Greece elects the attack-dog

The left-wing populist party, Syriza, has been elected with a mandate for radical change in Europe.


Greek youth welcomes its far-left government

Before Greece's election last Sunday, the consensus was that Syriza's bark would prove worse than its bite. The left-wing populist party campaigned on debt relief for Greece and an end to EU-mandated austerity and reforms, but most commentators assumed they would need to take a more conciliatory stance to form a coalition. Yet the consensus has been wrong, says James Forsyth on

Syriza fell only marginally short of an absolute majority, and has formed a coalition with a small centre-right group whose approach to Greece's creditors is just as uncompromising.The creditors, led by Germany, are reluctant to keep lending Athens money if it won't make reforms and balance its budget.

"Caving in to Syriza's demands would come at a high political cost," as the FT points out. It would embolden eurosceptic parties in the north of Europe and populist parties in the troubled south, where the clamour for similar debt write-downs would grow. Potential subsequent debt defaults across the European periphery would rattle markets and could raise the risk of another financial crisis.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

This week the incoming Greek finance minister was reported to have said that "whatever the Germans say, in the end they will pay". He clearly believes that Germany's leaders are bluffing when they say they are no longer rattled by the prospect of a Greek exit. The continent's banks are stronger and a Europe-wide bail-out fund is in place, while the European Central Bank's quantitative easing would calm the markets.

But, as Hugo Dixon notes on, a "Grexit" would still be "a huge political failure", and contagion cannot be ruled out. A Greek departure "would be such a unique event that nobody really knows where the chain reaction would lead".

So what next? The upshot looks set tobe an extension of the maturities on Greece's debt, along with a reduction in the interest rates on it, in return for Greece's commitment to further reforms. Syriza has at least promised to clamp down on tax evasion, a key weakness in Greece.

Linking debt repayments to levels of Greek GDP would also make the massive Greek debt pile affordable.Yet arriving at this compromise is likely to take time. That means that months of uncertainty, which will undermine the continent's frail economy further, are on the cards. The latest chapter in the multi-year euro crisis has begun.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.