Greek leaders discover Europe anew: in shining or dark context?

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis


Greece belongs to Europe, to the “European family”: ever since the Eighties, when a Euro-hesitant public opinion turned decidedly Euro-phihe (for a period of more than a decade Euro-enthusiastic) this is a tenet of Greek politics. A brief spell of Euro-disappointment when Greece and Greeks experienced the tough love of bail-out/Adjustment Programmes based on austerity, was decisively reversed when the spectra of Grexit became apparent. A sense of belonging to the “European family” is here to stay – at least all major political figures in Greece swear by this; they are ever-ready to pillory opponents, for flinching in Euro-enthusiasm.

So, it is no surprise that newcomer, US-bred leader of embattled SYRIZA (an erstwhile radical-left party that picked fights with “Brussels” for a brief spate of time) Stephanos Kasselakis, having first ruffled feathers of political decorum and having also disrupted internal party balance, threw a curve ball -in naming his predecessor Alexis Tsipras to head the SYRIZA delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe . The Council of Europe has little to do with the European Union in power terms; nonetheless deeper political shifts that are brewing within the EU – shifts that will become all the more evident as the elections for the European Parliament get near.

To name the most striking: Georgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister but with the experience of heading the right-to-the-Left the European Conservatives and Reformist /ECR at the European Parliament, strives to bring them closer to the European Peoples’ Party. The EPP is the largest group at the European Parliament, even after (belatedly) losing Hungary’s 11-strong Fidesz Party in 2021. An alliance of EPP with ECR would graft hard-Right reflexes to EPP, where Christian Democratic/centre-Right memories still persist.

This is already causing a tentative rapprochement of Social democrats/S&D and Greens/EFA with the Macron-inspired Renew Europe (previously liberal/ALDE), so as to counteract the “drift to the Right” underway in European politics. Since any traction of the Left (GUE) is the upcoming European elections seems set to recede (the 2019 motto “Another Europe is possible” has a waning appeal) the temptation for SYRIZA to drift centre-wards using the European Parliament elections as a vehicle is there for all to see.

If  Stephanos Kasselakis is the new kid in the block – and for things European seemingly a total stranger – Kyriakos Mitsotakis is a seasoned practitioner both of Greek politics and of using the European lever to get the high ground. So his participation to the EUROMED9 Summit of the Mediterranean and Southern EU countries had more objectives than trying to influence the migration policy of the EU, pushing the launch of naval missions in the Mediterranean to contain migratory flows or even striving to press for a better share of EU budget funding for the climate crisis-stricken South under the review of the EU 2011-2017 long-term budget.

On one hand, Mitsotakis sees opportunities for Greece getting on board a Southern Neighborhood policy for the EU, as means to enhance Greece’s position in the Eastern Mediterranean conundrum; on the other, he was always keen to get Emmanuel Macron over to his side of things European. Macron’s own Jupiterian allure surely contrasts with the lackluster presence of EPP leaders such Manfred Weber, so keeping Renew Europe rather to the Right may well carry a sense of mission. (Of course, in French politics the extreme-Right pull of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally throws a spanner in the wheels of such maneuvering).

Whatever the end result, Greek political leaders look set to discover Europe anew. The question remains open: will it be in a shining or a dark context?