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Greek elections: The view from across Europe

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Summary:
Greece held legislative elections on 7 July. The preliminary results indicated New Democracy had won a majority of seats, with Syriza in second place. Stuart Brown presents an overview of analysis and reactions from across Europe. “As if the four years of Syriza had not existed, traditional politics has imposed itself again on Athens” El País describes the result as the “end of a cycle” for Greece, with the four years of Syriza in government coming to an end and the mainstream centre-right winning a majority “worthy of another era”. The Financial Times states that the victory for New Democracy and the party’s leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, raises “hopes of a return to growth and stability in a country rocked by years of recession and three international bailouts”. Preliminary results put New

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Greek elections: The view from across EuropeGreece held legislative elections on 7 July. The preliminary results indicated New Democracy had won a majority of seats, with Syriza in second place. Stuart Brown presents an overview of analysis and reactions from across Europe.

“As if the four years of Syriza had not existed, traditional politics has imposed itself again on Athens”

El País describes the result as the “end of a cycle” for Greece, with the four years of Syriza in government coming to an end and the mainstream centre-right winning a majority “worthy of another era”. The Financial Times states that the victory for New Democracy and the party’s leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, raises “hopes of a return to growth and stability in a country rocked by years of recession and three international bailouts”. Preliminary results put New Democracy on 39.9% of the vote, with a majority of seats in parliament, ahead of Syriza on 31.5%.

Table: Preliminary results of the 2019 Greek legislative elections

Greek elections: The view from across Europe

Note: Figures rounded to one decimal place, only parties with seats in parliament are shown, changes reflect the difference between the 2019 elections and the previous elections in September 2015. All figures from Ministry of the Interior (99.83% counted).

Le Monde labels the decision to call the elections a “failed gamble” by Alexis Tsipras. As Zoe Alipranti explained in a previous article for EUROPP, Tsipras was motivated to call the vote after Syriza finished a distant second behind New Democracy in May’s European Parliament elections. Yet several observers have noted that by pushing above 30%, Syriza’s result was not as bad as some in the party might have feared.

Much was made before the election of the transition Tsipras has made from “left-wing firebrand to experienced statesman”. The Greek economy has improved in the last four years and the role played by Tsipras in resolving the Macedonia name dispute via the Prespa Agreement has been praised internationally.

In doing so, however, Tsipras has faced the accusation of abandoning the fight against austerity. As Alexander Kazamias puts it, Syriza “promised to fight EU-imposed austerity, but instead embraced it”, leaving the party “a confused political mishmash of leftists, social democrats, conservatives and rightwing populists that defends the very neoliberal policies Syriza once threatened to destroy the eurozone over”. Alternatively, Nikos Chrysoloras argues that far from being a figurehead for the radical left, Tsipras should be remembered as embodying “ideological emptiness”.

Speaking to journalists after conceding defeat, Tsipras defended his government’s record, stating: “Today, with our head held high we accept the people’s verdict. To bring Greece to where it is today we had to take difficult decisions [with] a heavy political cost.”

Greece bucking the trend

Another key story of the night was the far-right Golden Dawn, which received only 2.9% of the vote in the preliminary results, falling short of the threshold required to enter parliament. Golden Dawn made international headlines when it first entered parliament in the May 2012 elections and has been regarded as “one of the most electorally successful far-right parties in Europe”.

Indeed, as Cas Mudde explains, the broad picture in Greece of the far-right failing to make gains, and the bulk of the vote going to two parties in the shape of New Democracy and Syriza, is at odds with political trends elsewhere in Europe.

However, one new party that did manage to gain representation in parliament was MeRA25, led by former Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis. He described his party’s result as “the only ray of hope on the day the recalcitrant Greek Right returned to office”. Alongside MeRA25, the right-wing Greek Solution also entered parliament for the first time.

What next?

The Süddeutsche Zeitung includes a profile of Mitsotakis, noting that while he has consistently been derided as a member of the “old elite”, he regards modernising New Democracy as one of his core priorities. Mitsotakis, who is the son of former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, reacted to his victory by stating “I asked for a strong mandate to change Greece. You offered it generously… From today, a difficult but beautiful fight begins.”

Christoph B. Schiltz writes in Die Welt that despite Greece making some significant progress under the outgoing Syriza government, Mitsotakis will face a Herculean task in office due to the country’s “exorbitant public debt”, “weak growth prospects” and “lack of an industrial base”. Sotiris Nikas takes a similar line, emphasising that there will be no honeymoon in office for the new Prime Minister:

Although he has inherited an economy on the mend and a stock market that’s soaring, they are rebounding from shrunken bases. Mitsotakis must ensure that Greece can attract the investment it desperately needs and create jobs as the country digs itself out of a financial crisis that has lasted more than a decade and took a toll on living standards.

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Note: This article does not represent the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured image credit: Dimitris Agelakis (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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Stuart Brown – LSE
Stuart Brown is the Managing Editor of EUROPP and a Research Associate at the LSE’s European Institute.

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