What the Greek elections mean for Europe’s future


Greece headliner
Greek conservative party supporters wave flags during a pre-election rally in Athens May 3, 2012.
Photo credit: 
Yannis Behrakis, Reuters

Greece's recent elections failed to produce a parliamentary majority, leaving the political system fragmented and the economy on the brink of collapse. A fresh round of voting is scheduled for June 17 amidst skepticism that Greece may withdraw from the eurozone and default on its debt. Like French voters who elected a new president this month, Greeks are railing against harsh austerity measures and the European model of economic liberalism.

CDDRL Visiting Scholar Ruby Gropas is now in Athens as a lecturer at the Democritus University of Thrace and research fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy where she researches trends of protest and opposition to Europe. During this pivotal moment in European history, Gropas interprets the election results and what they mean for the future of Greece and the EU.

Was the outcome of the Greek election a surprise to you?

It was not a surprise, but an unpleasant acknowledgement of a grim reality. The messages and trends had been clear for awhile. It is only the intensity of the results that shocked political analysts, politicians and even citizens both in Greece and the world over.

How has the Greek political system and society been affected by this election?

The political system has imploded. The two main governing parties are severely weakened, beaten, punished, defied and delegitimized, leaving the political scene more fragmented than ever. The election plunged the country into even further political and economic uncertainty as 50 percent of the votes cast were in support of parties from both the left and right that reject the terms of the bailout and denounce the associated austerity policies.

Politics and society have become polarized once more along a new political cleavage that is formulated as pro or anti-bailout positions. Severe austerity policies against a background of poor governance, corruption scandals, economic mismanagement, and growing economic insecurity have pushed the electorate to vote for the extremes.

What can we expect from the run-off elections?

Given that all attempts at creating a coalition government of one form or another failed, two very different dilemmas are put to the electorate. The centrist parties are declaring that the conditions of the bailout cannot be denounced. But they are suggesting that that there is room for adjustment through negotiation with our European partners.

The parties opposing the conditions of the ‘Solidarity Pact’ refute this, arguing that the choice put to voters next month is about ending austerity. Regardless of what position one takes, forthcoming elections are essentially a referendum for or against Greece’s European future.

What do the election results in Greece and France mean for Europe and the future of the eurozone?

In Greece, the vote was a call for anti-austerity agendas and programs aimed towards Brussels, Berlin, and Frankfurt (the European Central Bank seat), just as much as its own politicians. The election results have led to an outburst of declarations and scenarios claiming that Greece’s exit from the eurozone is now inevitable and even more claims that a ‘Grexit’ is by no means an option. Continued instability and uncertainty – combined with volatile markets – are sending ripples across the entire eurozone, testing the limits of European solidarity and most likely the endurance of the euro.

French President François Hollande’s victory has given hope to those wishing to revisit the 'Merkozy' austerity program and envision a new role for the European Central Bank.

Do you think these developments will incentivize political change in the EU?

They already have. Yet much more is needed. What is clear now is that the current state of Europe and the eurozone's political integration are neither sustainable nor a viable pattern for the future. There has long been a disconnect between Europe’s political elites and its citizens and for too long the academic and public debate has stressed the need to bridge this disconnect. It is now imperative to organize politics in Europe and give the eurozone a political framework to generate the policy consensus that it needs to address current and future challenges.

What is the message the European voter is sending through the ballot box?

The core messages are “Yes to Europe," but "No to this kind of Europe.” These election results have shown that severe austerity politics are not working and that citizens are calling – in some cases demanding – for a change of politics. More strikingly, they have also highlighted that discontented citizens who feel marginalized, ignored and insecure turn to extreme right-wing nationalist and xenophobic forces. These are the same forces that the entire project of European integration aimed at eradicating over half a century ago.

Is there a silver lining to recent events in Europe?

European citizens have returned to politics and are driven by a desire to provoke change in the EU. The eurozone crisis has transformed the political debate in more EU member states on ‘European’ matters and on what sort of politics and policies need to be pursued at the EU level. This is crucial for the development of a long-aspired transnational political space within and across the EU, and a greater politicization of Europe.