The first European nation to embrace populism, Greece, has become the first to escape it. In an unexpected glimmer of hope for democracy and mainstream politics, Greece’s snap election last week saw a victory for Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the leader of the centre-right New Democracy party.
Mitsotakis’s victory benefitted from a growing sense of disillusionment amongst the Greek people as voters turned in the lowest numbers recorded for decades (57%). The snap election rejected Alexis Tsipras, the radical leftist leader who divided public opinion, and – perhaps even more significantly – the vote confirmed the demise of far-right neo-Nazi party, Golden Dawn, which fell short of the 3% minimum needed to enter parliament.
Why did Greece have an election?
Tspiras’s four-year term was not due to end until October. Yet following the former prime minister’s defeat in European Parliament elections – Mitsotakis and his party won by 9 percentage points – he had little choice but to call a snap election. His attempt at damage control was predictably unsuccessful.
What does this mean for the EU Parliament?
Not a lot. The New Democracy party is a member of the European People’s Party (EPP). The win helps the EPP to continue their European reign, boasting the most MEPs in the current EU Parliament. Mitsotakis’s victory means that the United European Left, represented by Tsipras and his party Syriza, has lost its only seat at the European Council, the collective body that defines the European Union’s overall political direction and priorities. For the most part, the Greek elections simply serve to fortify the current status quo in the EU Parliament. Even if Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, led by Viktor Orban, has its membership of the EPP permanently revoked, following the party’s suspension due to its increasingly far-right tendencies, the EPP’s presence in the European Council will be strengthened thanks to the Greek victory.
What happens now?
New Democracy has promised to lower taxes and privatise services in a country which lost a quarter of its economy in the recession and still feels the effects of the financial crisis. Youth unemployment, at over 40%, remains worryingly high; tackling it will be a top priority for the new prime minister. The migrant crisis continues to be a pressing issue for the Greek government. Despite a decrease in refugees, following an agreement signed between the EU and Turkey, which aimed to stem the number of migrants arriving in Greece by sending non-asylum seekers back to Turkey, the migrant crisis is far from over at the Greek borders.
Out with the old?
Mitsotakis’s critics label him a ‘crown prince’ of Greek politics, arguing that his return paves the way for the return of one of the country’s most well-established dynasties. Part of a powerful political family and the son of a former prime minister, they insist his ascent to power is a negative sign that nepotism and elitism is well and truly alive in Greek politics.
But after more than a decade of economic and political uncertainty, the Greek people are longing for stability. Mistoktakis is a symbol of the old political system, but he also represents something new in his promise to kick start the economy and boost growth through private investment, exports and innovation.
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