The 12 July agreement puts Greece on a slippery slope towards right-wing extremism

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

Protestors burn rubbish in front of the Greek parliament [George Laoutaris/Flickr]

The latest Greek bailout deal comes with harsh and humiliating conditions that will push anti-austerity voters into the arms of the extreme right Golden Dawn party, argues Pavlos Vasilopoulos. 

Pavlos Vasilopoulos is an Associate Researcher at the Centre de Recherches Politiques (CEVIPOF), at Sciences Po Paris. His research interests focus on political behaviour and political parties.

On the election night of 25 January, Alexis Tsipras’ winning message was clear: “Greece has turned a page. Greece is leaving behind destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain.” Enthusiasm that night ran high and was not limited only to Syriza partisans.

The victory of Syriza triggered hope among the social groups who suffered the most during the crisis, such as the unemployed, low earners and the young. These were the social groups largely responsible for the Greek far left party’s electoral jump from 4.6 to 36.3% in a time span of only six years.

In the six month period that followed the election, Tsipras and his cabinet fought fiercely to challenge the dogma of austerity in Europe, and live up to at least a part of their pre-electoral promises.

Yet despite the emphatic failure of the Greek bailout programme, creditors refused to bring in any adjustments to the deal. Tsipras found himself with no choice but to give in to the lenders’ demands. By making concession after concession, the Greek government gradually gave in to all of the creditors’ positions, only to be asked to concede even more.

Eventually the product of a six month negotiation was a humiliating agreement between the creditors and Greece that effectively ignores the outcome of the 5 July referendum and imposes further extreme austerity onto an already deprived population.

Tsipras became the third Prime Minister (after Papandreou and Samaras) since the beginning of the crisis who was elected with the mandate to break the vicious circle of austerity, only to implement even more of it when he came in office.

Now the austerity pack is so hard to take that four of a total six opposition parties rushed to side with the government and support the agreement, considering it far preferable to the catastrophic scenario of Greece’s exit from the eurozone.

This move was saluted by some of the creditors as necessary to strengthen the stability of the Greek government inside the parliament. The increased parliamentary majority allows the implementation of the austerity measures, which are necessary in order to restore liquidity to the Greek banks and guarantee that the country remains in the eurozone.

Yet even if this bizarre coalition of parties, hitherto fierce rivals, proves sustainable, it opens the door to a nightmare political scenario. Apart from possible Syriza defectors, there are only two parties left in the parliament to oppose austerity and represent the 61% who voted “No” in the referendum.

These are the Greek Communists and the notorious Golden Dawn, a violent Nazi organisation that more closely resembles a criminal gang than a political party. Unlike the Greek Communists, who have not made significant electoral gains during the crisis, Golden Dawn’s share has skyrocketed since 2009.

The rise of neo-Nazism in Greece came as a two-step process. First, due to vast waves of deprived immigrants from underdeveloped countries who gathered en masse in Greek urban centres after 2005. By organising militia patrols and harassing immigrants, Golden Dawn gained popularity among a number of residents who saw their neighbourhoods deteriorating under the weight of scores of impoverished immigrants.

But the catalyst that magnified the neo-Nazis’ electoral share across the country and brought them into the Greek parliament was economic hardship. The party’s electoral share has been boosted by the rapid loss of income, unemployment and deprivation. Golden Dawn has gradually managed to transform from a single issue anti-immigration party to an anti-bailout party, and will now enjoy an upgraded political role in the light of the 12 July agreement.

Even worse, the 12 July agreement forces the Greek government not only to impose an extremely harsh austerity package on an already deprived population, but also comes with a number of humiliating terms, such as Tsipras and his cabinet having to ask for the formal approval of the international lenders before bringing any relevant legislation to parliament.

This creates a toxic environment that heaps a sense of national humiliation on top of mass deprivation. Even if the austerity pack proves economically successful in regard to its fiscal targets, the 12 July agreement may well boost far-right extremism, with unforeseen consequences for the crisis-ridden country but also the rest of Europe. 

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