Leading article: A historic election – but it may not move Berlin

 

Share
Related Topics

As the dust starts to settle on the Greek general election – surely the most scrutinised election in modern Greek history – the eyes of Europe are trained not only on the outcome of the vote in Greece but on the likely reaction in Berlin.

In Greece, the question is whether sufficient numbers of voters have taken a bet on the anti-bailout left wing under Alexis Tsipras of Syriza, presumably resulting in a rapid, disorderly exit from the eurozone, or whether they have plumped for some form of continuity under the centre-right New Democracy. If it's the former, a head-on clash with Germany, the champion of the EU's current financial orthodoxy, looks unavoidable.

In reality, the choice is less dramatic, though not because Syriza has shown any sign of backing away from its pledge to tear up the terms of the Greek bailout. Rather, it is because – although this has escaped general notice – New Democracy is also firmly committed to changing the terms of the existing deal, which obliges Greece to slash its deficit to below 3 per cent of GDP by 2014.

In other words, whoever forms the next Greek government will have a popular mandate to seek new bailout terms – the only substantive difference being that the left will demand them while the right will ask nicely.

But then what? No one outside Greece takes seriously the view that Angela Merkel's resistance to renegotiating the Greek package will suddenly crumble in the face of Syriza's "Can't pay, won't pay" slogans. But the assumption is widespread, at least in Britain and France, that the German Chancellor may shift her position – by agreeing to tweak the existing deal rather than scrap it – if her preferred Greek partner, New Democracy, forms the next coalition government in Athens.

More sensitive to the views of Paris and Rome than to those of EU member states farther east, opinion in Britain seems persuaded that Ms Merkel has become so isolated in her intransigence over the Greek austerity package that she has no option but to row back. Well, she may. The German Chancellor does have past form in budging under pressure.

But we shouldn't bank on this outcome. The merest whisper of a "Grexit" may have been enough to spook policymakers in Berlin a few months ago but the mood has since changed. Key figures in Ms Merkel's inner circle now sound more resigned to the restoration of the drachma than terrified by the prospect. Some of them evidently assume that it is bound to happen sooner or later. As a result, it cannot be considered a given that Germany will try to avert a Grexit at literally any cost, even if only at the last minute. Syriza may believe it still has the upper hand with Ms Merkel in this matter, and is holding the equivalent of a gun to her head. But many Germans, and their ranks probably include the Chancellor, now suspect that those bullets are blanks.

In Britain, we also underestimate the degree to which Germany is supported in its hard line within the European Union. President Barack Obama may deplore Ms Merkel's economic rigidity, as may the French President, following the transfer of power in the Elysée from Nicolas Sarkozy to François Hollande. But Germany is still far from isolated in calling for more austerity with no ifs and buts.

It has allies on this matter to the east, south and north, starting with Austria, Finland, Latvia and Slovakia. Some of these countries have already experienced the shock of tough, so-called "front-loaded" austerity programmes, and none inclines to the idea that Greece should be treated as a special case.

Power may be about to change hands in Athens – but we should not assume it will lead to a change of heart in Berlin.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (C++ / C# / HTML, Java Angular.js) London

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A world leading business intellig...

Application Support Analyst-(UNIX, Linux, Financial Services)

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst-(UNIX...

Application Support Analyst - SQL, UNIX, Linux

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support Analyst - SQL...

Application Support - FIX protocol, UNIX, SQL, Windows, OMS

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Application Support - FIX protoco...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition