Austerity Backlash Adds New Dimensions to EU Political Spectrum

Austerity Backlash Adds New Dimensions to EU Political Spectrum
Handshake between Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 4, 2015 (European Union photo).

The victory of Syriza in Greece’s recent parliamentary elections has led some to speculate about the impact the radical leftist party will have on Europe’s political landscape. With the Greek economy suffocating from depression-level contraction, Syriza campaigned on the promise to end the budgetary austerity imposed by the so-called troika—the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission (EC) and the European Central Bank (ECB)—as a condition for the bailouts that are still the only thing keeping the country from a sovereign default.

Would this leftist insurrection against the fiscal stewardship of the powers that be in Brussels, some asked, serve as a wake-up call to Europe’s left beyond Greece’s borders? Spain already seems like a possible candidate for contagion in the form of Podemos, an upstart party that was until recently polling ahead of both established parties of the left and right. Its platform, though not as radical as Syriza’s, nonetheless focuses on addressing the human costs of Spain’s less dramatic contraction and bailout.

It would be a mistake, however, to see Syriza’s victory only, or even predominantly, through the prism of the traditional left-right political spectrum, as the party’s deal to form a government coalition with the nationalist Independent Greeks makes clear. As is often the case during periods of profound social hardship, Europe’s persistent economic crisis has made it a good time to occupy the extremes of the political spectrum. As is also often the case during such moments, the extremes have a way of joining to confound the left-right polarity that usually organizes political debate.

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