This article is written by Giampi Alhadeff and Don Brind
An American friend calls. He’s heard the Greeks are revolting and wonders if it’s safe to take a holiday there.
Don’t worry, I say. The weather fabulous and blue, blue sea simply splendid. The people are fantastic. What’s not to like?
But Yes, the Greeks are in revolt after 6 years of austerity and deep economic recession. That’s the unequivocal meaning of Syriza’s historic election win. And it’s a message that resonates with people in many other parts of Europe. They are sounding a wake up call for Europe, and Europe should listen.
Syriza, just short of an overall majority, will now form a government with a firm mandate from the Greek electors to negotiate with the EU. Let’s hope that Brussels and Berlin will be ready to listen and compromise.
Although there will be usual chatter from the usual suspects about the demise of the EU we need to be clear what message the Greeks are sending. Yes they are against the austerity but they are pro EU and opposed to an exit from the Euro. They want a European agenda for change that can deliver growth jobs and rising living standards.
European leaders need to respond positively. They should understand the powerful feeling that the way in which austerity has been applied has been unfair. The crash was caused by a few at the top in banking and in government. The price has been paid by people in their millions – employees who lost their jobs, small shopkeepers as well as pensioners and the young.
There’s no doubt that economies of Greece, Italy, Spain and Ireland demanded reforms. But the austerity prescribed EU and the IMF has gone for too long and has become counter-productive. There is a parallel with the cost of living crisis here. The Tories and Lib Dems have failed on the deficit because their policies have failed to boost the living standards for the majority.
Although they stand on the sidelines the Tories have been part of the Centre right bloc that have dominated the European Union. They have been running their own TINAA (There is No Alternative to Austerity) programme for far too long.
The reported pressure from the German on the ECB to exclude the Greeks from Quantitative Easing is an expression of that idea. It is a bad sign and needs to be challenged.
But there are alternatives and with the balance of power shifting in the EU they must be given a chance. Nations without hope are unsustainable and on one level Syriza’s victory is a cry of despair — a reaction to the suffering of the Greeks under a six-year long austerity programme.
One in four children living in poverty, male suicide rates, some of the lowest in Europe before the crisis, have doubled. Youth unemployment stands at 57%, in Spain 55%, and In Italy 42%. It would be worse but for the huge number of the young and talented who have left their countries in despair. Now the young of Italy, Spain and Greece are doing what young Irish people did – Ireland’s lower unemployment at 13% is the result of large scale emigration. Behind the statistics are countless stories of families torn apart, and a huge loss of talent for each of these countries who have mortgaged their futures.
The ascendancy of the centre right is waning The President of the Parliament is a Socialist, and the right no longer dominate the Commission is no longer so uniformly on the right. Syriza’s Tsipiras will now be at the next EU Council meeting of Prime Ministers.
A Labour government in the UK would ensure that Europe responds positively to the demand for change expressed by Greek voters. It would, for instance, give new impetus to the Youth Guarantee Scheme launched by the EU in 2013 but whose progress has been painfully slow. The European Parliament and national Parliaments must now keep the heat up to make sure that the scheme is rolled out with some urgency.
The European Central Bank’s “Quantitative Easing” programme has been a long time coming but the changing mood in the EU has helped Mario Draghi to outface the reluctance of Angela Merkel’s CDU government.
A Labour government making common cause with progressive parties including the SPD – partners in Merkel’s grand coalition has enormous potential. The task is to move away from the arid constitutional wrangling between the Tories and UKIP and push for an investment agenda based on social justice and promoting growth, jobs and higher living standards.
It is what the voters in Greece and across the European Union are crying out for.
Giampi Alhadeff is the newly-elected Chair of the Labour Movement for Europe and Don Brind is a former Labour Party Press Officer