- - Tuesday, July 9, 2019


Beware of Greeks bearing false promises. That’s the lesson of the end of the Syriza government in Athens, whose four years in power ended over the last weekend in a definitive general election.

The general election results show the anger and discontent of the Greek public in stark relief. The main center-right opposition party that unseated the radical-left Syriza party of the prime minister promises to boost growth and create jobs. The conservative New Democracy Party, led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, won 39.6 percent of the vote, according to official estimates. Syriza will win about 31.6 percent of the vote. This would mean 158 seats in the 300-seat parliament for the New Democracy Party, enough, reports Politico Europe, to form a single-party government.

Syriza, the leftist party headed by Alexis Tsipras, was brought to power four years ago by promising every Greek a puppy, lemonade, and endless sunshine. Greeks had endured five years of harsh austerity as a condition for being bailed out by the European Union after decades of profligacy, and Angela Merkel saw to it that the Greeks paid for it by taking bitter EU medicine.

As a consequence, the Greeks became fed up with tax increases, spending cuts, and delayed pensions. Mr. Tsipras offered them an attractive alternative to all that, an end to austerity. Good times would roll.

Once he took office, Mr. Tsipras’s dreams and false promises inevitably clashed with reality. Greece was flat broke. In fact, it would need another bailout from the European Union just to keep the lights on. Despite a popular vote by the Greek public, rejecting the second EU bailout with its harsh but realistic austerity measures, the prime minister, who had encouraged the rejection, agreed to the new austerity measures. That was not all. He then agreed to even harsher terms.

To remain in a currency union that has ruined the Greek economy, Greece must surrender what remains of its financial sovereignty. In exchange for rescue loans of 82-86 billion euros, the Greek government has been required to accept an even larger package of pension cuts and tax increases than those it had rejected, without promised restructuring of debt. The only solace was a longer time to repay the debt and a cut in interest rates. Mr. Tsipras increased taxes, cut spending, and privatized state-owned assets worth 50 billion euros, or 56 billion dollars.

Perhaps only Mr. Tsipras could impose such austerity on a left-leaning public. But his popularity has taken a significant hit. The Greek economy, dysfunctional and inefficient, continues to stumble, compounding misery. Four in ten young Greeks are out of work. Tens of thousands of impoverished migrants from Africa and Asia have landed in Greece. The Greeks have Frau Merkel further to blame for that. Her immigration wishes and dreams have attracted more than a million migrants to Europe, many of them to Greece.

The Greek public seems thoroughly demoralized by events and prospects. Pannos Kammenos, a former defense minister, writes in an op-ed in The Washington Times that “while Greece remains of course a partner within the European Union, and we admire the values for which it was formed, we are susceptible to the burdens of similar red tape and are engaging in what is presently an unequal and outdated bureaucratic partnership scenario. With our economic priorities dictated by others, serving at the whim of Germany, our banking system steadily crumbled and we have been forced to make sweeping changes to pensions, labor and regulatory policies, our tax system, and other areas, which afflicted dramatically the quality of life for Greek citizens, across the spectrum.” The prime minister has a challenging job ahead.

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