Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras on Friday brushed off election polls suggesting his leftist Syriza party might lose to its conservative rival in Greece’s election, saying he had a large group of supporters not reflected by pollsters. He was speaking on the last day of formal campaigning for Sunday’s general election with polls showing a cliffhanger vote expected and some pointing to a win by the conservative New Democracy party. Neither party, however, is expected to get the proportion of the vote needed – roughly 38 percent – to gain a majority in the 300-seat parliament, meaning a coalition is a near certainty. “There is a voting body that is below the radar, it is not being traced,” Tsipras, who was to stage a final rally later in the day, told Greece’s ANT 1 television.
The resounding rejection of an international bailout deal by voters in Greece raised fears Sunday of the collapse of the country’s banking system, a catastrophic government default, an eventual exit from the euro and potential social unrest. In a surprising 61% to 39% result, Greeks said “no” in a referendum on a rescue package that would have kept their debt-ridden country afloat but subjected it to additional austerity measures. The landslide delivered a sharp rebuke to European Union leaders who had warned that the plebiscite was, in effect, a vote on whether Greece wanted to remain a member of the Eurozone, the group of 19 nations that share the euro currency. The EU is now confronted with one of the gravest challenges to its mission of “ever closer union” between member states.
Europe’s Left-wing anti-austerity parties have claimed another victory after a surpise triumph in Spain’s local elections. The defeat of the two main parties that have dominated Spanish politics for more than 40 years means that a series of new Left-wing movements now hold the balance of power, inviting an unwelcome comparison with Greece. Across the country, even historical strongholds for the ruling Popular Party (PP) and the opposition socialist PSOE were rocked by the upsurge in support for recently formed groups, which can now hold the traditional parties to ransom as they try to form a ruling coalition. In all of Spain’s major cities, including Madrid and Barcelona, coalitions will be required.
Estonians voted Sunday in an election marked by jitters over a militarily resurgent Russia and a popular pro-Kremlin party, with the security conscious centre-left coalition tipped for a return to power. Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year and its meddling in eastern Ukraine have galvanised the European Union, including this eurozone member of 1.3 million people, a quarter of whom are ethnic Russian. Military manoeuvres by Moscow on Estonia’s border days ahead of the vote further stoked deep concerns in Europe that the Kremlin could attempt to destabilise countries that were in its orbit during Soviet times. NATO is countering the moves by boosting defences on its eastern flank with a spearhead force of 5,000 troops and command centres in six formerly communist members of the Alliance, including one in Estonia.
Lead by Hamburg mayor Olaf Scholz, the city-state’s Social Democrats, the SPD, hope to defend their 2011 election win. With its bustling port and cluster of media and aerospace companies, the port city state has long been a stronghold for the SPD. According to recent polls, however, repeating their absolute majority success of four years ago will be no easy victory, even if they defeat the conservative CDU. Threatening the absolute majority ruling of the SPD are the smaller parties such as the liberal FDP and right-leaning AfD. Taking advantage of renewed fears over the eurozone and Greece’s new anti-austerity government, euroskeptic AfD could now be in with a chance of winning its first seats in a western German state. The party’s success has thus far been limited to eastern Germany where it currently holds seats in three states.
Alexis Tsipras, sworn into office as Greece’s new prime minister a day after his radical leftist Syriza party won a resounding election victory, swiftly forged a coalition government with the aim of shedding European-imposed austerity policies. Syriza has little in common with its coalition partner—the small, right-wing Independent Greeks party—other than a fierce opposition to the austerity measures Greece embarked on in exchange for bailouts from its eurozone partners and the International Monetary Fund. Still, the common bond on that front signals tough negotiations with Greece’s creditors over its debt repayments in the months ahead. Together, Syriza and Independent Greeks will jointly control 162 seats in Greece’s 300-seat legislature. The Independent Greeks are also expected to hold at least one cabinet position in the new government, the details of which are likely to be unveiled on Tuesday.
Greece on Sunday appeared to reject the punishing economics of austerity and send a warning signal to the rest of Europe as exit polls showed the left-wing Syriza party with a strong lead in national elections, leaving the party’s tough-talking leader, Alexis Tsipras, likely to become the next prime minister. Exit polls, released on national television after voting stations closed at 7 p.m., showed Syriza running well ahead of the governing center-right New Democracy Party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and in a good position to win a plurality in the multiparty race. It remained unclear whether Syriza would be able to win an outright parliamentary majority, or if it would have to form a coalition with one or more of the trailing parties. Syriza’s likely victory would represent a dramatic milestone for Europe at a time when continuing economic weakness has stirred an angry, populist backlash from France to Spain to Italy, as more voters grow fed up with policies that demand sacrifice to address the discipline of financial markets without delivering more jobs and prosperity. Syriza would become the first anti-austerity party to take power in a eurozone country, and would shatter the two-party political establishment that has dominated Greece for four decades.
Greece’s elections on Sunday are poised to give one of a handful of smaller parties a central role in the direction of the country—and possibly the entire eurozone. The opposition leftist Syriza party and the ruling conservatives, New Democracy, are battling for a first-place finish. But neither is likely to get a majority and will need to turn to another party to help govern, putting whoever comes in third in a position to become a kingmaker. The contenders range from the far-right Golden Dawn, shunned by Greece’s mainstream parties, to Pasok—part of the ruling coalition, but a shadow of the party that dominated Greek politics for most of the past four decades.
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.
Editorials: The Problem With Greek Democracy | Neophytos Loizides and Iosif Kovras/Wall Street Journal
Once again, Greek politics are a focus of global attention as voters head to the polls for a snap parliamentary election on Jan. 25. Observers are especially interested in the implications for economic policy, but this is also an opportunity to reflect on certain fundamental problems with the structure of Greece’s electoral system that help explain the country’s dysfunctional politics. Greece is the only country in the eurozone where the economic crisis has ignited such a deep political crisis, far worse than in Portugal, Spain or Ireland. Yet the Greek public isn’t naturally prone to polarization. Opinion polls since 2010 show a steady public preference for political cooperation, coalition governments and less frequent elections. Unfortunately, flawed electoral laws open a chasm between voters’ wishes and political outcomes.
Governments and investors across Europe braced for renewed economic upheaval on Monday after the Parliament in Greece failed to avert an early general election, reviving the toxic debate over austerity as the way to cure the Continent’s economic woes. Senior European Union officials immediately urged Greek voters — now headed to the polls on Jan. 25 — to focus on continuing the policies that have enabled the country to ride out its previous monetary crisis and remain part of the eurozone, and that have begun to restore the country’s battered reputation for fiscal management. But with household incomes down by a third from what they were before the policies were adopted, and unemployment higher than 25 percent, polls have indicated support for Syriza, a leftist party that opposes the deep budget cuts Greece has made in recent years as a condition of financial bailouts.
Greece: Greece plunged into crisis as failure to elect president sets up snap election | The Guardian
Fears were growing on Monday night of a fresh crisis in the eurozone after Greece failed to elect a head of state, triggering a snap election that is tipped to bring radical, anti-austerity leftists to power. The Athens stock exchange slumped by more than 10% at one point as concerns mounted over the political turmoil likely to hit the twice bailed-out country. The effective interest rate on the nation’s three-year debt soared to more than 12% – signalling investor fears that Greece will not be able to repay its loans in the short term. Elections were called for 25 January after the government failed to find enough votes to elect its preferred candidate for president, the former European commissioner Stavros Dimas. With the vehemently anti-cuts Syriza opposition ahead in the polls, the campaign will now revive the debate about austerity policies across the eurozone and raise questions over the harsh terms attached to Greece’s €240bn (£188bn) bailouts.
Greece’s conservative-led government on Monday called for a key vote in parliament for the country’s new president late this month – in a surprise move that will determine its survival in the recession-weary country. Government spokesman Sofia Voultepsi said the vote would be held Dec. 17, with possible later rounds held in the following 12 days. The vote had not been expected to be held until late February. The government needs the support from opposition lawmakers to avoid a stalemate and a snap general election, but is trailing in opinion polls to the anti-bailout Syriza party and facing widespread public discontent after a six-year recession.
In devotedly pro-European Germany, it is a radical message. In a packed beer hall meeting on the outskirts of Stuttgart, Roland Klaus tells scores of middle-aged, middle-class Germans what they want to hear. In short – no more bailouts. “We’ve got the possibility to stop this madness,” the former financial TV journalist intones. “Germany pays for no more rescue packages.” In an election in which the major parties essentially support Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approach to the euro crisis, and two-thirds of Germans back her euro rescue plans, it is a surprise to find that thousands of Germans want to leave the single currency. The conventional argument is that Germany has come out of the euro crisis better than its partners, and that Merkel has protected German national interests by foisting austerity on the European south. But not everyone sees it that way. And a new party, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), is seeking to tap into that resentment to get seats in parliament in next Sunday’s election.
For months now Europe has been on hold. Time and again it has been said that the big challenges must await the outcome of the German election. Germany is Europe’s indispensable power and no major decision can be taken without it. Yet the election campaign does not reflect that: the politicians seem curiously reluctant to debate Europe’s future and Germany’s role in it. There has been more passion spent in debating whether public canteens should once a week have a non-meat day than in discussing future eurozone bailouts. The opposition has been keener to focus on portraying Germany as a low-wage economy and arguing over the shortage of skilled labour than discussing Europe. On Angela Merkel’s part this is quite deliberate. She is by far the most popular politician in Germany. Her approval ratings at 60% – after eight years in power – are the envy of every other politician in Europe. She is – as her posters remind voters – a safe pair of hands. Her deliberate, cautious, step-by-step style suits the German mood.
Angela Merkel, arguably the most powerful politician in the EU stands for re-election for a third term on September 22. She hopes to continue the current coalition of her conservative Christian Democrat Union (CDU) with the pro-business liberal democrats (FDP). Competing with her is Peer Steinbrück of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), who was also finance minister in Merkel’s government. His preferred coalition partner are the Greens. “Angie,” as Merkel is affectionately known, is hugely popular, but her party less so. Opinion polls now see a neck-and-neck race between Merkel’s coalition and the combined opposition, with recent momentum in favor of the Chancellor. The most likely election day scenarios are (1) the continuation of the current government (we think 50% chance), (2) a grand coalition of the CDU and the SPD with Merkel as Chancellor, as in 2005-2009 (30%) and (3) the scare scenario of SPD and Greens teaming up with the former communist Left Party (10%. The remaining 10% probability we attach collectively to various other coalition scenarios involving the mainstream parties).
Germany, with a population of nearly 82 million, has seen its influence in the European Union grow significantly in recent years as it has weathered the economic storm perhaps better than any other member state. Having recovered from a recession in 2008, the country narrowly dodged a repeat slump at the start of 2013. Now the German economy appears to be on the up, with economic indicators looking solid. Angela Merkel, as current keeper of Germany’s most coveted political position, the chancellorship, has become the figurehead and perceived key decision-maker of the EU’s response the eurozone’s sovereign debt crisis. Protestors in the southern economies hit worst by economic stagnation have held up banners decrying the impacts of “Merkel austerity”, the chancellor’s campaign to shave sovereign debt by cutting public spending. But in her home country, analysts say that Merkel is enjoying an unusual spell of popular support due to her handling of the eurozone crisis.
Albania’s general election on June 23 will be heavily scrutinised to determine if it’s free and fair. So far, the signs aren’t good. The latest hint that the EU is becoming increasingly worried came from the European watchdog charged with monitoring the election, no less. Ahead of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) setting up its mission in Albania on May 15, its chief Lamberto Zannier said his team were watching with concern the harsh rhetoric of the political debate. “We are expecting a very competitive electoral process in a challenging climate,” Zannier told reporters on May 2. Zannier cited in particular the growing spectre of extreme nationalism, the rise of which could have repercussions for the stability of the entire region. “We hope that there will not be excessive nationalism that could create elements of instability in the region,” he said. “The OSCE has invested so much in Albania”. Albanian nationalism is a new wildcard to the country’s elections, which previously were marred by the more typical unsavoury aspects such as intimidation, violence, vote-rigging and electoral fraud.
The prospect of an early repeat vote in Italy to break the February election gridlock has receded after the outgoing head of state rejected the idea. Giorgio Napolitano, who as president holds the power to dissolve parliament, said he doubted his successor in the post would favour the idea either. Mr Napolitano must stand down as president in mid-May. The three main political forces are sharply divided after none managed to win an outright majority. Uncertainty over the future management of the eurozone’s third-biggest economy has caused concern among Italy’s partners and investor confidence has been shaken. A protest movement led by a former comedian, Beppe Grillo, surged virtually from nowhere to take a quarter of the vote, handicapping the traditional alliances on the right and left. The centre-left bloc led by Pier Luigi Bersani won a majority in the lower house but not in the equally important upper chamber. It is expected to attempt to form a government after the new parliament meets, some time within the next fortnight.
Italy is no longer striking a “bella figura.” The country’s post- election chaos has shaken the very foundations of the European Union as the idea of a politically united Europe appears to suffer a blow. Rome’s Colosseum appears somewhat run-down, with its enormous pillars stained gray by pollution and its basement vaults fallen down. Yet it continues to be a first-class European cultural good. Now, with the Italian capital’s coffers empty, a luxury fashion company is financing the site’s renovation, to the tune of 25 million euros ($33 million). These days, the monument to Rome’s former greatness appears to be a reflection of Italy. Because of its financial problems and current political stand-off, Italy – among the “most European” of countries – has become the problem child of the Continent. Like the Colosseum, the highly indebted eurozone country could be dependent on external help – namely that of the European Union. The EU is hoping that the Mediterranean country will be able to get itself out of its crisis, as the EU isn’t eager to take on the role of sponsor. But if the third-largest economy of the eurozone keeps tumbling, it could take the whole bloc with it. Developments in Italy, though a consolation to EU skeptics in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have placed basic assumptions into question: for example, whether Europe can be reformed, how fundamental sustainable solidarity is, and whether the political union even makes sense. Is European Union drifting apart?
Editorials: Italy’s election leaves country — and eurozone — on financial high-wire | Louise Cooper/CNN
Brilliant minds across the financial world are still trying to work out the implications of the Italian election result. For the time being, the best answer is that it is probably too soon to tell. After Tuesday’s falls, a little stability has returned to markets, possibly because everyone is still trying to work out what to think. Credit ratings agency Moody’s has warned the election result is negative for Italy — and also negative for other indebted eurozone states. It fears political uncertainty will continue and warns of a “deterioration in the country’s economic prospects or difficulties in implementing reform,” the agency said. For the rest of the eurozone, the result risks “reigniting the euro debt crisis.” Madrid must be looking to Italy with trepidation. If investors decide that Italy is looking risky again and back off from buying its debt, then Spain will be drawn into the firing line too.
In recent years, recession and financial turmoil have felled governments throughout Europe as voters looked for change in an era of economic distress. Now, experts are asking whether politicians are capable of promoting plans that offer a way out of the malaise — or whether they could be elected if they did. After its voters this week denied any party enough backing to form a credible government, Italy joined Greece in preventing establishment parties from achieving the mandate required to push through painful reforms, inviting new financial instability. That dynamic is quite familiar to Americans, who have watched President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives lock horns over the debt ceiling, the so-called fiscal cliff and now sequestration in what many experts consider the biggest threat to the economy. “The governing parties tilt ever more toward populism instead of making decisions that are important but unpopular,” said Eckhard Jesse, professor of political systems and institutions at the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. “The room to maneuver has gotten tighter, but the expectations have risen.”
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani says Italy is in a “dramatic situation” after election results that leave the country in political stalemate. Stock markets and the euro have fallen amid concerns the deadlock could re-ignite the eurozone debt crisis. But Mr Bersani, whose coalition won most seats in parliament, did not identify a preferred partner in government. He said all political parties should take responsibility for the country. Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi said earlier fresh elections should be avoided, and called for a period of reflection, which correspondents suggest could mean he is considering a very awkward alliance with his opponents on the centre-left. Other European countries have urged Italian politicians to create a stable government as soon as possible – with France and Germany urging continued reform, and Spain describing the result as a “jump to nowhere”.
Their country’s future as a eurozone member hanging in the balance, Cypriots voted on Sunday to elect a new president, with the pro-bailout conservative leader, Nicos Anastasiades, securing the biggest backing with 45.4% of the vote. Anastasiades is set to face a runoff next week after failing to gain enough support for an outright win. However, he is seen as the overwhelming favourite in that contest, against the communist-backed independent, Stavros Malas, who took 26.9% of the vote. The vote for Anastasiades and his DISY party is an endorsement of the pro-bailout policies advocated by a man who will face the arduous task of finalising a €17bn (£14.6bn) rescue package with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to keep the country’s economy afloat. Last year Cyprus became the fifth eurozone state to ask for a bailout.
There was a time when Italian elections were frequent and forgettable. Prime ministers were discarded like last season’s clothes. All of that has changed. What happens in Italy affects the rest of Europe. Campaigning ends on Friday. The result could rattle the eurozone and remind the markets of how little has been settled in the continent’s real economies. The favourite to win is an ex-Communist from the centre left, Pier Luigi Bersani. He is decidedly Mr Normal. There is nothing extravagant or flamboyant about him. There are no sharp suits. He likes the occasional cigar but he is almost an anti-candidate conducting a low-key conversation with Italy.
Cypriots vote in a presidential election Sunday more worried about securing an international bailout for the crisis-hit economy than choosing a leader to bridge the island’s decades-old divide. The vote marks the first time since independence in 1960 that progress on reunification with the island’s Turkish-occupied northern third has been forced to take a back seat. “The economic crisis has dominated the debate and the Cyprus problem is second by a long distance,” political analyst Hubert Faustmann told AFP. “Whoever comes in as president will have to sign the bailout or face state bankruptcy. These are the only two options. There is no third option,” said Faustmann, associate professor of history and politics and Nicosia University.
In a week or two, Cyprus will have a new president and a new government. The million-dollar question or rather the 17-billion-euro question is: Will this mark a new beginning for Cyprus or will we get more of the same, wrapped in a different colour. This is arguably the most important election for Cyprus since 1974 and possibly since the founding of the Republic in 1960. It is also the first time that the outcome of a Cyprus election is attracting pan-European, and possibly global, interest and significance. Normally, presidential elections in countries with a population under a million, even troubled-countries like Cyprus, would be relegated to the inside pages of world press and go unnoticed. Not so this time.
Austerity-weary Lithuanians are set to eject the country’s ruling centre-right coalition in an election this month, a move likely to delay the moment the small European Union member state joins the euro and to ease ties with Russia. However, the new government, which opinion polls show is likely to be a broad coalition led by the centre-left Social Democrats, is expected to largely stick to austerity as the Baltic state cannot afford to be frozen out of debt markets. “The situation is unbearable, half of Lithuania has emigrated,” said Svetlana Orlovskaya, 65, as she headed to work as a factory cleaner in a suburb of the capital city Vilnius. She said Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius, head of a four-party coalition since 2008, had not done “anything good”.
These elections were always going to be seen as the first real test of Dutch public opinion on the Netherlands’ future relationship with Europe. It has been a long and strong bond, cemented by the country’s strong reliance on the European export market. But the eurozone financial crisis has brought the reciprocity of this union under intense scrutiny. Many voters are frustrated by what they see as the flow of “blank cheques” being signed off by their leaders and sent to bailout-struggling economies abroad, while austerity is making life harder at home.
Mainstream pro-European parties look set to dominate the Dutch parliamentary election on Wednesday, dispelling concerns that radical eurosceptics might gain sway in a core eurozone country and push to quit the European Union or flout its budget rules. But the Netherlands is likely to remain an awkward, tough-talking member of the single currency area, strongly resisting transfers to eurozone debtors, regardless of whether prime minister Mark Rutte’s Liberals or the centre-left Labour party of Diederik Samsom win the most seats. Opinion polls on Tuesday showed the Liberals and Labour on 36 seats each or the Liberals fractionally in front, with the hard-left Socialists and the far-right anti-immigration Freedom party fading in third and fourth place respectively. That makes it more likely, though not certain, that Rutte, with the strongest international profile, will stay as prime minister.