Through the (Greek) looking-glass of (European) elections

Greece is a country where the European dimension of politics has played a major – if not overwhelmingly decisive – role in the last 15 years of public life. The traumatic experience of the debt crisis and the austerity imposed to deal with it evolved around “Europe”; the near-Grexit had everything to do with Greeks deciding that remaining within the EU fold was of existential importance to the national psyche; the day-after RRF funding (after the Covid-19 pandemic, but also after the energy crisis as it came) allowed the Greek economy to stage a come-back to growth interestingly surpassing the EU/Euroarea average growth rate.

So, it was shocking to realise that in the June 9 European Parliament elections Greek voters mainly abstained: the overall abstention rate touched 60% (5.7 million votes cast on 9.6 million registered voters), surpassing even the 70% mark in some areas. It might be that the quality of prospective MEPs put forward by Greek parties put off voters.

In typically Greek-politics form, polling results were met by all political leaders with victory declarations. Government party Nea Dimocratia lost importantly if compared both to the 2019 Europeans polls and the 2023 national elections – but Opposition parties remain in disarray, so “the message expressed by voters was received” but the task of governing will go on. Internal party reactions will be felt, since the overall vote shifted toward the hard right – which is in no way absent from Nea Dimocratia’s own ranks. But viscosity of exercising power remains strong, so no challenges to the Mitsotakis leadership are to be expected. (Throughout election night, Nea Dimocratia grandees had to toe the official party line that their side had won. Then K. Mitsotakis came forward declaring the party had not been successful in meeting the goals set – but “the voters’ message was received”).

Both over-colorful Stephanos Kasselakis of Syriza and rather inhibited Nikos Androulakis of Pasok expressed (conflicting) readings of the election results that were at best underwhelming. They both ended in considering their own party’s role decisive in building the tomorrow of Greek politics – but now they will have to deliver. Kasselakis was prompt to claim that for him the result was a vote of confidence allowing him to work for the next three years so as  to build an effective alternative to Mitsotakis/Nea Dimocratia rule; he was also in the comfortable position to look down at the disarray of New Left, the splinter patty that quit Syriza – largely due to his own antics – and got the cold shoulder at the voting urns.

Androulakis highlighted the fact that under his own leadership Pasok is steadily – albeit slowly – gaining in voter appeal, after lingering for quite a long time in single-digit territory. He could have stressed the fact that Pasok had composed a quite credible social-democratic counter-programme to the Government’s neo-liberal one – but such things do not play well in present-day Greek politics.

To round up the Greek party zoo, the stodgy Communist Party is happy with progressing somehow at the vote but staying cautiously at the sidelines. The allegedly radical-Right Greek Solution of Kyriakos Velopoulos – which has joined ECR since the last EP legislature, so now watches over the intricate EPP/ECR or ECR/ID power play – looks around for power-sharing; it has proved already instrumental in helping the Government alter the set-up of the Independent Authority for Communications Protection, in such a way that prevented the effective investigation of a notorious eaverdropping affair that risked to cost the Government dearly.

As to the host of extreme Right-wing/nationalist-nativist parties that cost Nea Dimocratia some influence (especially in Northern Greece) notwithstanding its own shift to the Right, they are watching already power arrangements and re-arrangements at the European Parliament with a measure of awe.

The whole of the Greek political system tries to peer through the European looking glass. But, at the end of the day, the snap parliamentary election called in France (June 30/July 7) by a cornered Emmanuel Macron along the July UK general election (of July 4) may well prove more decisive for the day after in Greece.