Clashing certainties over the euro

The words and actions of most of the protagonists have clouded the central question of what is at stake in next Sunday’s national election: Is Greece’s membership of the eurozone guaranteed under any circumstances? If there is no risk, then we can go to the polls happy in our choice between changing or maintaining today’s course without this creating worse damage. If this is not the case, however, we should be fully aware of the risk.

After a flurry of reports and comments (abroad and in Greece) strongly suggesting that a victory for SYRIZA would jeopardize our country’s position in the eurozone, it was as if some invisible center decided that this could lead to a backlash – suddenly everyone started playing down the probability of a euro exit. Neither New Democracy’s ringing the bells of doom nor SYRIZA’s claim that any arguments against its policy are mere fear-mongering has helped shed light on the issue. Polarization may help the two biggest parties marshal votes but hides the fact that two opposing certainties mean no certainty at all. Our reaction against the extremes in either argument, also, should not blind us to the real dangers we face.

SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras has proclaimed that he does not want Greece to leave the euro and will push to decrease the country’s debt. However, at its congress in 2013, his party resolved unequivocally to “cancel the memoranda and the implementing laws” and undo the reforms mandated by our creditors. “The first step will be the restoration of employment relations, collective bargaining, minimum wages, minimum pension, unemployment benefit, and family allowances to pre-memoranda levels.” Furthermore, “In our perception of the public sector as a lever of reconstruction, all the employees who have been laid off are necessary and will be hired back.”

SYRIZA’s position, in a nutshell, is that it will not stick to the terms of the bailout agreement and, at the same time, will raise much spending to pre-austerity levels, even while promising a balanced budget. As it has also pledged to roll back reforms, it will find itself with a huge gap in its finances. Our creditors and partners in the EU, however, are not as sanguine as SYRIZA would like us to believe. Finland’s prime minister, Alex Stubb, said that any move to forgive Greece’s debts would be met with a “resounding no” from his country. German officials and the European Central Bank have made clear that any negotiations will be held within the framework of existing agreements. Here, too, we have two opposing positions with no inkling of a bridge between them.

Past experience of Greek political parties changing their positions when forced to assume the burdens of power should be some consolation. The truth, however, is that when elections are won on false promises, it takes a long time for reality to impose a more rational policy. And Greece cannot afford to waste any time at all. With the elections only days away, most of us still don’t want to consider the consequences of SYRIZA actually trying to enforce its will on our economy, our creditors and the markets.