How the migrant crisis could accelerate a Grexit

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

Golden Dawn propaganda. Greece, June 2015. [Alehins/Flickr]

Since Macedonia, Serbia and Croatia aren’t allowing economic refugees to enter their territory, there is now the potential for large numbers to end up stuck in Greece, empowering the far right, according to Stratfor.

Stratfor is an American publisher and global intelligence company founded in 1996 in Austin, Texas, by George Friedman.

The leftist Syriza party has a much more humanitarian attitude toward migrants than previous Greek administrations did. Instead of making Greece more inhospitable to newcomers in the style of its predecessors, Syriza has been doing the reverse, putting an end to draconian legislation and releasing migrants from detention camps. Increasing numbers of migrants will increase anti-immigrant sentiment, which could easily turn the population against Syriza and its coalition partners. The coalition has already seen its majority cut to just three seats over the past week, thanks to the departure of two parliament members protesting reforms undertaken by the government at the behest of Greece’s creditors.

This weakening plays into the broader movement toward political radicalism in Greece. Since 2009, when Athens revealed the full extent of its economic woes, the country has been locked in a vicious cycle in which it receives bailouts from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund that come attached to strict austerity reforms. The reforms create antipathy among the populace, undermining the establishment parties and empowering radicals. This in turn leads to more confrontations with Greece’s creditors. This was the pattern that led to the empowerment of Syriza in January, and to six months of confrontation until Syriza’s bluff was called in July, when it showed itself unable to follow through and leave the European Union — partly because it had not received a clear mandate from the people to do so. Therefore, Syriza had no choice but to adopt the reforms demanded by its creditors and was somewhat co-opted into the perceived establishment in the process.

Stratfor did not expect Greece to leave the eurozone in the confrontation of 2015, mainly because a majority of Greeks wanted to remain in the currency bloc, but with each of these cyclical confrontations a Grexit grows nearer. The latest reforms that Syriza has adopted have already been met with resistance, both from the rebel parliament members and the population itself, which undertook a general strike on 12 November. Syriza may be able to use the costs of these migration flows as bargaining chips in its ongoing negotiations with creditors, requesting more leeway as a result of these unforeseen circumstances. But with the Syriza party now seemingly part of the establishment and connected with the austerity reforms, an opportunity has opened up on the political scene for a radical party that might become the figurehead of Greek rebelliousness.

The growth of anti-migrant sentiment across Europe is helping to empower the right, which traditionally takes a harder line against migrants, and Greece has the potential to experience the same phenomenon. Up to now, Greece’s right-wing parties have been fairly subdued, partly as a result of dark national memories of military dictatorship in the 1970s. Nevertheless, this confluence of events could benefit the far right, which is pontificating a combination of rebelliousness, anti-austerity and anti-immigration sentiments. To complicate matters, the Syriza government is in a coalition with one of Greece’s right-wing parties, the Independent Greeks. Though this party has somewhat tempered its excesses since being in government, others are as ardent as ever. Golden Dawn, a far-right party that received 7% of the vote in September’s election, could well be placed to take advantage of these difficult circumstances. Given that Golden Dawn is extremely eurosceptic, such a development would surely bring Greece much closer to the exit from the European Union that the country has been moving toward for the past six years. 

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