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Spain heads toward fresh elections on June 26

Pedro Sánchez, the leader of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party, could fall if his party drops to third place in June. (Facebook)

Shortly after the December general election, I wrote that Spain faced three possible choices — a German-style grand coalition, a Portuguese-style ‘coalition of the left’ or a Greek-style stalemate and fresh elections. Spain_Flag_Icon

Spain chose the Greek option.

Five months after a national election ripped apart Spain’s decades-long two-party system, the failure of the country’s four major parties to reach a coalition agreement means that Spain’s voters will once again go to the polls on June 26 for a fresh vote, after a deadline ran out on midnight Tuesday to find a viable government.

Notably, the rerun of Spain’s national elections will fall just three days after the United Kingdom votes on whether to leave the European Union, a critical vote for the entire continent.

spain deputies

The problem is that, with talks stalled for any conceivable governing majority, the Spanish electorate seems set to repeat results similar to last December’s election. For now, markets are not unduly spooked by the political impasse in Madrid, but continued uncertainty through the second half of 2016 could prove different if no clear government emerges from the new elections and, presumably, a new round of coalition talks brokered by Spain’s young new king, Felipe VI.

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RELATED: Three choices for new fractured political landscape

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So who are the four major parties and how do they stand heading into the June vote? Continue reading Spain heads toward fresh elections on June 26

Three choices for new, fractured Spanish political landscape

Pablo Iglesias, a founder and leading spokesperson for the Podemos movement, has cause to be delighted with Sunday's result. (Twitter)
Pablo Iglesias, a founder and leading spokesperson for the Podemos movement, has cause to be delighted with Sunday’s result. (Twitter)

As predicted, Spain’s messy general election resulted in no clear winner, and none of its two largest parties could claim a majority in the lower house of Spain’s parliament.Spain_Flag_Icon

What’s more, though two upstart parties upended the political status quo that’s existed for nearly 40 years in Spain, neither did so well that they can form a government — or even serve as a kingmaker for one of the two established parties.


While the conservative Partido Popular (PP, the People’s Party) emerged with the largest share of the vote, prime minister Mariano Rajoy has plenty of reason to despair. Much of the party’s support comes from older voters in the Spanish countryside, and the PP benefited from an electoral system that delivers slightly more seats to parties with support outside Spain’s urban centers. Nevertheless, he has lost his absolute majority, dropped 64 seats and, worst of all for Rajoy, there’s no clear or easy path to a governing majority. Though Spain’s economy has stabilized under the past four years of PP rule, unemployment remains staggeringly high (21.2%). The party’s leader since 2004, Rajoy might ultimately be pushed aside during coalition talks for a younger or more charismatic leader, like deputy prime minister Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría.

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RELATED: Spain readies for historic four-way election on December 20

RELATED: Can Felipe VI do for federalism
what Juan Carlos did for democracy?

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Meanwhile, the center-left Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) suffered its worst defeat since the transition to democracy in the late 1970s. Its new leader, Pedro Sánchez, a moderate economist, simply could not convince voters to look beyond long-simmering corruption scandals (which, by the way, also plague Rajoy’s party) and the record of the prior PSOE government, which took the first steps toward the path of austerity measures in the aftermath of the 2009-10 eurozone debt crisis.

Indeed, the PSOE just barely outpolled Podemos, an anti-austerity alternative that burst onto the Spanish political scene in 2014, embracing the anti-establishment protests of the ‘indignados’ movement. Despite leading polls earlier this year, Podemos crashed as fears grew that it would cause the kind of economic pandemonium that plagued Greece after the election of the far-left SYRIZA this year. Its leading spokesperson, Pablo Iglesias, began to moderate his movement’s rhetoric, and rallied to a strong third-place finish.

The center-right liberal Ciudadanos (‘C’s,’ Citizens), a federalist, economically liberal party founded in Catalonia in 2007, made the leap from regional politics to national politics, but its leader Albert Rivera must be disappointed that it failed to steal more voters from Rajoy.

With another handful of seats going to various pro-independence Catalan parties, as well as Basque and Galician regional parties, the net result is that no one has enough seats in the 350-member Congreso de los Diputados (Congress of Deputies), the lower house of Spain’s legislature, the Cortes Generales (General Courts).

spain deputies

Notably, Rajoy maintained the PP’s majority, however reduced, in the far less powerful upper house, the Senado (Senate), which can be overruled on most matters (i.e., not ‘organic laws’ that deal with constitutional matters, civil rights and federalism) by majority vote of the Chamber of Deputies. Voters elected 208 senators on Sunday as well (an additional 58 senators are appointed by regional assemblies).

Two sets of statistics are worth considering.

First, the traditional major parties (the PP and PSOE) won just 50.7% of the vote in aggregate, compared to 83.8% in the 2008 election and 73.4% in the 2011 election. Obviously, that means Spain is entering a new era where coalition politics are more important. That’s not entirely unprecedented — when José María Aznar won 156 seats after the 1996 elections, he had to work with Catalan, Basque and Canarian nationalists to form a stable government. But the success of Podemos and Ciudadanos has transformed Spain’s politics from a two-party matter to a multiparty affair.

Secondly, among the four major parties to emerge from the 2015 election, it’s staggering just how evenly divided the Spanish left and right are. Together, the PP and Ciudadanos won 42.65% of the vote and the PSOE and Podemos won 42.67%. Spain’s electorate, in the broadest sense, delivered neither a mandate to a sharp left turn or a sharp right turn.

What Spain now faces is a difficult choice of among three different paths, all of which carry their own risks and challenges. Spain’s new young king, Felipe VI, will also take a more hands-on role in the coalition formation process than his father, Juan Carlos I, ever did. The good news for Spain is that the three options each mirror paths taken by three of its fellow European Union member-states in the last three years:

  • Germany 2013: a ‘grand coalition’ between the two established parties;
  • Portugal 2015: a fragile coalition government that brings together all of the parties and movements of the left; and
  • Greece 2012: deadlocked coalition talks lead to fresh elections.

To the extent that Spain is entering a new coalition-based era of its parliamentary politics, a reshaped Spanish political landscape might transcend 20th century fractures and the transition to democracy that’s dominated Spanish political life for a half-century.

Continue reading Three choices for new, fractured Spanish political landscape

Greek election results: Tsipras and streamlined SYRIZA return to power


Alexis Tspiras’s victory in Sunday’s snap elections in Greece is reminiscent of Richard Wagner’s four-opera marathon Ring cycle — at the end of hours of drama, the ring ends up more or less right where it began, with the Rhinemaidens.Greece Flag Icon

So it was in Greece, where voters have faced a tumultuous eight months under the first Tsipras government that began when Tspiras led the fiercely anti-austerity SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) to a near-landslide win in January’s parliamentary elections.

Influenced by hardline academic Yanis Varoufakis, his initial finance minister, Tsipras tried (and failed) to extract concessions from European lenders with respect to the often harsh conditions tied to Greece’s first two bailouts. Back in January, Tsipras promised Greek voters that he would reduce the country’s austerity conditions while keeping Greece within the eurozone. However, with a looming default to the International Monetary Fund in late June, Tsipras called a July 5 referendum to give voters a chance to weigh in on the terms that eurozone finance ministers were offering Greece in exchange for extending its second bailout.

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RELATED: Why this weekend’s election in Greece doesn’t really matter

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Though Tsipras won a resounding “No/Oxi” against the bailout deal, the political victory came at a cost. His government was forced to introduce capital controls within hours of calling the referendum,  and Greece officially defaulted on its IMF payment. During the nine-day referendum campaign, Greece’s financial condition deteriorated so much that Greece faced its most serious risk in five years of being pushed out of the eurozone. Dismissing Varoufakis in favor of the more moderate Euclid Tsakalotos, Tsipras reversed course and ultimately entered talks for a third bailout of €86 billion, with at least a vague, face-saving promise to consider debt relief later this year. The new bailout, in turn, led to a massive rebellion within SYRIZA, so much so that Tsipras needed opposition support to enact the key parliamentary votes on the third bailout. By the end of the summer, former energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis and 24 far-left SYRIZA MPs, including the fiery parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou, split into a new party, Popular Unity (LE, Λαϊκή Ενότητα), dedicated to reintroducing the drachma.

As a result, Tsipras called snap elections for September 20 as a way of winning an electoral mandate for his considerable volte face and as a way of consolidating his control over the increasingly centrist SYRIZA, purged of its far-left wing.

So, after all of that, what happened?

Not much. Despite a turnout that was around 800,000 lower than in January, the end result was a Hellenic parliament that now looks almost exactly the same as it did when Tsipras resigned late last month to call elections. Defying polls that showed SYRIZA tied with the center-right New Democracy (ND, Νέα Δημοκρατία), Tsipras’s party (newly purged of its anti-bailout rebels) defeated ND by a margin of over 7% — SYRIZA lost just 0.88% support versus the January result, ND gained merely 0.29%.


That was enough for SYRIZA to win 145 seats, just a loss of four from January, and strong enough that Tsipras will continue to govern with the same junior partner,  the ‘anti-austerity,’ right-wing nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL, Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες). Despite fears that ANEL’s support would fall below the 3% threshold to enter parliament, the party cleared the hurdle and will lose just seven seats.


Together, it’s enough for a fragile majority, but the best news for Tsipras is that the SYRIZA rebels in Popular Unity fell just short of the 3% hurdle.

What does that mean for Greece’s future? Continue reading Greek election results: Tsipras and streamlined SYRIZA return to power

Why this weekend’s election in Greece doesn’t really matter

meimarakis-tsipras-Photo credit to International Balkan News Agency.

In the televised debate earlier this week, Greece’s recent prime minister Alexis Tsipras dismissed the idea of a grand coalition as ‘unnatural,’ arguing that Greek voters would have to choose between a progressive coalition or a conservative coalition.Greece Flag Icon

Tsipras, however, is wrong.

Greek voters aren’t choosing much of anything at all. Greece is essentially now a fiscal ward of the eurozone’s finance ministers, and the next Greek parliament’s composition will not be much different than the current one, a mix of left-wing and right-wing legislators who committed to implementing the EU-mandated bailout program, despite their misgivings, because the alternative would be much worse.

Whether the recent prime minister Alexis Tsipras, leader of SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left), or the opposition leader Vangelis Meimarakis (pictured above, left, with Tsipras), head of conservative  New Democracy (ND, Νέα Δημοκρατία) leads that effort doesn’t actually matter all that much.

In substance, it’s the choice between orange-flavored sorbet or tangerine-flavored sorbet.

Neither leader will truly be in charge of Greece’s fiscal policy, because that is already being set by eurozone finance ministers in Brussels and Berlin. The best that the next prime minister can hope for is some form of debt relief — eurozone leaders will discuss the matter in October, and economists believe that some form of debt relief (even if that just means extending Greece’s repayment period) will be necessary, despite strident political opposition in countries like Germany, Finland and The Netherlands.

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RELATED: Greece to vote in September snap elections

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The election is now a dead heat — polls show that the Tsipras-led rump of SYRIZA is essentially tied with New Democracy. Though the 300-member Hellenic Parliament is generally determined by proportional representation, the winner of Sunday’s election gains a ‘bonus’ of 50 seats, so even a narrow win means a windfall for the first-placed party.

But the question is chiefly one of style and symbolism — and which leader the electorate believes can lead Greece through the bailout in the most efficient and painless manner in light of the constraints any government will face in charting its own fiscal policy course. Continue reading Why this weekend’s election in Greece doesn’t really matter

Greece to vote in September snap elections


Ballot-worn and crisis-weary Greeks will go to the polls for the third time in nine months in what amounts to a fresh referendum on the country’s third European bailout.Greece Flag Icon

Facing a growing insurgency in his own government as he implements the terms of a new European Union-backed bailout of up to €96 billion, prime minister Alexis Tsipras will dissolve the Hellenic Parliament and call early elections for September 20 — in an autumn where Turkey, just across the Aegean Sea, is also likely to hold snap elections after the apparent failure of coalition talks.

There’s already been a disproportionately large amount of ink spilled on poor Greece in 2015. With the first disbursement of the country’s third bailout accomplished, though, there’s probably no better time for Tsipras to go to the electorate. The early expectation is that Tsipras will survive the elections and govern with a more stable and likely centrist majority. But if you’ve learned anything about Greek politics this year, it’s that you should expect the unexpected twists and turns of a country that’s struggling culturally, economically and politically to exit crisis mode.

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RELATED: Both Greece and Turkey could be headed
for autumn snap elections

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From anti-austerity crusade in January to a third bailout in July 


Tsipras (pictured above), the leader of SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left), won election in January on a pledge to reduce the terms of Greece’s memorandum and provide relief from the effects of a half-decade of austerity imposed on Greece’s fiscal policy — all without endangering Greek membership in the eurozone. After months of talks, headed by his outspoken one-time finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, it became clear that Greece did not have the political leverage that Tsipras hoped would force a more lenient deal for his country. By the end of June, it was clear that the eurozone’s finance ministers had no appetite for extending Greece’s second bailout program without additional concessions to cut Greece’s still-bloated public sector and to reform its economy.

Tsipras then hastily called a referendum for July 5, campaigning against the latest deal on offer by the Europeans, and the ‘no’ campaign (‘oxi‘) won a stronger-than-expected victory, despite closing Greece’s banks and imposing capital controls that restricted daily ATM withdrawals, at their nadir, to just €60.

Despite the referendum, Tsipras returned to the negotiating table and ultimately accepted a proposal for the third bailout — with terms even tougher than those rejected in the July 5 referendum. Tsipras, who dismissed Varoufakis as his finance minister hours after the referendum, argued that Greece had to choose between two tough choices — austerity tied to yet another bailout program or the insolvency and financial chaos that would result from a disorderly exit from the eurozone. Tsipras essentially admitted at the time that he had no ‘plan B,’ and that his country lacked the foreign reserves to establish a new currency in the event of ‘Grexit.’

Leftist rebels increasingly split from SYRIZA over bailout

SYRIZA, until recently a loose coalition of leftists ranging from mildly anti-austerity centrists to former communists, almost immediately split over whether to accept the third bailout, in spite of the chaotic alternative. In particular, Varoufakis and then-energy minister Panagiotis Lafazanis, the leader of Left Platform (Αριστερή Πλάτφορμα), have been vocal critics of the deal, and parliamentary speaker Zoe Konstantopoulou attacked it vociferously in several key votes.

For the past month, however, Tsipras has pushed through the terms of the third bailout with dwindling support from his own party, and opposition MPs have kept his government and the bailout afloat. SYRIZA controls 149 of 300 seats in the parliament, and its junior governing partner, the nationalist right-wing and anti-austerity Independent Greeks (ANEL, Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες), control just 13 more seats. But by last week, support from within Tsipras’s coalition dropped to below 120.

Ultimately, Tsipras wants to call snap elections because he can’t function indefinitely with a government that refuses to deliver him a majority. By calling a fresh vote, Tsipras hopes to win a mandate for his new approach and for the new bailout program, though even Tsipras himself has grumbled that its terms will continue to retard Greek GDP growth and employment, keeping Greece stuck in its six-year economic depression.

There are no reliable August polls, but surveys from the summer show that SYRIZA, under Tsipras’s leadership, still commands a massive majority of around 40% compared to just 20% for the center-right opposition, New Democracy (ND, Νέα Δημοκρατία).

But we have no polls that show what might happen if, as seems likely, Left Platform splits formally from SYRIZA. This is a crucial question because the party that wins the most votes in an election also wins a ‘bonus’ of 50 MPs. So if Left Platform steals a significant share of SYRIZA’s voters, another third party — most likely New Democracy — could win the election with a much smaller share of the vote.

Tsipras is a wily campaigner, though, and he should benefit from the fact that for the first six months of his premiership, he engaged in substantial brinksmanship in pursuit of a better deal for Greece.

He failed.

So the challenge for Varoufakis and Left Platform will be to describe how they would otherwise succeed — and how a eurozone exit would make life easier for Greece’s poor and its shrinking middle class. After all, Varoufakis and Lafazanis were key players in Tspiras’s government until July. At some point, voters will realize that the SYRIZA rebels have little more to offer than Greece’s Communist Party (KKE, Κομμουνιστικό Κόμμα Ελλάδας), which won only 5.5% in the January election. Tspiras, having followed Varoufakis’s advice, brought his country to the edge of Grexit. Tsipras will argue that Left Platform and the Greek Communists offer no solution that will keep Greece in the eurozone, and he’ll have the political scars of the last six months to prove it.

The state of Greece’s center-right and center-left opposition

Ultimately, however, Tsipras’s greatest threat may come from the right, which encompasses not just the traditional Greek right, but the center and the center-left as well. They will argue that Tsipras’s hardball negotiation tactics not only failed, but needlessly disrupted a nascent economic recovery and led to the flight of billions of deposits from Greek banks. And that’s not incorrect. But Tsipras will argue that, unlike his predecessors, conservative Antonis Samaras and leftist George Papandreou, he fought for Greek sovereignty in the face of the eurozone’s unelected officials and tried to reintroduce the democratic voice of the Greek people into the debate over Greece’s economic future.

Moreover, by calling snap elections so soon, Tsipras also hopes he can win a mandate before even more economic pain befalls voters from the additional pension cuts and an increase in Greece’s VAT required under the new bailout.

With former prime minister Antonis Samaras’s resignation after the July referendum, New Democracy has removed one of the most toxic figures in Greek politics from its leadership. But its acting leader, Vangelis Meimarakis, in office for six weeks, hardly seems prepared for the sudden challenge of unseating Tsipras. Nor does Fofi Gennimata, the leader of Greece’s once-dominant center-left party, PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement — Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα). She’s held the PASOK leadership only since June 14.


Tsipras’s most credible opponent will be centrist Stavros Theodorakis, a former television reporter and commentator who founded To Potami (Το Ποτάμι, which means ‘The River’), a centrist, pro-European party, in February 2014. Theodorakis (pictured above) harshly condemned Tsipras’s decision to call a referendum over extending Greece’s bailout, but he has nevertheless supported Tsipras’s efforts to enact Greece’s new bailout since mid-July. As a more pragmatic and centrist ‘Tsipras 2.0’ is emerging, the distance between him and Theodorakis is shrinking.

If Tsipras wins, that means he will look towards To Potami as a coalition partner in his next government; until then, however, he will be fighting with Theodorakis over the same pool of centrist and center-left voters.

Though the Independent Greeks have backed Tsipras throughout the ups and downs of the last seven months, it’s not clear how such an anti-austerity party will hold onto its support after having embraced a new bailout memorandum. Its leader, defense minister Panos Kammenos, could face an uphill battle in selling the bailout deal. If ANEL collapses, however, it could be to the gain of Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή), a eurosceptic, anti-bailout, anti-immigrant and neo-fascist group that vies with To Potami for third place in the polls, typically with between 5% and 8% support.

Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections


August may be among the most quiet periods of the year for world politics, especially in Europe as workers spend weeks away on holiday. Greece Flag IconTurkey

But events earlier this week made it very likely that two Mediterranean countries could hold snap elections later this year, adding greater political uncertainty to a European electoral calendar that will see elections for a new Labour leader in the United Kingdom next month, a new regional government in Catalunya (with implications for the Catalan independence movement) and new national governments in Portugal, Poland and Spain.

Greece’s troubled far-left government may call a vote of confidence as it begins implementing the country’s third bailout package, finalized with European leaders last weekend despite onerous conditions that could retard economic growth for years. The bailout and its aftermath could split prime minister Alexis Tsipras’s ruling SYRIZA (Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, the Coalition of the Radical Left). With far-left SYRIZA rebels already opposed to the bailout and with other opposition parties refusing to prop up Tsipras’s government, Greece could be forced to hold its second election since January, when SYRIZA first swept to power.

Across the Aegean Sea, Turkey may find itself forced to hold a repeat election after the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, the Justice and Development Party) of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu (pictured above) apparently failed to find common ground with Turkey’s two largest opposition parties, leaving it just shy of a majority in the Turkish parliament. Without a working majority, Erdoğan may be forced to call a new election by August 23, when Davutoğlu’s mandate to form a coalition government expires. Continue reading Both Greece, Turkey could be headed for snap elections

Three ways Europe and Greece could blow their last chance at a debt deal

varoufakiseuclidPhoto credit to EPA/BGNES.

The world woke up to the news Monday morning that outspoken Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis had, at long lost, been dismissed by his prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.Greece Flag Icon

Varoufakis (pictured above, right, behind Greece’s new finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos) had become, to say the least, a brake on negotiations with the Eurogroup, even though his widespread popularity and strident anti-austerity boosted Tsipras’s government to a stunning victory in Sunday’s debt negotiations referendum, whereby 61.31% of voters rejected a prior plan offered by Greece’s European creditors.

European officials struggled to reach consensus with Varoufakis, who just last week, in the middle of the rushed referendum campaign, referred to his European ministerial colleagues as ‘terrorists.’ Tsakalotos, an Oxford-trained economist, is expected to take a more mild-mannered approach, and he already supplanted Varoufakis as Greece’s chief negotiator back in April. That was, however, only to the extent anyone could supplant the motorbike-riding, free-wheeling Varoufakis, who gave his final press conference as finance minister Sunday night in a t-shirt.

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RELATED: If Grexit comes,
Greece will have wasted five years in depression

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Varoufakis’s resignation, along with a pledge of national unity across Greece’s mainstream domestic political spectrum, breathed new life into hopes for last-minute talks for a third bailout, allowing the country to reopen its illiquid and perhaps insolvent banks, lift (at least partially) capital controls that have limited daily cash withdrawals to €60, restore liquidity to ATMs that have run out of cash altogether, address Greece’s €1.6 billion default on June 30 to the International Monetary Fund and meet a July 20 deadline to make a €3.5 billion payment to the European Central Bank.

For all the celebration that followed the resounding ‘no’ vote in Sunday’s referendum, the coming Sunday could bring financial austerity far more severe than Greece has known in the past five years, marked by a nearly 30% drop in GDP growth and a 26% unemployment rate. Failure to reach a deal could result in a shortage of cash, food, medicine and so many other necessities to the extent that European leaders are whispering that Greece could require humanitarian aid.

Notwithstanding the dire consequences, a deal is not necessarily likely — or even possible. If they’re lucky, the European Union has five days to prevent Grexit. Here are four reasons why it will be so difficult in the hours ahead.  Continue reading Three ways Europe and Greece could blow their last chance at a debt deal

What are the chances of snap elections (again) in Greece?


It’s a sign that fiscal affairs in Greece are bad when the sensible Plan B to cover the Greek government’s looming shortfall involves loans from Moscow (despite protests to the contrary).Greece Flag Icon

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has dismissed European sanctions against Russia, and he met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Moscow earlier this week, signaling to the European Union that Greece is keeping its options open if ongoing debt talks fail. Though Tsipras didn’t seek any financial assistance from Putin, he failed to convince Putin to lift a ban on Greek agricultural exports.

The even more outlandish Plan B involves demanding reparations from Germany for World War II damages, amounting to €278.7 billion. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s just a little more than the €240 billion in financing that Greece has received in the last half-decade under two bailout programs from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Today, Greece’s government, not even three months old, will repay a €460 million portion of its debt to the International Monetary Fund. But that doesn’t mean that all is well in Athens, where last year’s green shoots of economic recovery are now obscured by the uncertainty of a leftist administration that’s engaged in brinksmanship over Greece’s financing and, ultimately, over the wider question of national fiscal sovereignty in today’s eurozone.

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RELATED: EU should give Tsipras a chance to govern

RELATED: What a Eurogroup-brokered deal with Greece might look like

RELATED: Seven lessons from the Greek election results

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 Why Tsipras can’t (and won’t) make a deal on Berlin’s terms

Without a deal, Tsipras will go down in history as the prime minister who led Greece out of the eurozone, willingly or not. Politically, however, Tspiras can’t agree to any deal that the Eurogroup seems to be offering. That’s increasingly a recipe for Tsipras to call fresh elections early this summer, but there’s no guarantee the results will solve the Greek-EU political quagmire.

Tsipras and his anti-austerity SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) were elected three months ago on a pledge to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s debt with its European lenders and end the harsh austerity measures that have exacerbated Greece’s contracting economy and growing unemployment. But the EU’s leaders, including Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, German chancellor Angela Merkel and, presumably, ECB president Mario Draghi, no longer fear the ‘contagion’ effect of a Greek eurozone exit.  Continue reading What are the chances of snap elections (again) in Greece?

Seven lessons from the Greek election results


Greece’s voters have effected a political earthquake in making leftist Alexis Tspiras their new prime minister, delivering a near-majority to the far-left and giving the European Union its first full-throated anti-austerity government since the onset of the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis in 2009-10.Greece Flag Icon

Tsipras’s party, SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς), is now the most left-wing governing party in the European Union and, with the exception of economist Yiannis Dragasakis, who served as deputy finance minister in a short-lived technocratic government a quarter-century ago, it’s a party with no significant governing experience.


hellenicparliamentDespite a 50-seat ‘winner’s bonus’ for SYRIZA, which significantly outpolled New Democracy, the party fell just short of an outright majority in Greece’s unicameral Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων). Earlier, today, however, Tsipras announced that he would form an alliance with the Independent Greeks (ANEL, Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες), an anti-austerity spinoff from New Democracy. Its leader, Panos Kammenos, last week scoffed that Europe is governed by ‘neo-Nazi Germans,’ and he is something of a loose cannon on the Greek political scene, and he has sometimes veered toward nationalist and even anti-Semitic rhetoric. Like Tsipras, he has brutally denounced the conditions of Greece’s two bailouts over the past half-decade, but he agrees on little else with the country’s new leftist prime minister.

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RELATED: EU should give Tsipras a chance to govern

RELATED: Meet Greece’s new economic policymakers

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So what should you make of the fast-moving events in Greece and the aftermath of Sunday’s elections? Here are seven key lessons.

Continue reading Seven lessons from the Greek election results

Merkel’s incredibly stupid New Year Grexit bluff


It’s understandable why German chancellor Angela Merkel doesn’t want to cut any deals with Greece — no matter who wins the snap elections later this month.Greece Flag IconGermany Flag Icon

Making concessions, especially to a far-left, anti-austerity figure like potential prime minister Alexis Tspiras, could embolden every recession-weary country from Portugal to Romania to demand relief from Brussels and Berlin, and it could give substantive figures on the European left, including Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, French president François Hollande and even German social democrats in Merkel’s own grand coalition, a platform to doubt the Berlin-dominated approach to fiscal policy throughout the eurozone.

According to Merkel (pictured above, right, with incumbent Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras) and much of the German electorate, the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund has already been too soft on Greece, lowering the interest on over €240 million in bailout funds and extending the repayment schedule.

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RELATED: What to expect from Greece’s January 25 snap elections

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Nevertheless, it’s incredible that Merkel and her aides take such a cavalier attitude to a potential Greek eurozone exit, which they apparently haven’t ruled out in the event that Tsipras’s leftist SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) wins national elections in 18 days. Three years after ECB president Mario Draghi promised to do ‘whatever it takes’ to save the eurozone, Merkel now believes that Greece is expendable, that the eurozone is no longer subject to the domino theory that would make a ‘Grexit’ calamitous and that the eurozone is now governed by a chain theory that suggests a Greece-less eurozone will be rid of its weakest link.


It may be smart domestic politics in Germany, where the anti-euro Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) is gaining support on Merkel’s right flank in both state and federal politics, but it’s an incredibly tin-eared intrusion three weeks before Greeks vote. It certainly won’t help the beleaguered coalition government of center-right, pro-bailout prime minister Antonis Samaras, whose New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) narrowly trails SYRIZA in most polls. Greeks already realize that a vote for Tsipras (pictured above) brings with it greater uncertainty, so Samaras has some hope that the electorate will have doubts about handing power to SYRIZA. He certainly doesn’t need Merkel to make that point for him.  Continue reading Merkel’s incredibly stupid New Year Grexit bluff

What to expect from Greece’s January 25 snap elections


With the failure of Greece’s parliament to elect a president after a third and final vote this morning, prime minister Antonis Samaras will dissolve the parliament and schedule early elections — most likely on January 25.Greece Flag Icon

It will be the first election since June 2012, when Samaras’s center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) narrowly defeated the hard-left SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς). According to just about every poll, SYRIZA holds a lead of between 3% and 7% against New Democracy.

Expect a tough Samaras-Tsipras fight for first place

Samaras is a wily and seasoned campaigner, and he will undoubtedly cast himself as the guardian of Greece’s long-term stability. On Monday morning, he was lashing out at ‘political terrorism,’ and warning that a SYRIZA victory would allow Greece’s sacrifices to go to waste. SYRIZA will face sustained criticism — some justified, some overblown — from just about every quarter in Europe that it and its leader, Alexis Tspiras, are dangerous ideologues whose policies could force Greece out of the eurozone in 2015. Already, publications like The Guardian are referring to Greece being ‘plunged into crisis.’ Expect the fear-mongering about the consequences of a SYRIZA victory to be on par with efforts by the British political establishment and business community in the fraught week leading up to the Scottish independence referendum. It’s by no means certain that SYRIZA’s narrow single-digit lead will survive that kind of onslaught.

The fight between SYRIZA and New Democracy is so important because the first-place finisher in the election will not only win the largest share of seats in the 300-member Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων), but also a 50-seat ‘bonus’ meant to provide the winning party with enough seats to form a working majority government. Over the next few days, it will be worth watching to see whether SYRIZA or New Democracy convince any other smaller parties to merge, because the marginal value of even a one-vote victory in Greek elections is so consequential.

Since 2012, Greek economic conditions are slightly improved. Greece’s GDP is set to grow by between 1.0% and 1.4% in 2014, following six consecutive years of contraction, and there’s every reason to believe it will continue to expand in 2015. The government even attempted a reasonably successful bond sale in April, and Greece’s staggering unemployment rate is now just 25.7%, down from its high of 28%.

Nevertheless, the dual cuts of budget austerity and economic depression have, understandably perhaps, left the Greek electorate weary of renewing a mandate for austerity, and the uncertainty over the country’s political future has pushed 10-year bond yields to an unsustainable 8.5%.

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Greece’s ‘bailout’ questions remain unsolved

Fueling that uncertainty is Greece’s planned exit from its bailout program in February 2015, just days after the election.

Continue reading What to expect from Greece’s January 25 snap elections

Greek parliament prepares for 3rd and final presidential vote


In the second of three presidential votes, the Greek parliament failed to elect the government’s center-right choice for president, Stavros Dimas (pictured above), a former foreign minister and European Commission member, in voting on Tuesday.Greece Flag Icon

Though it was the second time that Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, both failures were expected, given that Dimas needed 200 votes in the 300-member Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων) in order to win the presidency outright in either of the first two rounds. That threshold drops to just 180 votes in the third and final round that will take place next Monday, December 29. Samaras is waging an all-out campaign over the weekend to convince enough legislators to support Dimas and, by extension, his government.

Dimas won just 160 votes in the first round, but Samaras, who governs a coalition that includes his own center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) and its traditional center-left rival, PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), increased that total to 168 in the second vote after winning over a handful of independents.

If the Hellenic Parliament fails to elect a new president, Greece will hold snap elections next spring and New Democracy might lose, as polls currently suggest, to the hard-left SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς). That could put Greece’s financial future in doubt as SYRIZA’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, pledges to reverse the austerity measures of the past six years and negotiate a bond haircut to lower the country’s debt burden, from the ‘troika’ of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund that provided Greece two bailouts worth €110 billion and €130 billion, starting in June 2010. 

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RELATED: Markets shouldn’t be freaking out about Greek elections

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Samaras starts with the existing ND-PASOK governing coalition, which controls 155 votes, there’s a theoretical bank of 46 additional votes, including 24 independents, 12 legislators from  Panos Kammenos’s Independent Greeks (ANEL, Ανεξάρτητοι Έλληνες), an anti-austerity spinoff from New Democracy and 10 additional legislators from the Democratic Left (DIMAR, Δημοκρατική Αριστερά), a new social democratic party and SYRIZA spinoff that joined Samaras’s coalition between the June 2012 elections and June 2013 (when it eventually withdrew to the opposition in the face of further austerity measures). Though DIMAR leader Fotis Kouvelis has indicated he will support SYRIZA’s call for early elections and will support a SYRIZA-led government, not all of the party’s members agree. Negotiations with the Independent Greeks have been equally tenuous, and one of its members accused the government of attempting to bribe him in exchange for his support in the presidential vote.


Snap elections would coincide with the end of Greece’s bailout program in February 2015. The the next Greek government already faces a €22 billion budget shortfall between 2015 and 2016. Among the solutions currently under discussion is a short-term credit line from the troika or the IMF, though the troika is already demanding additional wage cuts and other fiscal contraction as part of the deal. Another potential solution might be to extend the repayment period by 20 years, equivalent to writing off around €50 billion in debt. Continue reading Greek parliament prepares for 3rd and final presidential vote

Markets shouldn’t be freaking out about Greek elections


It’s not surprising that Greek investors would be spooked by the idea of political turmoil that could replace Greece’s center-right coalition government with a radical leftist one as soon as February.Greece Flag Icon

That possibility became much more likely yesterday, when Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras brought forward a presidential election to replace Karolos Papoulias, the 85-year-old incumbent and a founder of PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement – Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλιστικό Κίνημα), Greece’s traditional center-left party, whose second five-year term was due to expire in March 2015. Greece’s presidency, a chiefly ceremonial office like in many European parliamentary systems, is determined indirectly by the Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων), not directly through national elections.

Samaras’s decision only moves up the presidential vote by two months. Samaras leads a coalition government of his own center-right New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία) and its former rival PASOK. If the coalition fails to elect a president, it will trigger the government’s collapse, bringing forward parliamentary elections that would otherwise take place in June 2016.

The prospect of early elections and the possibility that SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς) and its charismatic leader, Alexis Tsipras (pictured above), could be running Greece’s economic policy within weeks was enough to send the Athens stock exchange tumbling by 12.78% on Tuesday, the largest single-day drop since 1987, as analysts went berserk explaining that a potential SYRIZA victory could spell doom not just to the European but to the global economy:

“Greece in the next 6 weeks may prove to be more important for global markets than Russia/Ukraine was in 2014,” said Charles Robertson, chief economist at Renaissance Capital. “A possible [SYRIZA] election victory may force the eurozone to choose between a fiscal union (debt write off for Greece) or the first Euro exit.”

Though voters might be weary of seven years of economic pain, Greece’s economy is actually growing at one of the highest rates in the eurozone, which is struggling with low growth and deflationary pressure. At a time when most Europeans have reason to be wary of 2015, Greeks should be confident that their economy has bottomed out, and employment and GDP growth should continue to improve in 2015 and beyond. In the long-term perspective, it’s a great time for stronger investment in Greece, not panic and divestment.

There’s reason to believe that Tsipras, once in power, would act responsibly. SYRIZA, and not PASOK, is now the standard bearer of the opposition left in Greece, but Tsipras has moderated some of his more firebrand positions. Though he is arguably the loudest critics of eurozone austerity, he is more solicitous of the investor class today than he’s ever been. Tsipras still wants to restructure Greece’s public debt (still a staggering 174% of GDP) by forcing a renegotiation that could lead to a haircut or other modification. Tsipras and his economic advisers have nevertheless committed a potential SYRIZA government to budget discipline, even while promising to ameliorate the worst of the drastic cuts to social welfare spending required under the terms of Greece’s two bailouts worth €110 billion and €130 billion, respectively, from the ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Reassuringly, however, Tsipras has essentially promised he will not default on Greek debt and he will not attempt to leave the eurozone. 

Tsipiras is probably correct that Greece’s debt burden is not sustainable. He’s also probably right that Brussels and Berlin would cave to renegotiating that debt if the alternative is a return to the ‘Grexit’ speculation and the financial market turmoil of 2012 when the ECB is trying to wage its own fight to expand the central bank’s reflationary ‘quantitative easing’ efforts. The upside for Tsipras, if he wins a new election, is that SYRIZA would likely take credit for Greece’s economic progress just as it’s beginning to emerge from the nadir of its recessionary cycle.

Continue reading Markets shouldn’t be freaking out about Greek elections

Despite bond sale, Greece is still pretty far from normal


On Wednesday, a bomb exploded outside the Bank of Greece.Greece Flag Icon

Though it injured no one, it was a stark reminder that, despite today’s apparently successful bond sale, Greece is pretty fucking far from okay, to steal a phrase from Pulp Fiction.

Astonishing just about everyone, Greece held its first bond sale for the first time in four years, raising  €3 billion ($4.2 billion) at a freakishly low yield of 4.95% for a five-year issue. But demand for the bonds was more in the range of €20 billion ($27.8 billion), which is over 10% of current Greek GDP:

The order book includes €1.3bn of orders from the arranging banks, but is a striking confirmation of the ravenous appetite for eurozone periphery debt. One person close to the deal said there had been more than 550 different investor accounts placing orders.

€3 billion is not a lot of financing compared to the €240 billion that Greece has received through two bailouts funded by the ‘troika’ of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. For Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras and his coalition government, the sale was more a symbolic success than anything else — it’s a signal that Greece is once again open for business in the international bond market and emerging from the worst of its debt crisis:

“The international markets have expressed in the clearest possible manner their trust in the Greek economy, their trust in Greece’s future,” he said. “They have shown trust in the country’s ability to exit the crisis, and sooner than many had expected.”….

Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos also hailed the country’s return to the markets, arguing that it was a “major achievement that Greece did not turn into Argentina or Venezuela.” He also launched a strongly worded attack on SYRIZA, which objected to the bond issue, accusing the leftists of being “political parasites that live off the [EU-IMF] memorandum.”

“They should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “Instead of appreciating this moment of joy for the Greek economy and society, they are miserable.”

Despite the government’s victory lap, Greece is still a mess, it remains stuck in a depression with a political system under duress.

Continue reading Despite bond sale, Greece is still pretty far from normal

Cracking down on Golden Dawn’s leadership is a risky strategy for the Greek government


Over the course of the past week, the Greek government stepped up its efforts to treat Greece’s hard-right, neo-fascist party, Golden Dawn (Χρυσή Αυγή) with the kind of speed and clarity that one rarely sees in Athens.Greece Flag Icon

Those efforts follow the stabbing of anti-fascist hip-hop artist Pavlos Fyssas over a week ago, which marked a turning point for the coalition government that center-right prime minister Antonis Samaras leads.  Greek authorities over the weekend arrested Golden Dawn’s leader Nikos Michaloliakos (pictured above) and other party members, including party spokesman Ilias Kassidiairis, on charges of belonging to a criminal organization.  It was an unprecedented action in Greece’s post-dictatorship democracy — the first time since 1974 that MPs, let alone a party head, were arrested.

But things took an awkward turn on Wednesday when three of the Golden Dawn MPs (but not Michaloliakos) arrested were released pending trial, adding to doubts that Samaras’s government is making the right choice in suddenly treating Golden Dawn as more of a criminal organization than a political organization, however vile its organizing beliefs.  Kassidiaris (more on him here) did himself no favors by kicking and pushing members of the media upon his release Wednesday.

Support was already crashing for Golden Dawn in the wake of the murder — the party dropped from winning around 13% support in polls to just around 6% or 7% last week in the aftermath of the Fyssas murder.  In real terms, that means that Golden Dawn would no longer be the third-largest party if elections were held in Greece tomorrow.  After winning 6.92% in the previous June 2012 elections, Golden Dawn currently holds 18 seats in the 300-seat Hellenic Parliament (Βουλή των Ελλήνων), and the party had been threatening to resign en masse, leading to distracting by-elections.  Golden Dawn, which began as a ‘nationalist socialist’ magazine in 1980, comprised mostly of misfit supporters of the right-wing military junta that ruled Greece between 1967 and 1974, was a very minor presence in Greek political life before — until Greece’s economy plunged into contraction, unemployment, misery and social discord over the past four years.  (Read more background on the group’s history here.)

If you want to understand why Golden Dawn’s popularity has ballooned, check out the trajectory of the Greek economy from growth to severe depression over the past seven years:

greecegdpGolden Dawn was already growing into something more than a political party — a mutual aid society to provide food and other necessities (but only, of course, to ‘pure’ Greeks) and a near-paramilitary outfit that drew, according to some Greek analysts, the support of 50% of the Greek police forces.

But Golden Dawn’s polling collapse was, even before the crackdown, good news for Samaras — right-wing voters who had flirted with Golden Dawn seemed to be returning to Samaras’s more conventional conservative New Democracy (Νέα Δημοκρατία), which has boosted it once again over the anti-austerity, leftist SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left — Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς).  Before the latest drama in Greece, SYRIZA had eclipsed New Democracy in many polls, even as Greece faces the humiliating prospect of requesting a third bailout from the ‘troika’ of the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund.

So why would Samaras make this push now?  His sudden aggressive tack against Golden Dawn comes with the risk that Samaras will transform Michaloliakos and his party into martyrs, thereby boosting their support when they might have otherwise faded away as Greeks backed away from a group with such openly neo-Nazi leanings. Continue reading Cracking down on Golden Dawn’s leadership is a risky strategy for the Greek government