Greek austerity is dead, long live austerity

Greek politicians have a long history of saying one thing and doing something else.

Greece Facing Uncertain Future After Rejecting EU Proposals
The leftist government in Athens never bothered to make contingency plans, writes Polychroniou [Getty]

“The old austerity programme is dead,” boldly announced newly elected Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras in an exclusive interview with Germany’s Stern magazine back in February.

Indeed, fresh off his electoral triumph, Tsipras did not stop there and said, with equal bravado, that “we don’t need any new loans… [and] nobody can command us to take over from where the Samaras government left off.”

One cannot help but wonder what Tsipras’ reaction might be if he were to be reminded of these words today as his government has not only applied at the 11th hour for a new three-year bail-out programme, but is actually praying that it will be accepted by eurozone’s leaders, otherwise Greece faces a disorderly exit from the euro.

Tough negotiations ahead for Greek debt ministers

And this is not just any bail-out programme, mind you, but one with far tougher austerity measures (cuts in the range of 13 billion euros and radical reforms across the economy, including privatisations and a major overhaul of the state pension system), than the creditors’ proposal that the Syriza’s demagogic leadership had asked the Greek electorate to reject only a few days ago in a national referendum.

Contingency plans

Without a new bail-out agreement, Greece would not be able to avoid the catastrophic scenario of a Grexit from the eurozone as the leftist government in Athens never bothered to make contingency plans in case the country was forced out of the euro.

But no one should be surprised by the sad and painful developments in Greece: its politicians have a long history of saying one thing and doing something else. And when it comes to surrender and betrayal of hopes, Greek left leaders, unfortunately, win hands down.

Since his Syriza party came to power, Tsipras' main concern has been to solidify his position on the Greek political stage by appealing to people's emotions and national pride.


Forget the so-called Varkiza agreement, signed in February 1945, which has become synonymous for surrender and betrayal as it led to the disarmament of the country-wide communist resistance army that had defeated the Nazis and then to a period of uncontrolled violence and atrocities against supporters of the left.

Much closer to our own times, the charismatic Andreas Papandreou and founder of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) won people’s hearts in the early 1980s with promises to withdraw Greece from NATO and the European Community and to shut down US military bases in Greece. Of course, none of these promises were realised or even seriously pursued.

In the late 2000s, it was his son George Papandreou who promised to turn Greece into “Denmark of the South”, but ended up throwing Greece into the arts of an EU/IMF rescue mechanism, instead of either defaulting on the country’s debt or demanding an agreement in support of massive debt restructuring. 

National pride

Alexis Tsipras behaves like a demagogue and has in fact been accused of imitating Andreas Papandreou (no one in his right mind would want to imitate George Papandreou).

For five-and-a-half months since his Syriza party came to power, Tsipras’ main concern has been to solidify his position on the Greek political stage by appealing to people’s emotions and national pride.

The July 5 referendum was consistent with this tactical thinking on his part, even though it brought the country to the brink as it created tremendous suspicion in European circles about his actual intention and led to the shutting down of Greek banks and the imposition of capital controls.

Greek PM Alexis Tsipras [EPA]
Greek PM Alexis Tsipras [EPA]

In Saturday’s eurozone meeting, it became clear that trust has been completely broken between Greece and its creditors.

While France and Italy are openly supporting Greece’s submission of a new bail-out programme, many other eurozone finance ministers are wondering out loud whether they can rely on the Syriza government to carry out the reforms included in the proposal as a week ago it had rejected a milder version proposed by the creditors.

And nations like Germany and Finland are now making a case for Greece’s exit from the euro. 

Tragically enough, the damage that austerity has caused to Greek economy and society continues to be ignored by Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble, whose tough stance against Greece has made him the most popular politician inside Germany.

Tougher austerity

Not only this, but if Germany (Finland’s stance is really irrelevant to the outcome of the decision as to whether or not to force Greece out of the eurozone) ends up in the end giving the green light for discussions to continue regarding Greece’s new three year bail-out proposal, which many believe may exceed 80 billion euros ($89.2 billion) in loans, he will demand even tougher austerity and reform measures that are now included in the Greek proposal.  

Today’s meeting in Brussels will determine Greece’s future in the euro. But if I had to make a prediction, I would say that a way will be found to keep Greece in the eurozone in spite of Germany’s hard line. The geopolitical effects of a Grexit are too serious to be ignored. 

Moreover, it should be crystal clear to all that the first Greek leftist government in the history of Greece, unprepared as it was for a grexit, has surrendered totally to neoliberal Europe by adopting the neoconservative claim that “There is no alternative”.

So Greek austerity is dead, long live austerity.

C J Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked for many years in universities and research centres in Europe and the United States.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.