Moscovici: Leftist Syriza government is not populist

Moscovici noted that when it comes to populism he thinks of the extreme right but recognised that the temptation of populism exists also in the left. [Parti socialiste/Flickr]

Greece’s ruling leftist Syriza party cannot today be considered as a populist party because they have made tough choices and implemented difficult reforms in order to stay in the eurozone, Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici has said.

Addressing the Democracy First conference organised by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and moderated by’s chief-in-editor Daniela Vincenti on Thursday (29 June), Commissioner Moscovici talked about the future of socialism in Europe.

During the debate, Anna Diamantopoulou, former Minister of Education with the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok- S&D) and EU Commissioner in 1999–2004, asked Moscovici whether “the leftist populism could be accepted in the progressive world”.

Diamantopoulou was referring to the leftist Syriza government in Greece, which was heavily criticised for its populist rhetoric when it took power in 2015.

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The definition problem

Moscovici said that there was a problem of definition.

“If I look at the populist movements in Europe, I see two common points between them. The first one is that they are far away from economic realities and they make promises they cannot deliver, and the second one is that all of them are anti-Europe,” the Commissioner emphasised.

He noted that the first thing that comes to his mind when populism is mentioned is the extreme right but admitted that the temptation of populism also existed on the left.

Referring to the last presidential election in France, he said, “If I look at France, my home country, the socialist party got 6% and Jean-Luc Mélenchon got 19% of the vote”.

He also sent a message to the socialists in France.

“I want to tell my socialist friends, there are still some [socialists] in France even though they did not vote for the socialist party, pay attention; this is not the future of the left,” Moscovici said. He warned that the far-left camp in France was leading people to an impasse by making promises that will never be addressed and that they were incapable of governing the country.

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The left can govern

As far as the Greek government is concerned, Moscovici was clear.

“The left has the capacity to govern. I cannot consider Syriza today as a populist party,” he said in reply to Diamantopoulou.

He underlined that, as a Commissioner working with this government, he had seen them implementing tough reforms that “are far away from their own ideology and their electorate basis”.

“Because they made the choice to remain in the Eurozone and for that they need first to be encouraged and secondly to be offered some perspective. I’m not talking about the government, I am talking about the people, to give them a perspective for jobs and growth, it is high time they got it,” Moscovici concluded.

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