The Ancien Régime unravels in Greece

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The achievement of only a third of the vote by Greece's traditional conservative and socialist ruling parties marks the end of the old political order, an electoral revolution which could spread to other European countries if the crisis continues, argues Yiannis Roubatis.

Yiannis Roubatis is a career journalist and is the co-founder of EURACTIV Greece. He has previously served as Socialist Greek Member of the European Parliament.

"The 6 May elections in Greece produced no clear winner. Monday morning, however, finds Greece with a completely new political reality.  For the first time since the fall of the junta in the summer of 1974, the political forces of the Establishment are in the minority.

Furthermore, the elections proved an absolute disaster for the centre-left PASOK and the centre-right New Democracy parties that together gathered less than 35% of the vote, down from 80% of they had in the 2009 national elections.

The temptation will be to choose easy explanations to understand what happened in Greece,  namely that the voters  cast a punitive ballot in favor of anti-austerity parties thus risking the implementation of the bailout plan that saved Athens from bankruptcy.

There is no question that the austerity measures and the resulting recession, unemployment  and unequal heavy taxation of the salaried and pensioners, coupled with the total lack of any growth prospects, played an important role in the decision of Greek voters to punish the political parties that have governed the country over the last two years.

There is more, however, that must be taken into account.  The long-festering social discontent with a political system that was seen as outdated, corrupt and unable to adjust to the new domestic and international realities also played a major role.

The truth is that the bailout plan pushed major parts of Greek society to the edge and brought to the surface powerful social contradictions. Hundreds of thousands of young people felt there is no future for them in a clientele system that cared little for ability but rewarded party loyalty and family connections with political barons.

Major parts of the middle class that emerged in the 1990s despaired with the powerful public infrastructure contractors that slowly took over newspapers, television channels and energy resources controlling along the way dozens of elected officials at the local and national level.

Things got even worse as George Papandreou came to power preaching a total revamping of the system while changing nothing even in his own political party. He spoke of meritocracy and appointed his cronies and family connections to high positions.

He gave didactic talks within Greece about uprooting corruption and strolled around the rest of the world lamenting that he is the prime minister of a corrupt nation. At the same time he rubbed shoulders with the same industrialists and contractors that made fortunes from public procurement projects, major infrastructure works and systematic tax evasion.

The old political and economic Establishment in Greece has deep roots. It might take much more than an election defeat to bring it down and give a chance to new political forces to come to the forefront.

There is the danger that along the way the truly horrible will also surface, as it has with the election to Parliament of 21 members of the Golden Dawn movement with its Neo-Nazi ideology.

My guess is, however, that the old political system has suffered major damage in this election and that political forces have been unleashed that could bring a better future to Greece and to Europe.

Hopefully, European politicians like Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble but also François Hollande and others of the same mind, will take the time to understand what the game is about in Athens.

Even more important, the rest of Europe’s citizens should probably take a closer look at what is happening in Greece. It might be that, contrary to conventional German wisdom, Greece is not a “special case” but the mirror of the European future.  Good or bad, time will tell."

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