I understand why Greeks voted in large numbers for an anti austerity party. They did so out of desperation with the misery inflicted on their lives and living standards over the last five years. A fall of one quarter in national income, massive job losses, and pay cuts for those still in work should drive any electorate to want radical change. Both their old main parties offered more of the same – sticking with the cuts, the debt control packages, the large interest bills from past excess.
The problem for them is the cruel logic of the Euro, and the imprisoning austerity of their huge debts. If the voters had chosen a party which recommended leaving the Euro it would have been better, with more hope for the future. Instead they voted for a party which both says it will not accept Euro austerity, and that it plans to stay in the Euro. How will that be possible?
Syriza hopes that Germany and the others will willingly cancel some debt and grant easier terms on the rest in the name of preserving the Euro. But why should they? How could they refuse doing the same for Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland and the other countries that have played by the rules and have too much debt for comfort? If Syriza is determined to stay in the Euro there is no need to offer them anything to save the currency. If Syriza works out that leaving would be better then the rest of the Euro area should help them to the door.
The Euro area may I suppose realise that this political shockwave could happen elsewhere, and may think they need to show some modest understanding of the Greek feelings. It is unlikely, however, that they could cancel enough debt or cut the Greek interest rate sufficiently to resolve the problems. Any such move may destabilise other countries, rather than calming things down.
If Greece left the Euro, devalued in line with market movements, and had access to her own Central Bank to decide how much money to create and have in circulation, she would have more chance of rebalancing her economy and meeting her large obligations. If Greece stays in the Euro and threatens default on her debts, she helps undermine the very currency zone she wishes to belong to. Without the power to create Greek money, and in the bad books of the ECB and the major countries in the zone, it could mean an even worse future for Greece than sticking with the old austerity medicine.
The joy on people’s faces when they saw the victory of Syriza was understandable. They felt they had dealt a lethal blow to austerity. The problem is, by wanting to stay in the Euro they either have to carry on with the Euro austerity policies they do not like, or follow a lonely and defiant course which will damage the Euro. Voters may think once in the Euro they can have a genuine choice if they sweep aside the conventional parties that took them in and back the scheme. In practice the challenger parties too are imprisoned by the Euro unless they want to leave.