Monocolumn

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28 January 2015

The list of political parties across Europe welcoming Syriza’s victory in Greece makes for interesting reading. Centre-left parties, doing their best to ignore the humiliation of their sister party, Pasok, have celebrated the defeat for austerity while those on the populist right, such as Britain’s Ukip, and the far right, including the Front National in France, have triumphantly endorsed the snub to Brussels.

It is just the latest in a series of bizarre political friendships created by Europe’s economic crisis. If Syriza is to succeed in turning Greece’s economy around and fixing its broken society, the party will need to forge some even more eyebrow-raising partnerships: Germany and its fellow northern European “austerians” should swallow their pride and do whatever it takes to strike a deal.

The signs so far are not good. German politicians wasted little time in making it clear they would not budge. Yes, the Greek people had spoken, but so have theirs – there is not much appetite for Greek debt relief in Germany and beyond.

Three things should make the Germans and their friends pause. Firstly, Syriza has already proved it is willing to compromise. The party has taken an almost Blairite approach; modifying their policies in order to broaden their appeal across Greece and toning down some of the more inflammatory language towards the so-called troika of the EU, European Central Bank and the IMF.

Secondly, those so keen to see Greece continue with its austerity programme should accept that it hasn’t worked. More than half of all young people unemployed and the removal of any last semblance of a safety net are not successes. Austerity has caused untold pain; the reforms have not worked.

So much for the past. The most important reason to back Greece now is the fear of what might happen if Syriza fails. Some appear to blithely assume that Greek voters will see the error of their ways and return to the mainstream parties that were willing to implement the troika’s austerity plans. Such naive assumptions ignore the anger towards those who forced this pain upon them.

As the old parties crumbled, the far-right Golden Dawn came third. It was a distant third – just six per cent of the vote – but a reminder that even though its leader is in jail it remains a political threat. Jack-booted Nazis may struggle to build broader support, but a more polished, pin-striped version – perhaps with a charismatic leader – would be harder to dismiss.

Throughout the eurozone crisis, Germany’s reticence to bailouts, debt write-offs and quantitative easing has been put down to a fear of hyperinflation and where that leads. German politicians should then have little problem imagining which way a population may turn in the midst of an economic crisis when all other options have been exhausted. On his election Alexis Tsipras spoke of hope returning to Greece. If that hope turns out to be false there is no predicting what happens next.

Steve Bloomfield is Monocle’s executive editor.

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