Greece tells Europe to shove austerity: here’s what it means for you

The victory in Greece of far-left, anti-austerity party Syriza sends a clear message to Europe. John Stepek looks at what happens now, and what it means for you.


Syriza's Alex Tsipras: biggest threat is theboost he could give to Europe's other anti-austerity parties

The results are in.

Greece has given Europe a clear message.

You can take your austerity and shove it. Oh and by the way, we'll hang on to the euro as well. And we don't really want to repay all that debt we've been lumbered with.

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It'll be interesting to say the least to see how Europe responds.

So what happens now?

A resounding victory for Syriza

But it had also made a deal with a small right-wing party (the Independent Greeks) which is also anti-austerity, and is set to win 13 seats.

In short, Syriza is in charge, and it has no major coalition partners to hold it back.

What does all this mean?

First things first it's worth understanding that this is not a vote by Greece to leave the euro. That's the big difference between this Greek election and the last one.

Last time round, Syriza had a much more directly anti-euro message. Then they were smart enough to figure out that for most Greeks, that was a bit of a turn-off. Even although the underlying problem here is the shared currency, very few people like the idea of seeing their savings turned into a different and almost certainly weaker currency overnight.

So they were pragmatic enough to change their message. Now Syriza is telling the Greeks they can have their baklava and eat it. You can stay with the euro, but you can also ditch austerity and renegotiate the debt pile.

Syriza wants to do lots of things, from reinstating public servants who've lost their jobs to raising the minimum wage. But it all boils down to spending more, and renegotiating the country's massive debt pile.

As Jonathan Loynes of Capital Economics points out, that could come to a head very quickly. Greece's current bailout runs out in February. That bailout was agreed with the troika' that is, the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission.

"The first challenge is probably to agree some short-term extension of the programme", says Loynes.

And that could be tricky. As part of his victory speech, reports the BBC, Tsipras said that Greek voters had "put the troika in the past" and the "vicious circle of austerity" was over. He also said "there will neither be a catastrophic clash nor will continued kowtowing be accepted", but that rather depends on how happy the troika are to negotiate.

Why even the worst-case scenario is not necessarily disaster

I have no idea what Syriza will do in practice, or how the eurozone's authorities will react. My gut feeling is that as with every other eurozone crisis so far some sort of messy fudge will be reached that allows all parties involved to save some face.

There will be various threats and bluster on both sides. But Greece will stay in the eurozone. Its creditors will probably see their date of repayment pushed further out into the future, but it'll be a quiet sort of default rather than a dramatic one.

However, that could all be wrong. Maybe Syriza's far-left will take charge. Maybe one side or the other will push too hard in the talks and someone's bluff will be called. Maybe a Greek exit is the end result of all this.

But even then you have to question how much that matters in the grand scheme of things.

In 2011/12, there were two main fears over a Greek exit. Firstly, that it would be like Lehman Brothers all over again with Greek-exposed banks blowing up and causing chaos across the financial world.

Secondly, that there'd be a domino effect. Other austerity-ridden eurozone countries would see the Greeks leave and decide it was the best option for them too.

Today, the Lehman scenario is less of a risk. Anyone with exposure to Greek debt now knows the risks. And with the ECB now printing money, the pain of a Greek exit would be cushioned by plenty of printing.

The second scenario is arguably more of a risk. The biggest threat to the eurozone as a whole is that the Syriza victory gives a boost to anti-euro and anti-austerity parties in other countries particularly a biggie like Italy or Spain.

But if that happened with a country that genuinely mattered to the euro project, you'd expect the troika to deal with that very differently.

In short, this is likely to be a long drawn-out process don't expect a cathartic solution to arrive one way or another. But I'd still be happy to own stocks in Europe, because Greece simply isn't as big a threat as it once was.

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John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.