A Crack in Merkel’s Power over Europe

SYRIZA’s electoral victory is a historic opportunity for the whole of Europe.  The Greek voters voted for an end to the catastrophic policy of cuts dictated to Greece by the Troika composed of the EU Commission, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB).  This election is therefore also a defeat for Angela Merkel.  No other head of state in Europe is more rightly and strongly connected to the hated reduction of wages, pensions, and social spending on the model of Agenda 2010.  Anyone who does not abide by Merkel’s diktats gets no “emergency loans” and thrown to the financial markets to be devoured.  The austerity policy was claimed to reduce the national debt.  It has miserably failed to do so.  Instead, it only produced an army of millions of unemployed, a gigantic economic meltdown, and an unprecedented flood of money from the ECB.  Thus Merkel also created a money pit for the taxpayers in Germany.  Greece could have defaulted on its debt as early as 2010.  Nevertheless, Merkel, with the support of the SPD and the Greens, made sure that the banks, hedge funds, and private creditors got their money back through new public loans.  Merkel should resign just for this misappropriation of public funds alone.  Yet till now everything was hunky-dory for the Chancellor despite the catastrophic consequences.  Only with the change of government in Athens her aura as a power machine developed a crack.

Now, Alexis Tsipras has been elected as the new Prime Minister of Greece.  SYRIZA has narrowly missed an absolute majority in the Greek parliament.  His government is now relying on the support of the Independent Greeks (ANEL), a split from the bourgeois-right New Democracy (ND).  This option had already been discussed in public in Greece for several months, in case SYRIZA could not obtain an absolute majority.  The Founding Declaration of the Independents Greeks was presented by ANEL chairman Panos Kammenos on 11 March 2012 in the village of Distomo, where a massacre was committed by the German Waffen-SS in 1944: a symbolic act that highlighted the Greek right to sovereignty, an issue to which, in view of the history of colonialism and occupation and in the context of the current crisis policies, great importance is attached both on the Left and the Right.  “Greece or Merkel,” for example, was the slogan of SYRIZA during the campaign.

Key to the decision to enter into a coalition with ANEL may have been that, from the perspective of SYRIZA, the Independent Greeks are the only party in parliament that wants to cast off the Troika’s diktats and is available as a coalition partner.  The Communist Party, KKE, was not willing.  In economic and social demands a large degree of agreement exists between SYRIZA and ANEL: among others, an end to the austerity measures, the demand for a haircut, a break with the old corrupt system, emergency measures to relieve social distress, and free access for all Greeks to healthcare and education.  On the questions of refugee policy, religion, or the treatment of the Turkish-speaking minority in northern Greece, there are considerable differences.  However, it must not be forgotten that ANEL is a conspicuously smaller coalition partner and will have only one minister — albeit an important one, the minister of defense.  How big ANEL’s influence in the government will be remains to be seen.  What is clear, however, is this: with the election of Alexis Tsipras there is finally an opportunity to resist the Troika’s catastrophic crisis policy at the government level.

And the pressure on the new government is immense.  Blackmail attempts by Merkel, Schäuble, and Brussels were immediately intensified after the election.  They do not want to allow their neoliberal diktat of austerity to be consigned to the dustbin of history by a democratic decision.  But that is what must now be our common goal.

We support SYRIZA’s demand for a European Debt Conference with the aim of a haircut for Greece and other indebted countries with repayment conditioned upon growth.  The Left Party also calls for a coordinated, EU-wide, one-off wealth tax for millionaires and billionaires, to be used to lower the public debt and to transfer the cost of the financial and economic crisis to the profiteers.  Also, we want the ECB to stop pumping any more money into banks and financial markets and thus having savers and depositors expropriated by low interest rates.  To really fight deflation, the ECB money should be used for public spending and investment.  A future program of investment in the euro zone to the tune of €500 billion is required.  We want it to be financed by the ECB and higher taxes on corporations and the super-rich.  This is our alternative to the Public-Private Partnership projects of EU Commissioner Jean-Claude Juncker and German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel who want to bleed the majority of the population for private profit.

Another policy is possible.  The opportunity given by the election in Greece must now be used for the benefit of people throughout Europe.

Sahra Wagenknecht is Vice Chair of the Left Party in Germany.  The original article “Merkels Macht in Europa hat einen Riss bekommen” was first published on the Web site of the Left Party fraction in the Bundestag on 28 January 2015.  Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).