Last July the Greek people rejected austerity in a national referendum called by the their prime minister Alexis Tsipras. The referendum asked whether the Greek government, led by the leftist party SYRIZA, should accept the bailout conditions jointly proposed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF (the so-called Troika). The Greeks said OXI (No), thus giving Europeans a new word to express their dissatisfaction with austerity and the EU elite.
But days later, with this clear mandate to renegotiate the bailout terms, the Troika refused to budge and Tsipras felt compelled to accept the harsh conditions of the bailout, thus ending the six month long experiment in challenging Troika-imposed austerity at the national level.
The Greek capitulation brought Europe’s democratic deficit into sharp relief. But rather than showing that there is no alternative, that moment of pure democratic power in the face of cruel economic authoritarianism was an inspiration that Europe’s people must be allowed to speak. Its demonstration of the perverse preference for satisfying the markets over the people showed how badly we need a new Europe.
The question now is what has changed since July. Have we felt the full effect of the Greek people’s heroic stand? What more do we need to do to return Europe to its people?
In September 2015, against the wishes of the party apparatus and following a massive surge in membership, the anti-austerity candidate Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the leader of the UK Labour Party.
In October 2015, the Portuguese election produced a clear mandate for the socialist party to form a minority government with the support of the two other anti-austerity left-wing parties (the Communist/Green coalition and the Left Bloc). Portugal’s president instead controversially asked the incumbent to try and form a new governmen.
In November 2015, after failing to gain sufficient parliamentary support the Portuguese PM stepped down and the Socialist Party formed a minority government which has just received tentative support for its budget from the EU Commission.
In December 2015, the newly formed Podemos (We Can) party came close to supplanting the centre-left Socialist Party as the main party of the left, coming third. Negotiations to form a new government are still ongoing, but the anti-austerity party has refused to form a coalition with any of the other parties.
Just this month, February 2016, it was announced that Greece has fallen back into recession at the same time that a general strike took place in response to the government’s attempts to introduce reforms to the pensions of state employees.
Again this month, the Democracy in Europe Movement (DiEM) was formed with former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis at the helm. It’s goal: to unify the various progressive currents across Europe and fight for a Europe rule from the bottom up.
Later this month is the Irish General Election and after years of austerity in the country, Sinn Fein has experienced a dramatic rise in the polls with an avowedly anti-austerity message.