Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Greece Needs Syriza to Win

by Philippe Legrain

Foreign Policy

January 8, 2015

European politics normally pauses for the Christmas break. But this time it erupted with a vengeance. On Dec. 29, Greek parliamentarians rejected the government’s candidate for president, triggering early elections scheduled for Jan. 25. Syriza, a radical-left coalition that wants to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s 205 billion euros’ worth of loans from eurozone governments, is leading in the polls.

Many fear that a showdown between eurozone authorities and a Syriza-led government bent on debt relief and ending austerity could revive the panic that almost destroyed the euro in 2012 and could even force Greece out of the 19-country currency union. The Athens stock exchange has plunged. Yields on Greek government bonds have soared. The cost of insuring against a Greek default has skyrocketed. But a Syriza victory on Jan. 25 may not be a calamity for Europe in the end. It may be a necessary step toward resolving a crisis that has been festering since 2009.

It’s not surprising that voters are angry with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras’s coalition government, which has implemented the brutal austerity demanded by the European Union and the IMF since Athens received its first bailout in 2010. Greeks have suffered six years of severe slump. The economy has shrunk by more than a quarter. Incomes have collapsed by nearly a third; many workers go unpaid. One in four Greeks — and one in two young people — is unemployed. The social safety net has been shredded. Many families scrape by on seniors’ slashed pensions. Crowds jostle for handouts at food banks. Some children are reduced to scavenging through rubbish bins for scraps. Hospitals run short of medicines. Malaria has even made a return.

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