Syriza decision to partner with the Independent Greeks angers the S&D

Gianni Pittella [European Parliament]

Alexis Tsipras’ decision to renew cooperation with the right-wing Independent Greeks party in the new government was a “strategic mistake”, Socialists & Democrats chief Gianni Pittella told EURACTIV Greece.

Left-wing leader Alexis Tsipras won his second mandate as premier on 21 September, despite a controversial austerity deal struck with European leaders.

>>Read: Tsipras storms to victory: ‘Europe will not be the same’

The leftist Syriza got 35.5% of the vote ensuring 145 seats in the 300-seat parliament, followed by the conservative New Democracy with 28.1% (75 seats).

But, as in the previous mandate, Tsipras decided immediately after the elections to form a coalition with the right-wing Independent Greeks party (Anel), triggering the strong reaction of S&D officials.  

The Syriza-Independent Greeks government will now have 155 seats in the parliament.

Pittella insists on a progressive government

It’s the first time that Pittella has taken such a hard line against Tsipras, considering that during the tough negotiations between Athens and its international creditors, the S&D group was quite supportive of Tsipras.

“We consider Tsipras’ decision to form a government with the right-wing party Anel a strategic mistake which could badly affect the path of reforms in Greece,” Pittella said.

Similar concerns were also expressed by the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

Speaking to France Inter radio, Schulz said he could not understand Tsipras’ decision to renew his coalition with the Independent Greeks.

“I called him [Tsipras] a second time to ask him why he was continuing a coalition with this strange, far-right party,” Schulz said.

“He pretty much didn’t answer. He is very clever, especially by telephone. He told me things that seemed convincing, but which ultimately, in my eyes, are a little bizarre.”

Pittella continued, saying that the best option for the good of Greek people “would be a coalition government established with all progressive forces, namely To Potami and Pasok”.

“Such a government would be the best guarantee for stability and for a responsible implementation of the memorandum, without setting aside the social dimension, which is paramount for the population most at need.”

Potami scored 4% of the vote, down from the 6% in the general elections in January, while the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) increased its share of the vote from 4.7% in January to 6.3%.

S&D frustrated with Tsipras

Several Syriza lawmakers have a socialist background, and publicly support a center-left shift.

The official S&D party members in Greece are Pasok, as well as Potami.

In a recent interview with EURACTIV Greece, ex-Syriza health minister Panagiotis Kouroumplis stressed that a progressive pole was needed in Greek politics.

“Syriza should be the center of a wider progressive party that will emerge as a counterweight to right-wing, conservative and neoliberal policies”.

>>Read: Ex-Syriza minister: Greece should continue its ‘creative’ dialogue with Russia

Asked if the S&D would be ready to “embrace” Syriza, Pittella did not rule it out.

“I don’t know whether Tsipras foresees this final goal. Should it be the case, we will verify the political opportunity of this choice along with our comrades of Pasok and To Potami, already official members of the S&D Group,” he said.

Surprisingly, during the run-up to the Greek elections, S&D did not openly support Pasok and Potami.

On the contrary, in a press release published after the announcement of the elections results, S&D emphasized the need for a “progressive government with all the progressive forces”, which would include Syriza, Pasok and Potami.

We helped Greeks, not Tsipras

Pittella continued, saying that the S&D group openly committed in the tough negotiations with the European Commission, to help “not Syriza or Tsipras, but the Greek people, to find the best solution that would prevent Greece from abandoning the eurozone”.

“I think we demonstrated our concrete solidarity and cooperative approach towards the Greek people. We have been the only large political group not to give in to the insane idea of Grexit,” he said.

Pittella added that he fought for Greece to stay in Europe and he was ready to back the Greek authorities on the restructuring of the debt issue and “to insist that the EU Commission puts in place the investment plan for Greece.”

Distance from Zimmer

Gabriele Zimmer, head of GUE-NGL in the European Parliament, recently told EURACTIV Greece that the ascension of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the UK’s Labour Party was a sign that the S&D family was changing in a hopeful direction.

>>Read: Zimmer: Something is changing in the S&D

Asked to comment on Zimmer’s statement, Pittella kept his distance, and emphasized that the S&D group has always been open to discussions with other left-wing groups.

“I am not interested in delving into Zimmer’s thoughts. We have always been open to dialogue with the other left-wing groups in the European Parliament; the Greens with whom we have just voted the Commission Working Programme and also with GUE, even if this group is not part of the majority supporting the Commission.”

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