European Interest

Snap election could threaten rule of law in Greece

Flickr/European People's Party/CC BY 2.0
Another big victory of the conservatives of Kyriakos Mitsotakis (pictured) in July’s general election is possible. However the European Union risks being confronted by another case of threat against the rule of law.

The result of the recent European Parliamentary elections shook Greece’s political landscape. The ruling Syriza party suffered an unexpected loss at the ballot box – a dismal performance that forced Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to call for a snap general election on July 7.

The run-up to the European Parliamentary election in Greece was marked by extreme polarisation. On one side, Syriza struggled to maintain a delicate balance between the implementation of unpopular economic policies (inherited from previous governments) and the introduction of measures aimed to improve the situation of vulnerable groups within society (those considered to be at risk of poverty or social exclusion).

However, a considerable part of Greek society – the so-called middle class – was excluded from the Syriza government’s immediate measures. The party’s defeat at the polls is partly due to the expression of anger of such part of the society.

One of the major achievements of the Syriza government was the Prespes Agreement which finally ended the decades-long dispute over the name of neighbouring country, now called North Macedonia.

However, the main opposition conservative party New Democracy used every occasion – in both national and foreign policy – to ensure the polarisation and division became more acute.

The electoral policy applied by the conservatives was based on a heightened nationalism, on a constant attack to government’s attempt to re-establish the welfare system and on the attack against the judiciary. What is more, the conservative party was supported by much of the country’s mainstream media – private TV stations, newspapers, websites – while the ruling Syriza party secured the support of just few.

As a result, the government’s inefficiency to communicate and to convince the public about the merits of its policy – in addition to the polarisation method used by the conservatives, resulted in Syriza’s defeat in all the three electoral battles (European Parliament, Municipal and Regional elections) held on May 26 and during the second round on June 2.

Another big victory of the conservatives in July’s general election is possible. However, a shorter gap between the two parties could deprive conservatives of forming a one party majority government.

The risk of ‘Orbánisation’

Following Greece’s July 7 election, the European Union risks being confronted by another case of threat against the rule of law.

Greece could be added to the long list of EU member states where rule of law is not fully or at all respected. The list currently includes Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Malta and Italy.

The conservative New Democracy party is a fervent supporter of the tough political ideas of Manfred Weber, Sebastian Kurz and Viktor Orbán. But its sympathy express towards the far-right leader Matteo Salvini is not hidden either.

On many occasions, MEP Georgios Kirtsos – who is very close to the leader of the conservative New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has expressed his sympathy for both Viktor Orbán and Matteo Salvini. He has also praised their concerns about immigration and their proposals to battle migrants and refugees.

But the most worrying sign for the future policy the conservatives for Greece is not limited to the declarations of one MEP.

The judiciary is under fire! A major scandal related to the involvement of the Greek branch of the medical multinational Novartis during the period of the conservative New Democracy governments led prosecutors to investigate several members of the party. Instead of asking a quick and transparent procedure that could clear the name of these politicians, New Democracy attacked prosecutors and, in some occasions, threatened them with indictment. A vengeful behaviour against the prosecutors involved in the investigation has been demonstrated in many cases by leading conservative personalities.

What is more, labour rights will be re-examined. A supporter of the labour policy applied by Orbán and Kurz, Mitsotakis has said he intends to introduce a seven-day work week. Leading politicians also expressed the view that pensions should be further reduced and that new laws will make the process of moving in and out of jobs more flexible.

What is more, social benefits risk to be cut substantially. The Governor of the Bank of Greece, a supporter of Mitsotakis, expressed the view that public health and pensions should be privatised.

The rise of the nationalist narrative in the political agenda of New Democracy risks to affect the position the country has in the entire eastern Mediterranean area after the successful Prespa Agreement and the strategic alliance with Israel and Egypt.

Media freedom could also be threatened since politicians of the party have not excluded that the state broadcaster ERT could be shut down. ERT was shut down by the former New Democracy leader Antonios Samaras during his stint in power in 2013. But it was reopened by the Syriza government in 2015.

The return of nationalism in education supported by the most fundamentalist components of the Orthodox Church as well as a revanchist wave against public servants announced by many conservative politicians could transform Greece into yet another headache for Brussels.

New Democracy, established in 1974 by Konstantinos Karamanlis, was the main pro-European political party in Greece for two decades. Konstantinos Mitsotakis, prime minister in 1990 and father of today’s leader of the party, tried to apply a pro-European policy which included a moderate behaviour toward the many Balkan problems of that time.

But he was overthrown by Antonis Samaras on a pure nationalist agenda. And because of this, New Democracy remained in opposition for 11 years.

Samaras assumed leadership at the end of 2009 and became prime minister in 2012. When his party was defeated by Syriza in 2015, he helped Kyriakos Mitsotakis become president of the party in 2016.

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