The elections and the ‘foreign factor’

Polarization has prevented a serious discussion from being carried out on the main challenges the next government faces: the economic problems of the state and its citizens, and the country’s relationship with its international partners and creditors. The protagonists of Greek politics invoke the “foreign factor” mainly to bias their interpretation of reality without a cool assessment of the role the creditors have played and will play in developments on the financial and political front.

We tend to forget that participation in a collective body comes with privileges but also with responsibilities and duties. This is true not just for the weaker members but also for the powerful ones. Germany, for example, was compelled by developments to consider the common good and agree to the European Central Bank’s quantitative easing program. Ultimately, everyone can be talked around, at least when there’s common ground.

New Democracy (addressing “people who do not want to see Greece in ruins,” in the words of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras) presumes that a SYRIZA win would mean severing ties with our partners and a eurozone exit. For SYRIZA, this message constitutes fear-mongering and a ploy to shield the truth, given, as Alexis Tsipras said, that Greece’s future in Europe is certain. The truth is much more complicated and the future of the country will depend on the actions of the next government and on the agreements it achieves with our partners.

ND has made progress but not enough to convince voters, while SYRIZA presents itself as able to take on Europe and force change. SYRIZA seems to be ignoring how crucial the troika’s role has been in the past few months. Skepticism among the outsiders regarding the Samaras government’s ability to push ahead with reforms undermined New Democracy’s strategy for a return to the markets, setting current developments in motion. The country’s partners cold-shouldered the government and left it with no cards to play, while the prevalence of a sense that things cannot get worse on the domestic front cultivated the election climate to SYRIZA’s benefit. The next government will face the same challenges, if not worse.

ECB President Mario Draghi hit the nail on the head in terms of where Greece finds itself today when he said that there will be no special rules for the country to benefit from the asset purchase program. He made it clear that Greece needs to remain in the EU/IMF adjustment program, that the current review (which was suspended in November, leading to the current developments) needs to be successfully concluded and that bonds maturing in July and August need to be repaid.

Samaras stated that only ND can guarantee Greece’s participation in this scheme. But SYRIZA also welcomed the program as a confirmation of its policies – at the same time as the party opposes the ECB’s conditions.