Editorial

Grecian churn: on Greece election results

Greece under Mr. Mitsotakis is set for a period of stability and continuity

The verdict in Sunday’s Greek elections affords a rare comfort for Europe’s centrists, who, arguably with the exception of Spain in April, have of late ceded ground to populist forces. The conservative centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has won 158 out of the 300 seats. The left-wing Syriza party of outgoing premier Alexis Tsipras was left with 86 seats. Critical support for Mr. Tsipras could not be ruled out from MeRA25, the Greek wing of Europe’s anti-establishment DiEM25, of ex-finance minister Yanis Varoufakis; it has nine seats. But there is another dimension to this overall sense of political balance and stability in Parliament. Golden Dawn, the anti-Muslim party that ranked third in the last elections, has been convincingly rejected by voters, with less than the requisite vote share to enter the legislature. The potential for mischief from hardline nationalist parties was on display only recently. In January, Mr. Tsipras’s government narrowly survived a vote of confidence after Independent Greeks, a coalition partner, withdrew support, refusing to back the renaming of the former Yugoslavian state as Northern Macedonia. Given the influx of immigrants and the refugee crisis, the ruling New Democracy and Opposition Syriza party both have a moral responsibility to consolidate the middle ground. Mr. Mitsotakis has assumed charge under relatively benign conditions. Four years ago, Greece was bearing the brunt of an international bailout, biting austerity measures and a collapsing banking system while on the verge of being ejected from Europe’s single currency zone. That prospect is way behind, as the general consensus is that the euro is destined to succeed, for failure would be too costly.

Athens last year managed to exit the €86-billion bailout programme, but conditions in 2019 are far from ideal. Economic growth is at a tepid 2% rate as the population continues to be weighed down by reforms to the once generous pension system and spending cuts to the education and health-care budgets. The roughly 18% unemployment rate is by far the highest in the European Union. Mr. Mitsotakis, the Harvard-educated former banker, is said to be well regarded in the Brussels establishment. The inference is that the economic path of the past four years would not be derailed. The concern for Greeks is over whether Mr. Mitsotakis can navigate what seems a difficult road ahead without overly adding to their woes. Athens’s strategic Mediterranean location lends greater heft to the EU’s approach on the external policy front. Mr. Mitsotakis must leverage the goodwill he apparently enjoys with Brussels to shape an asylum policy underpinned by enlightened self-interest and humaneness. As Greece makes a fresh start, its leaders should temper the expectations.

 

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 3:05:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/grecian-churn/article28363938.ece

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