Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Greek and French Elections 2012. The aftermath.

What an eventful weekend we had in Europe, with two EU and eurozone countries having elections, that could reshape the current economic and political agenda in our continent. The Markets are already responding negatively, in what they think is a bad sign for Europe's road to recovery and economic stability. From the political point of view, the results are a clear message of the people to their governing elites and a sign of a turning point of Europe's politics for the past few years.

In France we saw the victory of Francois Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy. Hollande, a socialist, clearly based his campaign against austerity and he said that his victory is a message of the French voters; they voted for him because they reject the austerity measures that were encouraged by the "Merkozy" collaboration, or the  French-German axis as many have described it. What remains to be seen now is how will Berlin and Paris continue this cooperation and what the future is for the Fiscal Treaty. In Ireland we are having a referendum on it very soon and some now are suggesting that there is no point of having it, or that we should postpone it.

Mrs Merkel has already congratulated Mr. Hollande for his victory and stated that she will expect him in Berlin with "open arms," but the future of the Treaty is not negotiable. She expressed that she is looking forward to their cooperation. What will be the new dynamics that will form and where will this new cooperation lead Europe? Will Mr Hollande keep his promises and how will Germany and Merkel react to his positions? Will we have an end to the austerity policies imposed all over Europe and will Hollande be influential enough to gain the support of other EU leaders to change the European austerity agenda?

We have a socialist government back in France, after 17 years. All this time the conservatives were ruling France, one of the three main European powers and it will be interesting to see how this new combination of a socialist France and a conservative Germany will lead Europe. Merkel obviously favored Sarkozy, but I feel that we needed more balanced European politics. For me it is a positive outcome, we need a powerful socialist eurozone country to counterpart a conservative one. We need both voices and opinions to control each other, but I hope they are going to be able to cooperate for the betterment of our continent.

Mr Hollande views on what needs to be done to stimulate growth are totally different from what Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy were favoring. Instead of cut backs and austerity, Hollande favors the increase of public spending, with a raise of the minimum wage and more investing in the public sector. Of course a compromise will be needed from both sides and that is what makes it so interesting. What will eventually got to give?

Another very interesting outcome of the French elections came from the previous weekend and the first round of the electoral campaign. The far right in France saw the public's support rising and they manage to get almost 20% of the votes. Led by Mrs Marine Le Pen, the Front National (FN) party in France came third in the elections and that adds one more country to the chain of many other in Europe that are turning to the far right. Fed up and disappointed with their government's mishandling of their country's financial and immigration problems, the people are seeing nationalism as the only way to protect their way of life.

And that tendency was manifested in the Greek elections too, in one of the most dramatic electoral results in the recent Greek and European history. The Greek voters punished the two mainstream political parties, by turning their backs to them. But that is the only good thing that came out of these elections. In my opinion, it was about time to end the monopoly and dominance of PASOK and the New Democracy party in the country's political life. They are responsible for Greece's demise, as they were in power for the past seven decades, each replacing the other.But in what cost?

The Greek people, fed up with the austerity imposed on them, voted off the parties that supported the EU/IMF bail-out deals. LAOS is out of the parliament, PASOK came for the first time in its history third and New Democracy even if it came first, saw its popularity plummeting. A surprise came from the radical left party Syriza that became the second strongest party and its leader Mr. Tsipras the youngest party leader to enter the Greek Parliament. The most worrying development that we witnessed in these elections was of course the entry in the Greek Parliament of the far right, neo-nazi party the Golden Dawn. They got 20 seats in the parliament and 7 % of the votes.

In my personal opinion it is a disgraceful and shameful result for our nation. In a country that lost one million people during the WW2 because of the Nazi atrocities, to have a neo-nazi party in the parliament is totally disrespectful to all those dead. But I am not blaming the public. What can you expect from the average citizen when the political parties who they trusted all these years to provide a better future for the country, have greatly let them down. Greece's economy is in tatters, the country's reputation is damaged and there is a real demographic and immigration problem that is left unchallenged.

When the supporters of the Golden Dawn, escorted the elderly Greeks to go and collect their pensions in central Athens protecting them from criminal attacks, is it any wonder that they won the public's support? The are the only party who promised to do something about the problem of illegal immigration in Greece, while the two main political parties failed to even put it in their agenda. Illegal immigrants are turning to criminal activities to sustain themselves and make a living, bringing them in clash with the native population. A clear and updated immigration policy would resolve the issue, something that the established political elite of Greece has so far failed to agree on.

The debate among the public before the elections was very interesting and it gave clear signs of what was to come. A growing number of Greeks vowed not to vote for any of the two main parties. They felt that those parties did nothing all those years to solve the country's problems, so why would they now. Speaking with friends and relatives prior the elections, I got some interesting feed-back. Some admitted that they intended to vote for the Golden Dawn party, because it was the only one to promise solutions to Greece's immigration problem. Others said that they would vote for PASOK or ND because their parish priest advised them that it would be good for the country, while some others because they would bring stability. And some turned to the left or communist parties, or any party that opposed austerity and promised to reverse the deals that were signed during the EU/IMF bail out agreements.

The result from these elections is hard to predict. Instability and uncertainty is the only sure thing. Even if the New Democracy won the majority of the votes, it is marginal. To form a government they will have to collaborate with another party. The Golden Dawn has rejected such collaboration, while the leftist Syriza party is also not negotiating. That will most likely lead to a PASOK-ND collaboration perhaps with a third party. Some already fear that the negotiations will fail, Greece will be unable to form a government and another election will be needed by mid June. Some others see no point in all this and believe that we should have voted for PASOK or ND to ensure the stability the country needs, leaving our disappointment and anger aside.

The last group claims that nothing has been achieved by shaking up the monopoly of the two main parties. We will have more elections until we get a functioning government and the Greek people will eventually vote back for either PASOK or ND to ensure that. Others think that a coalition government will be formed anyway and will most likely be formed by ND with the assistance of PASOK and another willing party to stick to Greece's signed obligations to the EU, Europe and the eurozone. But who will that party be, knowing that they will become very unpopular among the Greeks.

Others are pleased for teaching a lesson to the political established elite of the country, notably the PASOK-ND parties and challenging their dominance. In my opinion it is a positive outcome, one long delayed. We need new blood in our country's politics, we need new voices and new ideas to deal with our people's needs and worries. I was just hoping that far right and far left groups were not the ones who gained the most. But as some claim, such thing is inevitable; populism is always what the voters go for when they are dissatisfied with their governing elites.

Now we have to deal with the Golden Dawn and its leader, Mr. Michaloliakos and their antics and ridiculous ideologies. In an press conference after the party's victorious entry to the Greek Parliament, the attending journalists were asked to stand up in Mr Michaloliakos' entry into the room. Those who refused to do so, where ousted by the party's members! Not a sign of a democratic party, rather a military organization. Not something that I, an 100% pure Greek descended male, will be proud of.

To conclude, the message from both elections is that the Europeans do not want anymore austerity, but they do want more security, prosperity and national pride. They want jobs and better living standards, they want a country that they can feel proud of, a just society to live in. The more their governments are ignoring them and favor policies that serve the banks and the markets, they more far right and left elements, populism and nationalism will be finding their way into Europe's politics; but only for the detriment of our continent and its people. I hope that some good will come out of all this and that should be a more functioning European democracy, on a national and European level.

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