion of non-performing loans, as the obligation of a new recapitalization of banks with a greater public debt burden to avoid cutting deposits, as an undermining of healthy entrepreneurship, etc.

The situation in Greece now, however, is not only burdened economically and socially but also politically and institutionally. After five years of sacrifices, we slipped as a society into a spiral of questions concerning the European identity of the country, a crisis of self-consciousness that went beyond the question of "euro or drachma" and took us to the defining question: East or West.

This spiral has already caused a deep crisis of democratic legitimacy with which we are attempting to deal by stubborn insistence on the possession of power around which the forces of SYRIZA unite, though they are fundamentally divided when it comes to the substance of the governing policy in place. They deeply disagree as to the party line, but passionately agree as to the need to maintain the government. As if they received a carte blanche mandate to exercise power independently of the program's content.


The left is justified -- in its own opinion -- to act like it owns the government due to moral and historical precedent, even if the policy it is putting forward is opposite to the mandate received! It is not about institutional absurdity but a brutal questioning of the democratic principle, the rules and ethical sensitivities of which seem to not apply for the left, of which Mr. Kammenos is now an honorary member.

On paper it appears to be a government with a parliamentary majority of 162 MPs who are prepared to give a passionate vote of confidence to their left/nationalist and populist government as soon as a constitutionally similar issue arises, so as to implement the "memorandum three." This is the same memorandum that 39 MPs of the majority reject with disgust, as a product of either a European coup against the Greek Republic or a betrayal of the ideological standards and programmatic commitments of the ruling parties by the prime minister and government.

But the government does not act as a minority government that is looking for the tolerance of an opposition that is friendly to Europe. It considers that the positive vote of the opposition on difficult bills is mandatory. Otherwise, the opposition would take responsibility in the impasse that it has reached in its relationship with its partners and bankruptcy. That is, the responsibility for the situation created by the government itself!

The dissenting members of the ruling majority agree not to participate as ministers in the government, but passionately demand property of the SYRIZA parliamentary group and underline their support of a government with the policies of which they are, supposedly, in terms of values and ideology, in complete opposition.

The Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament declares that the government is acting out an international extortion and that the House is passing laws in violation of the constitutional order. She votes against government bills as a member of the House; clashes on the basis of her personal views that contradict the overwhelming majority of the House with the President of Republic and the Prime Minister, but characterizes this conflict as "institutional;" remains undeterred on her stance and states that this is how she supports the Prime Minister and the government.

The Prime Minister, for his part, mumbles something about 'institutional imbalance,' but accepts the situation.

In public debate the dominating question is of SYRIZA's consistency and the early elections in conjunction with internal developments in the government majority.

The opposition, for its part, insists that the possibility of early, and especially immediate, elections must be ruled out.

Smaller parties of the pro-European opposition postulate the matter of the immediate replacement of the Speaker and the change of the electoral system in order to remove the first party's aid -- irrespective of election rates -- with 50 parliamentary seats.

However, though the opposition party threatens with the possibility of submitting a censure motion against the Speaker, it has not placed itself in favor of changing the electoral system.

Opposition parties say -- albeit implicitly -- that they are ready to vote on the subsequent difficult and unpopular bills, but ask or at least accept that responsibility for the negotiation, even now, belongs only to the government that failed miserably, with tragic consequences for the country, in the negotiations so far.

It is reasonable to wonder, hypothetically: If Mr. Tsipras says that he will continue until the end of the four-year period of this Parliament and therefore to the end of the new three-year memorandum with the situation as it stands today, what would be the reaction of the opposition parties?

To where and until when can the country keep going with a SYRIZA-ANEL coalition government, with an alternating parliamentary majority, with the the artificial unity of SYRIZA? How much longer can the economy withstand control on capital movements, hostility towards entrepreneurship, the removal of any investment interest, inertia in whatever is related to the growth and development of not only private but also public funds derived from the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework) and the CAP?

And if it is neither democratically normal, nor nationally advantageous, nor cost effective, nor reasonable, then what should be the alternative solution?

Within this parliamentary and political framework, the necessary national unity cannot be achieved. Nor can the necessary political consensus, regenerative mobilization of civil society, the bringing together of the productive forces around a national reconstruction plan that exceeds "Memorandum three" and allows Greece to recover lost ground and once again become an equal member of the Eurozone.

We need rational, transparent and generous function from all political forces that move within the context of European identity and the country's outlook. SYRIZA, which holds the government and first party of this House, must finally say, as soon as is it possible, what its clear and definitive position is as to the identity and future of the country.

Maintaining internal party conflict and ambiguity in SYRIZA does not get us far and has the side effect of political vulgarity fueling existential refutation of the ANEL believers' vote on "Memorandum three" by shouting nationalist and populist cries along with the majority of SYRIZA, without the advantage of SYRIZA dissidents voting against the difficult measures but saying they support the government because they want to be members of the government.

In this state, the country cannot negotiate nor be governed, let alone reconstructed.

All the causes that led to the lost six months -- the closed banks, the loss of the primary surplus, and the return to recession are maintained and reproduced, under the imposing memorandum, which promises tough conditions for another three years at least. Those responsible for this situation have captured the institutions and a large section of public opinion.

After all, Mr. Tsipras openly says that the foremost issue for him is to maintain power, the "fortress" of the government. He neither wants to lose, nor even share the power he holds, with the formation, for example, of a national unity government. He does not want to accept an electoral system that makes necessary the wider cooperation that the country needs so much right now.

This perception leads to maintaining abeyance in SYRIZA and therefore across the country, with the first victim being the economy and the most vulnerable groups. But there is only one case in which SYRIZA can be unified again politically: if the prospect of leaving the memorandum, the euro, and the European framework returns.

Mr. Tsipras maintains his internal party abeyance, supposedly, to implement the memorandum, to ensure the Grexit does not return, that Greece become a normal country of the Eurozone. But this leads to a defining cleft in his party and a change in correlations within both the radical and the nationalist/ populist space. If he wants to keep his party united, with its contradictions, and to hold election-wise as much anti-European, radical and nationalist/populist forces in a versatile SYRIZA that will absorb ANEL, then the only way is to restore the abeyance regarding the euro and the European orientation of the country.

This is a fatal pending matter to the national strategy and the prospects of the country.

Therefore the foremost duty for responsible democratic forces is to make impossible the maintenance and reproduction of this supposedly creative but nationally undermining, ambiguity. Mr. Tsipras owes the people a direct and official clarification, as soon as it is possible, as to the nature of his government and his relationship with the party members who disagree with the axis on government policy and the framework of national strategy itself. Based on this fundamental clarification he must say what it is that he asks of the opposition and in what institutional and strategic framework. This requires, in any case, certain basic institutional safeguards relevant to:

  • The function of Parliament (to replace the Speaker of the House is one of them).
  • The electoral system.
  • Ensuring neutrality of justice, independent authorities and public administration.
  • The seriousness of the negotiation with the EU and IMF.
  • The timetable according to which the country is moving under extremely difficult conditions, which he himself aggravated in some areas.

The formation of this clear framework constitutes an overriding national duty of all political forces and a requirement of all citizens. Only after achieving this can there be serious talk of a national plan for reconstruction that surpasses logic and the horizon of the latest memorandum, which was neither fated nor inevitable for us to enter, and for which some, more than others, bear responsibility.

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Greece and was translated into English

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