Greek ends-against-the-middle coalition

In the Greek election, Syriza (Coalition of the Radical Left) ended up with 149 seats, just two seats short of a majority. It quickly agreed to form a coalition with ANEL, the party known as Independent Greeks, which won 13 seats. This is a right-wing party.

A deal with the right-wing party makes an unusual alliance between parties on the opposite end of the political spectrum but brought together by a mutual hatred for the EU/IMF bailout program keeping Greece afloat.

Despite the seemingly odd combination of left and right, the prospect was foreshadowed:

A party born of Greece’s economic crisis, the nationalist Independent Greeks (ANEL) helped Syriza block a presidential vote in December that brought about Sunday’s general election. Party leader Panos Kammenos, 49, has been preening himself as a potential partner for Syriza partner ever since.

Apparently To Potami (The River, a new party, with 17 seats) was interested in joining Syriza, but the latter rejected the idea of working with a more centrist party in favor of one sharing their hardline stance on the EU loan terms, even if that meant a party on the opposite side of so many other issues.

ANEL’s campaign also apparently signaled a role working with Syriza:

ANEL’s tongue-in-cheek campaign ad made plain Kammenos’ aspirations: he walks into a shop and gives a little boy named Alexis — a stand-in for fresh-faced Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras — tips on how to steer his toy train.

The possibility of Syriza-ANEL cooperation was raised back in November, and denied by a Syriza MP. That should have been our sign that it was inevitable that that would work together!

24 thoughts on “Greek ends-against-the-middle coalition

  1. Characterizing this coalition of “ends against the middle” (i.e,. a “right” party with a “left” party) presupposes that the relevant ideological dimension is the standard economic one. But it seems pretty clear that this election was about the EU, the Euro, austerity, and, accordingly, nationalism. That Syriza and the IGs decided to work together implies that this second dimension is roughly orthogonal to the usual main dimension of Greek politics. That’s not an explanation, but a description. Call it the Internationalist/Isolationist dimension, or possibly just a populist dimension. Whatever we call it, Syriza and the IGs are close together on it, and far from everyone else (well not counting Golden Dawn).

    • «Characterizing this coalition of “ends against the middle” (i.e,. a “right” party with a “left” party) presupposes that the relevant ideological dimension is the standard economic one.»

      “Left” and “Right” is not only (or even mainly) about economics (in spite of the site “Political Compass” labeling their economic axis as “left-right”) – in the case of ANEL, where is rightism is more clear is in the social/cultural issues (anti-immigration, anti-multiculturalism, pro-law and order, pro-Ortodhox Church, strong on defense – note that they asked the Ministery of Defense).

      About the economy, is perhaps difficult to define exactly what is supposed to be right-wing position in Greece. Imagine 3 alternative politics: a) increase social spending; b) cut the deficit; c) reduce taxes. With no doubt, a) is “left” (and it is the politic of Syriza); but what is the “right” position: b) (the politic of New Democracy) or c) (the politic of ANEL)?

  2. In 1953, the London Debt Agreement forgave Germany about half its debt and excused it from repayments except when it was running a trade surplus. Part of the debt was actually postponed until after reunification, which no-one in 1953 can really have imagined ever happening.

    The debt was partly war reparations to German-occupied countries during World War II. I suspect a list of parties to the agreement would include Greece forgiving German debt. If that’s the case I’d equally imagine that the new government has an interesting history lesson to deliver.

    • Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain were all creditor countries and all consented to the debt forgiveness.

      • Apparently ANEL takes a hard line stance on pressing for reparations from Germany.

    • A (comparatively smaller) part of Greece’s debt has already been eliminated through various haircuts (many of them to private loans), which left debt-to-GDP at 175% whereas it would have otherwise risen to 215%.

      • The troika estimated their measures would increase unemployment to 15%. It is at 28%. 18% of the population have trouble affording food. The London Debt Agreement did not impose a radical austerity program.

        Paul Krugman notes that the Brussels/Berlin austerity demands are actually not supported by conventional economic theory.

        This is one reason it irks me when the people who have been running Greece, or those in Brussels, are described as “technocrats.” Crat me no techno — real technocrats would (and did) warn about the downside of austerity, not seize eagerly on faddish research purporting to make a case for policies they probably wanted for other reasons.

        One of the leading articles that ‘supports’ expansionary austerity, Tales of Fiscal Adjustment, Alesina and Ardagna 1998 moves an Australian election from 1983 to 1985 and then describes the Hawke government taking measures they did not actually take. I’d link to the relevant John Quiqqin article at Crooked Timber, but URL limits.

      • I may be wrong, but I don’t know that the London Debt Agreement put Germany in a monetary straightjacket of the type Greece is currently in.

      • Alan, I would imagine that the British in 1953 had a somewhat unfounded but lingering fear of another economic crisis in Germany that could bring about an extremist government, and this prevented them from attempting to impose austerity. The troika today perhaps feel more insulated from the consequences of their actions.

      • hd,

        I guess ‘Don’t start another war’ is the ultimate, if unstated, policy conditionality.

        There is an ancient Peter Sellers movie where a fictitious postage stamp country called the duchy of Grand Fenwick decides the only way to solve their financial problems is to attack the US, surrender, and rely on generous postwar economic assistance. Just saying…

      • Many countries are subjected to policy conditionality without being part of a common currency. Britain was put under conditionality in 1976 by the IMF.

        Strangely enough, the conditions demanded by international agencies always require the assisted country to make deep cuts in social expenditure. Now the explanation could be that deep cuts in social outlays are always desirable in every country and under all economic conditions.

        On the other hand what might make sense is a certain degree of political capture.
        .

  3. ANEL were the obvious coalition partners for Syriza. ND and PASOK formed the previous government and are the austerity bloc, To Potami is very pro-EU and out for a compromise with less austerity but keeping the euro, leaving three strongly anti-austerity parties. The Communists won’t join any government that includes anyone but themselves, Golden Dawn is out of the question, so what remains is ANEL, a party that split from ND for its agreement to the bailout conditions. It is a culturally conservative party with very different outlook on social issues, to be sure, but it is not fascist, and on the absolutely central issue of austerity it occupies virtually the same position as Syriza.

    “Characterizing this coalition of “ends against the middle” (i.e,. a “right” party with a “left” party) presupposes that the relevant ideological dimension is the standard economic one.” I wouldn’t know what ‘standard economic dimension’ that would be. I don’t think economics divide the two parties much, certainly not under these circumstances.

    • Well, OK. I don’t know enough about Greek politics to describe the ideological basis (if any) of the party system. But it seems to me that for any reference to right and left (and middle) to be meaningful, there must be SOME ideological dimension being referenced. And for an “ends against the middle” coalition to form, and not be ridiculous, there must be either a second ideological dimension that cross-cuts the first close to orthogonally OR a non-ideological side-payment to the small party that more than compensates them for the taking on such a strange bedfellow.

      • You summarize it well. I’m not too sure the references in the media to ‘left’ and ‘right’ (in non-English-speaking countries, at least, and this case in particular) are generally very meaningful. Journalistic laziness in describing politics easily extends into political labels and dimensions (as it does to describing institutions, as so often pointed out on this blog.

  4. Mike’s point it pretty much exactly what I meant.

    The old government of PASOK and ND was center-left and center-right (at least by conventional definitions), whereas the new one is a party that defines itself as farther left in coalition with a party that seems to fit a conventional definition of farther right on the standard L-R dimension. Yes, they are close together on another dimension that is apparently more salient at the moment, and which pits them against PASOK and ND (“the middle”, in my phrasing); this dimension has to do with policy towards the EU and other creditors.

    (Also, my phrasing was meant to evoke how Keith Poole and his colleagues describe congressional votes that see tea-party Republicans and the most liberal Democrats join together against the “moderates” of both parties. Not a perfect analogy, but with similarities, it seems.)

  5. ANEL provides two other key functions within the government. First, someone pointed out on another blog that ANEL probably has connections with the Greek army so its working with the government makes a military coup less likely. Second, the fact that it is hardline on debt repayment itself, and in fact the only party with that position other than the neo-Nazis, the communists, and Syrizia itself, makes the government less likely to stomp on its supporters by caving in and doing what it campaigned against. The two biggest threats to a radial left government are a coup and a deal under the table to stop being so radical.

  6. ANEL are “right-wing” like the FN is right-wing (though I would say that ANEL is less explicitly racist in its policy preferences, despite Mr. Kammenos’ habit of politically incorrect statements). Both of these groups are more statist than the main center-right parties in their respective countries. On an economic spectrum, Syriza would be left of center, and ANEL would fall somewhere between Syriza and ND (at this point, ANEL would probably be to the left of Pasok). On those issues, which overwhelmingly dominated the campaign, ANEL was probably closer to Syriza than any other party except for Antarsya, who didn’t make it into the Vouli. They are different on social issues like church-state relations and on views on immigration, but these were generally afterthoughts compared to the debate on austerity (and therefore privatizations) and the memoranda.

    Whether this is because politics is complex and people may have differing beliefs on different issues, or whether this actually proves the horseshoe theory (that the statism of the “far right” means that they are far closer to the “far left” than they are to the center), I’m not sure.

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