Greece heading for big collision with Europe's elites

Issue 
Protests in Athens on February 5 in support of Greece's anti-austerity government.

The European political and financial elite reacted with horror to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's opening speech to parliament on February 5.

In his speech, he ruled out an extension of the financial bailout and the accompanying harsh austerity measures that have plunged the economy into a 1930s-style depression.

On February 9, European leaders lined up to warn the SYRIZA government that its proposals, which have included a partial write-off of the country's immense foreign debt, would be rejected by other European nations.

But SYRIZA won a landslide victory in elections on January 25 on the strength of its commitment to reverse the austerity agenda that has inflicted so much suffering in Greece. Members of SYRIZA report that support for the new government is strong after its first two weeks. Below is a comment piece by Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of SYRIZA's Central Committee, that first appeared at Jacobin magazine.

Visit here for details of a national speaking tour of Green Left's European correspondent Dick Nichols, who was in Athens for SYRIZA's electoral win.

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras's inaugural policy speech before parliament was followed particularly attentively within Greece, as much as in the European chancelleries ― and no doubt in the White House, too.

Within Greece, after the European Central Bank's blackmail and the continual attacks by the European leaders, there is a spreading mood of mobilisation, of regained dignity, of a desire to support the government in the face of the blackmail and to put pressure on it to stop any retreat.

Externally, and more specifically within the governing European circles, every word and, above all, every measure announced were weighed to gauge the determination of the prime minister and his government.

Most expected a significant shift, prefiguring a retreat, that would facilitate a “compromise” during the European summits in coming days, which would in reality signify Greece's submission to their diktats.

In this, they were undoubtedly disappointed. For Tsipras, in truth, made no fundamental concessions.

To be sure, he avoided using the term “cancellation of the debt”. But he strongly insisted on its inviable character and demanded its “reduction” and “restructuring”.

True, he also failed to announce the immediate reinstatement of the minimum wage to its 2009 level (751 euros). But he committed to doing so this year.

As for the rest, he went through all the points of SYRIZA's Thessaloniki Program: emergency measures to deal with the humanitarian disaster (food, reconnecting electricity, transport and medical coverage for all); reinstating workers' rights laws; disbanding of unjust land taxes; fiscal reform to make the rich pay; raising the income tax threshold to 12,000 euros; rehiring sacked public sector workers; ending privileges for private media companies; reconstituting the ERT (the public radio and TV company); activating the powers that the state has as a shareholder in the banks; ending the auctioning off of public assets (ports, infrastructures, energy); and ending police repression of demonstrations.

There was one very symbolic reform: the nationality law, which accords citizenship to all immigrant children born in Greece, about whom Tsipras waxed lyrical.

Tsipras also stressed at some length the role of the newly created ministry of immigration, whose mission is to protect human rights and personal dignity, while also demanding a change in European policy in this area.

Proof, if it was needed, that the participation of the right-wing Independent Greeks (ANEL) in the government has not modified SYRIZA's position on these questions.

In reality, the hard core of the pro-austerity memorandums was swept away. The break with austerity politics is effective. And Tsipras drove the point home in several ways.

First, he explicitly referred to the role of mobilisations in Greece and to international solidarity, which he saluted emphatically, in the battle that the government is waging. He was very firm that the re-establishment of national and democratic sovereignty and of the dignity of the Greek people are non-negotiable.

In the current context, this is the equivalent of calling on the people to take to the streets to demonstrate. I have no doubt that it will be heard in Greece and the rest of Europe.

Moreover, at the end of his defiant speech, after a long tribute to the Greek people's history of struggles, he put back on the table the question of German war reparations. Tsipras placed Manolis Glezos at the head of the government's push for such payments.

We are all aware that this subject is like a red rag to a bull for the German governing classes.

Broadly speaking, Tsipras sent a message of firmness and combativeness, both internally and externally. He has disproved those who were already wagering on a slippery slope towards capitulation.

It seems out of the question that the European leaders will tolerate in any shape or form the policies that he proposed to the Greek parliament. We are in a situation of outright confrontation, which will take a decisive turn in coming days with the combination of European summits and street demonstrations.

We are on the eve of great events, which may transform the current direction in Greece and in Europe.

With the combination of the determination of Greece's government, the mobilisation of the people and international solidarity, the “magic equation” of a possible victory is now at hand.

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