The dismantling of SYRIZA?

The deal struck in marathon talks between Greece and its Eurozone partners (is that word still appropriate?) requires the Greek parliament to take further action–some as soon as this Wednesday, 15 July.

The parliamentary vote last Friday, which I understand as simply a broad authorization to conduct negotiations around the government’s official opening proposal for the weekend talks, is revealing. While it passed overwhelmingly, with 250 votes in the 300-seat parliament, the government was unable to deliver a majority. SYRIZA (the Coalition of the Radical Left) and its coalition partner, Independent Greeks (ANEL, a right-wing party that agrees with Syriza only on confronting the creditors) control 162 seats. However, only 145 members of the governing coalition supported the authorizing bill.

It is in the context of that vote–and the tougher ones to follow–that we see the importance of the accord PM Alexis Tsipras of Syriza struck with the opposition immediately after the nationwide NO to the creditors’ terms on 5 July. Without the support for the center-right New Democracy (ND) and other parties, the cave-in by Tsipras could not have passed.

It seems that Tsipras’s 5 July plebiscite on his government did indeed strengthen Tsipras’s bargaining position, but with the traditional Greek right, rather than with the EU as he had promised. It is as if Tsipras said to ND: “The voters are with me; back me up so I can implement your policy instead of the one I sold to the voters”. This is why I am calling it a “plebiscite”, not a “referendum”; I understand the latter term to mean a vote on specific proposed laws, whereas a vote re-delegating authority to the government to make decisions on the electorate’s behalf is classic plebiscitarianism.

It is unclear to me how much tougher the conditions agreed this weekend are, relative to the proposals of last week, which, in turn, were roughly as tough as what Greek voters supposedly rejected the weekend before. It is clear, however, that they include some very strict monitoring requirements that are not going down well in Athens.

Can the Tsipras government can survive the stress of all that is being required of it? Already SYRIZA–which is a “party” only due to requirements of the election law, but is really (as its name implies) a coalition of various tendencies–is experiencing divisions. Tsipras has begun to expel several rebels. The party’s rules require dissidents to resign their seats, although the party can’t compel them to leave parliament; they can become independent MP instead. The coalition partner, ANEL, has said it can’t support the new terms, although it will remain in Tsipras’s cabinet.

This would be a less than opportune time for an early election, so any new government may have to be constituted from within this parliament. The Greek constitutional provisions on the cabinet’s confidence (Art. 84) require an absolute majority of MPs present (“which however cannot be less than the two-fifths of the total number of the members”) to remove a PM, which would be hard to reach as long as a rump SYRIZA and ANEL remain together, unless some of the far-left fracture from SYRIZA were to vote with the right. If a new government needs to be formed, the provisions on government formation (Art. 37, in the chapter on the president’s role) provide clear priority to the largest party in parliament, which, thanks to the disproportionality of the Greek electoral system, would remain Tsipras’s unless 74 of its MPs (just short of half) bolt. That seems highly unlikely. Thus it would seem Tsipras can survive, but may end up heading a radically different government from the one that so resoundingly won its plebiscite just over a week ago.

21 thoughts on “The dismantling of SYRIZA?

  1. The first historical precedent that comes to mind is the “National” government formed by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931.

    • Varoufakis in the New Statesman (hat tip John Quiggin). I confess I had not realised the Eurogroup meets only in the dark.

      The thing is just about every economist commenting on the issue says this plan cannot work and will ultimately do grave damage to the Euro. It is hard to see what the Eurogroup think they have achieved.

  2. I had missed this before, but George Tsebelis got the ensuing steps in this drama just about right in a piece in Foreign Policy on June 2.

    Two excerpts of note:


    In the negotiating game, the deck is stacked in the EU’s favor. In the Greek domestic game, it favors Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who wants a compromise.


    Assuming [Tsipras] is undecided or does not want to bring such a deal in front of his party, he is likely to get one more chance: if he dramatizes the situation—defaults on one of the debt payments and restricts currency movements—the public (projecting the current trend of polls) will likely grow more decisively in favor of staying in the eurozone. Such an outcome will tilt the balance of power more in his favor within SYRIZA.

  3. Via Theodora Oikonomides on Twitter comes this very interesting note on how SYRIZA rebels, rather than Golden Dawn (the nazis) can form an official opposition:

    The official opposition is the largest non-government party. If a SYRIZA-ND-Potami-PASOK coalition is formed, this becomes Golden Dawn. BUT, if more than 17 SYRIZA MPs vote against the deal, drop out and form a parliamentary group, they become the official opposition.

    • Does anyone have any idea what sort of extra privileges the largest opposition party gets? If they are substantial, it might be possible for 18 members of more moderate parties to go into ‘opposition’, to keep those privileges away from the neo-Nazis.

  4. Tsipras lost 40 of his 149 MPs on the vote to accept the deal signed with the eurozone. Apparently all of ANEL voted in favor. It passed with 229 (of 300) votes, but the governing parties fell even farther short of a majority than they did in the authorizing vote last Friday.

    Tsipras survives for now, but clearly does not command a majority in parliament because the opposition ND said it only supported the measures (on the no-choice principle), but roundly condemned the government throughout the debate. At one point an ND MP said something like, “you got less for the debt than we did”.

    • I suspect Tsipras will not survive and his successor may be a prime minister like Monti, who was parachuted from the ECB to the prime ministership in 2011 after being appointed a life senator by the president of the republic. However, I don’t expect Tsipras’ demise to be a vote of no confidence and we don’t know that the Syriza deputies who voted against the EU ultimatum would support an ND motion of no confidence.

  5. One of the memes that keeps on reappearing is that the terms imposed on Greece are more punitive than the treaty of Versailles or the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia in 1914. Angela Merkel actually had to riposte a question about the treaty of Versailles and rather grandly answered that she is not interested in historical comparisons.

    I think it’s interesting that Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was the product of a polity with distinct similarities to the EU. Austria-Hungary was divided into equal sections called Cisleithania (Austria) and Transleithania (Hungary). Each had their own government and parliament that had to approve empire-wide legislation. The empire badly needed a war to try and achieve greater integrity and to assert its dominance in the Balkans.

    The standing empire-wide organs of state were Franz Josef and the Imperial and Royal ministerial council which comprised the minister-presidents of Austria and Hungary and common ministers for war, finance, and foreign affairs. The bureaucracy was divided into Imperial departments for Austria, Royal departments for Hungary and three Imperial and Royal departments for the whole empire. Both sections of the empire had highly unequal colonial relationships between the central government and subject peoples and regions. Hungary made it treason to refer to Franz-Josef as anything but the king of Hungary and that applied to non-Hungarian regions of Transleithania such as Croatia, not only Hungary itself. Bosnia-Hercegovina, the only joint territory, was governed by the common finance minister under imperial decrees because the Hungarian diet refused to consent to any legislation for the territory.

    The Imperial and Royal army and navy were actually rather weak by European standards because the Hungarian diet consistently refused to agree to greater budgets for the joint armed forces while building up its sectional army.

    Government by intergovernmental conference backed up by a requirement of approval by all subcentral legislatures has a bad record.

    • The historical parallel between the EU and AH is good, but I think this sovereign debt negotiation or default is pretty weak.

      The most obvious historical parallels actually occur in the nineteenth century, the post industrial revolution period where European powers exploited their technological advantage to make most of the rest of the world into European protectorates and colonies (for what turned out to be a fairly short period). The usual pattern was to load up some non-European government with debt, most of which inevitably was spent on new palaces and yachts, in one case on a marble boat, for the local royal family. The European lenders would demand repayment. If this was not forthcoming, they would demand “have us run your customs service and other key government departments”. If this was agreed to, the country would become a protectorate. A refusal would result in invasion.

      The Versailles parallel refers to only one aspect of the Versailles treaty, the reparations, which actually were not discussed much at the Paris peace conference. There was a fairly vague clause stating that Germany started the war and had to pay some amount of money to the victors, which would be fixed later. The French government in the 1920s pressed for the most punitive interpretation of this vague language, which famously backfired. Note that the one unique feature of the Paris Peace Conference was that the defeated countries were not allowed to negotiate, but were presented with an ultimatum. Even one of the Allied powers, Russia, was not allowed to negotiate.

      The ultimatum to Serbia actually had a somewhat stronger justification than the demand that Greece pay back its debt, since Serb officials at least looked the other way as people from their country slipped across the border to murder the Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince, and was framed deliberately so they would have to reject it, to provoke a war/

      The difference is that the entity making demands is is some sort of trans-national entity, not really Germany per se, and they don’t seem to actually want to start a war with Greece. Nor is the objective to make Greece a German colony. One difficult thing about understanding this event is that I’m really at a loss as to what the key players are trying to achieve. I think scholars will have to wait until the next century, after the electronic archives and relevant NSA monitoring is made available, to really understand this crisis.

      • The pattern of an intergovernmental conference subject to veto by any of a number of subcentral legislatures is relatively common. The USA used this model under the Articles of Confederation. Ditto the Holy Roman Empire (not holy, not Roman, and not an empire according to Voltaire) Weirdly enough, the recent change to the succession to the Australian/British/Canadian etc etc crown was carried out by the same process.

        Debt as an implement of empire is surprisingly common and additional examples range from the original Carthaginian settlement, to Rome’s relationship with the Hellenistic monarchies, and China in the nineteenth century. Despite Roman claims to the contrary, it cannot have been an accident that a number of Hellenistic monarchies ended when the last king bequeathed their realm to Rome: Bithynia, Pergamon, arguably Egypt under Ptolemy XII Auletes. (The independence of Cleopatra VII Philopator was more a product of Roman than Egyptian politics) While war reparations played a part in the cases I have mentioned, ordinary commercial debts played a major part as well.

        I don’t know that the EU really wants to proclaim the Union Colony of Greece and like Ed I doubt we will have any idea what they are thinking until the archives are released.

    • Strangely enough the most coherent approach to EU reform comes from Wolfgang Schäuble the German finance minister who has not really covered himself in glory in the Greek crisis.

      SPIEGEL: What gives you the hope that a directly elected president would unite and not divide Europe?

      Schäuble: The direct election would be preceded by a large-scale mobilization, and it would electrify all citizens from Portugal to Finland.

      SPIEGEL: A directly elected president would be strong, but would only be monitored by a weak parliament.

      Schäuble: No, the European Parliament has to be strengthened, of course. That’s why it must finally be given the power to enact bills. It’s an anachronism that only the Commission has played this role until now.

      SPIEGEL: In other words, there would be a directly elected president with his or her government and a parliament. What would happen to the member states, which currently make up the Council of Ministers and the European Council?

      Schäuble: It would be best to have a body representing the countries that’s based on the model of the German Bundesrat or the US Senate, with each country dispatching a certain number of representatives to this body. Of course, all laws would require a majority in the body, as well as in the parliament.

      • I didn’t know that Schäuble was an advocate of EU reform, but what he is saying seems fairly reasonable. Such a proposal would make the EU a much more attractive proposition to UK voters in the 2017 referendum. Whether it will happen seems unclear, but it would need massive initiative on the part of politicians.

        What a Europe-wide presidential election would look like is also unclear. A cross-national campaign, with no ties to local parties, would obviously be dramatically different to any previous pan-European election, and that proposal would probably be contentious.

      • I ‘d think that Europe-wide parties would emerge quite rapidly, as they did in the US after Washington’s retirement. Sadly I’d expect a certain degree of hysteria from English politicians (I do not mean ‘British”). These are people who convinced themselves that AV was a profound threat to all forms of decent or civilised living. The Sun would alternate cartoons comparing the European president with Napoleon and Hitler.

      • Of course, you would have the problem that such parties would have to campaign across Europe, which would be quite a task. The US has a common language, while a pan-European presidential campaign would have to take place in Finnish, Greek, Estonian, French and German, just to name a few.

        Current pan-European political parties are groups of national parties (Socialists and Democrats, Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe). The last effort to form a European-wide political party (Libertas) did not end well, despite a fairly Eurosceptic platform that voters should have supported. It seems that European voters have close ties only to their national parties.

      • Europe-wide parties are simply not going to happen, strengthened EU parliament or not.

        Anyway, Schauble clearly means “propose”, not “enact”. And how the Spiegel arrives at the conclusion that he means “there would be a directly elected president with his or her government” is beyond me.

        A body based on the German Bundesrat is what the EU already has in the form of the Council of Ministers.

      • Yes, indeed. I was going to say that an undergrad at UCSD did her thesis on this aspect of Greek electoral law (I was the thesis advisor till I left for UC Davis during her final year). But I see Henry found Aletha’s thesis!

        Not to spoil the ending, but she found that the parties tended to rank the candidates in more or less the order they had finished in preference votes in the preceding election. It will be very interesting to see if they (or at least SYRIZA) will do that this time–accounting for members who leave the party, in the case of the Popular Unity split.

        I do not know what the reason for the law is. It may have something to do with the short time to nominate candidates, but if they can nominate them to an closed list on short notice, it shouldn’t be any more difficult to nominate them to an open list.

        In 2012, the last time this happened, we had a thread about it.

        (I have been wanting to write about both Greece and Turkey having second elections coming up, but preparing for the APSA meeting, and dealing with my recurring back pain, have kept me from being able to do it so far.)

  6. Pingback: 2015b: Greece and Turkey back to the polls | Fruits and Votes

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