- Left-wing Syriza are the first anti-austerity party to govern in Europe
- They fell two seats short of a majority in parliament and needed an ally
- Leader Alexis Tsipras opted to cooperate with the Independent Greeks
- ‘This is a strange and unnatural alliance’ – political science expert
Ted Thornhill for MailOnline
05:09 EST, 27 January 2015
06:21 EST, 27 January 2015
An ‘unnatural’ coalition government formed on Monday between anti-austerity party Syriza and nationalist Independent Greeks could prove short-lived, analysts said.
Syriza are the first anti-austerity party to govern in Europe, but they fell two seats short of a 151-seat majority in parliament and thus needed an ally.
Syriza’s 40-year-old leader Alexis Tsipras opted to cooperate with the Independent Greeks (ANEL), a party just as determined as his own to dump the austerity policies imposed over the past five years in return for a 240-billion-euro (£178billion) EU-IMF bailout.
Scroll down for video
Alexis Tsipras (right), leader of radical leftist SYRIZA party, meets with Independent Greeks (ANEL) leader Panos Kammenos (left) during the process of the formation of a new government, in Athens, on Monday
Supporters of Germany’s left-wing Die Linke party, hold placards as they show their support to Alexis Tsipras, leader of Syriza left-wing party. The placard, centre, reads in German: ‘This is really a goodnight Mrs Merkel’ referring to the German Chancellor, and the one on the right reads: ‘I support Syriza, Die Linke’
But analysts note that ANEL – best-known for vitriolic attacks on Germany – are unpredictable at best, and governing with them could also disrupt the balance among the various left-wing factions that make up Syriza.
The radical leftists are already heading for a confrontation with Greece’s international creditors over their insistence on renegotiating the bailout deal and having most of the country’s enormous debt written off.
Should the coalition falter, Greece could be forced into another election, paralysing the still-struggling economy and potentially plunging the eurozone into fresh instability.
‘Syriza is made up of groups espousing different ideologies and Tsipras will have to seek a compromise inside his party, which is difficult,’ said Manos Papazoglou, a professor of political science at Peloponnese University.
‘This is a strange and unnatural alliance,’ he told AFP, adding: ‘The truth about the government’s cohesion will be revealed when they sit at the negotiating table in Europe.’
Syriza and ANEL were brought closer in recent years by their common opposition to the EU-IMF bailout, which forced sweeping spending cuts on Greeks and deepened a painful six-year recession.
Coverage of Syriza’s win on the front pages of Greek newspapers in Omonoia Square, Athens, Greece
But they could not be further apart on other key issues such as immigration and civil rights. Syriza want to soften Greece’s stance on migrants and asylum-seekers, while ANEL are close to the influential Orthodox Church and want to take a strong stance against neighbouring Turkey, Macedonia and Albania.
‘The two movements have nothing else in common (except the bailout). This is not an auspicious start,’ said University of Crete political scientist Manolis Alexakis.
‘The government’s cohesion will be tested on a daily basis… power unites, of course, but I can’t imagine certain people inside Syriza will be very happy with this (alliance),’ he added.
ANEL leader Panos Kammenos, 49, is a volatile ex-conservative lawmaker who abandoned the New Democracy party in 2012 after it approved the EU-IMF bailout, forming his own movement.
He has often called Greece’s creditors ‘foreign conquerors’ but wants the country to keep the euro.
‘A coalition with ANEL could raise the risks of a big clash with Europe… ANEL is often seen as a group with a grudge,’ said Berenberg bank analyst Holger Schmieding.
Kammenos has termed the previous government a ‘dictatorship’ and said officials who signed the loan agreement should be put on trial.
Syriza’s leader Alexis Tsipras (right) shakes hands with Greece’s President Karolos Papoulias (left) as he is sworn in as Greek Prime Minister at the Presidential Palace in Athens on Monday
‘We do not consider ANEL an anti-European party. Unless of course it’s pro-European to bow to the demands of (German Chancellor Angela) Merkel and (German Finance Minister Wolfgang) Schaeuble,’ Yiannis Balafas, a member of Syriza’s political committee, told Alpha TV.
‘Greece should be seen as an equal partner in Europe, not as a tenant,’ he said.
There had been expectations that Syriza would ally itself with To Potami, a new pro-European party that won 17 seats in the election.
Alexakis, of the University of Crete, argued that ANEL could be an expendable asset for Syriza, to be cast aside once negotiations with the rest of Europe are over.
‘Once the balance (in Europe) changes they could say ‘goodbye’ and seek an alliance with To Potami… or hold new elections hoping for a better score,’ he said.
Renewed fears that Greece could be forced out of the eurozone if it defaults on its debt repayments saw the euro hit an 11-year low against the dollar Monday, while Greek stocks closed down more than three percent.
The IMF extended an olive branch to the new Greek government, saying it was prepared to continue its financial support to the country.
‘We stand ready to continue supporting Greece, and look forward to discussions with the new government,’ IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said in a statement.
However, EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned that Greece cannot expect any reduction in its huge debt commitments.
‘There is no urgent need for action’ on Greece’s debt, Juncker told German television station ARD, adding that a reduction ‘is not on the radar’.
Many Greeks were optimistic that the fortunes of a country mired in deep recession were about to change for the better.
Nikos, a Syriza supporter in Athens, said: ‘Today is a very good day. I believe things will go well for our country.’
But others were sceptical.
‘There are many promises, but at the end there will be nothing. They only want power,’ said Athina Mantsinou as she walked through the capital’s Syntagma Square – scene of many demonstrations against austerity.
In a sign of the mammoth challenge ahead, the EU issued a stern statement that Greece will risk its place in the eurozone if it fails to meet its austerity and debt commitments.
From Brussels to Berlin, officials said they were open to talks with the new team in Athens, but many signalled its proposals were unrealistic.
In exchange for the bailout in 2010, Greece was forced to slash public-sector spending, cut wages and pensions and introduce a far-reaching programme of privatisation.
Syriza has pledged to reverse many of those measures.
But Chancellor Angela Merkel of European paymaster Germany made her views clear.
‘In our view it is important for the new government to take action to foster Greece’s continued economic recovery,’ her spokesman Steffen Seibert said. ‘That also means Greece sticking to its previous commitments.’
Anti austerity Syriza party supporters celebrate as leader Alexis Tsipras speaks folllowing victory in the election in Athens on January 25
Sunday’s poll was Greece’s fourth in five turbulent years, including back-to-back votes in 2012.
During that time the economy has shrunk by a quarter and unemployment has soared beyond 25 percent.
Syriza’s victory could inspire other anti-austerity parties in Europe, including Spain’s Podemos, which has topped several opinion polls and is aiming for an absolute majority in the Spanish election in November.
‘Our victory is also a victory for all European peoples fighting against austerity that is destroying our common European future,’ Tsipras told supporters Sunday.
British finance minister George Osborne said what Syriza was proposing was ‘incompatible with what the eurozone currently demands of its members’.
However, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a warmer statement late Monday, congratulating Tsipras and welcoming his ‘intention to tackle corruption and increase tax transparency across Greece’.
Other European countries also said they were prepared to work with the new Greek government.
French President Francois Hollande invited Tsipras to Paris and Spain’s conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he hoped the victory would lead to a ‘stable government’.
Italy saw the Greek result as possibly helping its push for greater flexibility in the EU’s approach to budgets and broader economic issues, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said.
Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, will meet Tsipras in Athens on Thursday, Syriza said in a statement, the first visit paid by a foreign dignitary to the new prime minister since his victory.
In Washington, the White House said it hoped to work closely with the new government and would continue ‘to support international efforts to foster Greece’s economic recovery’.
‘There are indications that the economy is poised for renewed growth, but many challenges remain,’ State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.