The outcome of Greece’s election on January 25 will be pivotal for Greece—and the way political elites respond across Europe will have a profound impact on the future of the European Union, too. It is the interplay of Greek national debates and European-level policies that make this election distinctive—and so important. The crucial question is how the European dimension influences Greek democracy, and how Greece’s choices affect the future of the European Union. At present, the leftist Syriza party looks set to win the elections. The domestic significance of this is that the party’s emergence overturns the decades-long duopoly of the conservative New Democracy and the socialist Pasok parties. In short, the euro crisis has already profoundly reshaped the very structure of Greek politics. Even if the polls prove wrong and Syriza does not win, politics will not return to the pre-crisis status quo. This is a harbinger of similar political adjustments across Europe.
In the run-up to the election it appears something fundamental has changed in the relationship between Greece’s national debates and what happens at the EU level. European leaders have expressed open concern at Syriza’s rise. Some have floated the prospect of Greece exiting the eurozone.
Such statements from the EU have recently seemed to make Greek voters more, not less likely to support Syriza. Their dislike of EU interference has clearly intensified—even if in recent days concern about Greece being ejected from the euro has narrowed Syriza’s lead in the polls.
This marks a potentially decisive switch. If EU involvement has traditionally been used to legitimize painful domestic reform, it now risks exerting a harmful effect. Optimists insist Greece’s brutal economic medicine was just beginning to work. But even if this is true, it has left in its wake a very different political climate.