Europe’s new leftist phenomenon

On the 25 January, ‘Syriza’, an alliance of left-wing parties, won the Greek elections gaining 36.3% of popular votes. Syriza later formed the new Greek government in coalition with Independent Greeks, a right-wing party in Greece.

Syriza however, does not only represent the Greek left, or a spectacular national movement which gained immense popularity since its foundation in 2004, but a general phenomenon as well.

What kind of phenomenon is it? Many journalists label it the rise of the European left or the rise of far-left in Europe.  However, it is not only geography  that connects these parties that are usually identified as radical left and sometimes reduced to a set of Syriza and ‘Podemos’, a Spanish left-wing party.

This movement is one of anti-austerity with its base being in European countries that were most severely hit by the 2007-2008 financial crisis. Such European countries’ economies could not stand up or even stabilise themselves close to 1% rate of GDP growth as other EU countries were able to.

It is in these countries that strict economic policy was put in place. This strict economic policy did not, however, manage  to provide for social issues or even a more stable economy. As Syriza mentioned many times during its campaign, austerity caused a “humanitarian catastrophe” and people could not feel the benefits of the conservative New Democracy’s strict economic policy after years of belt-tightening.

These parties argue that growing inequality and the effects of the financial crisis are deeply undemocratic, since most of the banks which were responsible for the crisis in the first place made unprecedented returns in the financial sector. As a result, the people needed to give up basic social needs in order to keep their country from going bankrupt.

The most interesting examples of this include those of Ireland and Spain. Ireland has been the EU’s ‘good student’ since the 2007-2008 crisis, with its government taking orthodox steps towards the economy’s rehabilitation. Austerity and debt have still resulted in many budgetary problems, but the road that the Irish government has taken following the crisis has been ideal from an EU perspective.

Greece's Syriza leader (L) Alexis Tspiras and Spain's Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias smile and wave to the cameras
Greece’s Syriza leader (L) Alexis Tspiras and Spain’s Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias smile and wave to the cameras

There are significant differences between the Greek and the Irish cases, however. Following the crisis Irish national debt was much lower with its more integrated economy. Irish opposition against the Greek proposal to convene a public debt conference between EU countries was also clear, with Irish bonds trading with a 1.1 % ten-year return, whilst Greek bonds trading with a close to 9% return during the same period. Politically, the Irish government has taken the necessary steps in order to rehabilitate the economy through austerity, whilst also dealing with its huge public debt, a burden which costs as much as the Irish educational system every year. This marks a huge contrast to Greece’s Syriza.

The Spanish case is fascinating as it differs from both the Greek and Irish cases. Spain’s Podemos party was born from the 15-M movement, a social movement that has called for anti-austerity demonstrations since 2011. Podemos preaches anti-austerity and, as of February this year, boasts 27.7 % of the Spanish population. What attracts fellow Spaniards is its anti-austerity politics and populist claims of representing the people and speaking for the masses in the hope of finding a more democratic way of dealing with the consequences of the financial crisis.

The Greek and Spanish cases mark the start of a new leftist movement in Europe whilst also proving that each country differs in context. Spain’s elections will prove to be exciting in the coming months.

Photo credits: Eric Toussaint

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