Ideas on Europe

General elections in Greece on 21 May

Parlement grec General elections in Greece on 21 May
Parlement grec

For our weekly ‘Ideas on Europe’ editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, we welcome Theofanis Exadaktylos again, from the University of Surrey, in England. Bonjour, Theofanis!

On the 21st of May, general elections will be held in Greece. Can you make us understand what’s at stake ?

To start with, the electoral law that will be used is based on a simple proportional allocation of seats in parliament. According to public opinion polls, no party is set to muster enough votes to have an overall majority in parliament. As a result, the parliament emerging out of the 21 May election is likely to force big parties into coalition negotiations, with smaller parties gaining a pivotal role as regulators of government policy.

That’s a significant change. Who has the best chances of winning ?

According to the latest polls, New Democracy, the liberal-conservative party currently in government under Kyriakos Mitsotakis is likely to come first, followed by Syriza, the left-wing party still led by Alexis Tsipras. New Democracy is likely to approach the socialists from Pasok, once very strong, but who have been reduced to a small political force following the Greek financial crisis back in 2010. The question will be whether New Democracy and Pasok together will be able to secure 151 out of 300 seats for a majority or will require a third small party to support them. If everything fails, a fresh election will be declared.

But in this case, there would be a real twist, because it would be conducted under a new and different electoral law voted by New Democracy in 2020 that grants the first party in votes up to 50 bonus seats in parliament for every 0.5% of the vote share above 25%. But we’re not there yet.

And who else, beyond the bigger parties you mentioned, will enter Parliament ?

Probably the Greek Communist Party and perhaps two other smaller ones: DiEM25 led by Yanis Varoufakis, maybe you remember him as minister of finance during the financial crisis, and the right-wing Greek Solution, both polling around the 3% minimum threshold.

Anyway, if New Democracy is declared the winner, they are likely to push for a fresh election to benefit from the new electoral law they voted, rather than force a coalition with unreliable partners.

Apart from cost-of-living and energy prices, what are the most important issues ?

Immigration, of course. Alongside a general fatigue about the inability of the Greek state to accommodate and process asylum seekers, migration issues have heightened xenophobic and racist sentiments, polarising the political debate to the benefit of the right-wing side of the political spectrum.

But there’s also foreign policy: the war in Ukraine – and Greek solidarity with EU decisions – has damaged the previously good relations with Russia both in terms of investment and tourist flows. Second, whatever the outcome of the Turkish elections, Greek foreign policy actors will need to maintain a high level of alert in the rhetoric coming from their neighbour.

And as everywhere else, climate change has moved up in the public agenda. Extreme summers, water shortages, and wildfires have become great concerns, especially on tourism-popular islands.

Two months ago, in March, Western European media covered the tragic rail accident in Central Greece where 50 young people died, as well as the mass demonstrations that followed. Does this event play a role in the campaign ?

It does. The train accident exposed not only the insufficient infrastructure of the rail network in Greece, but most importantly issues of public failure, both by Syriza and New Democracy, to modernise the signalling system and to take advantage of EU funds and investment, but also of corruption, with the persistent favouritism when hiring staff in the public sector and the absence of solid health and safety standards in public transport.

Why should the rest of Europe follow these elections ?

Instability in Greece has the potential of affecting the EU as a whole.

First, from an economic point of view, the previous experience with the Eurozone crisis which almost led Greece to bankruptcy is one the EU wants to avoid repeating, so they would like to see some continuity in economic policy and financial discipline. And second, from a foreign policy point of view, Greece is a key player in maintaining the geopolitical balance in the south-eastern Mediterranean basin and a buffer in the united front against Russia, so preserving a strong ally in this region is essential for EU foreign policy.

Many thanks, for sharing your pre-election analysis with us. I recall you are Professor in European Politics at the University of Surrey.

Interview by Laurence Aubron.