EU Populists Vindicated by Tsipras’s Struggle Take Aim at Euro

Marine Le Pen
National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Photographer: Christophe Morin/Bloomberg

Just because Alexis Tsipras had to bow to pressure from creditors, don’t expect the European Union’s renegade movements to give up their struggle anytime soon.

The Greek premier’s capitulation hands ammunition to those like Marine Le Pen in France and Beppe Grillo in Italy who see the EU as a totalitarian bloc that rides roughshod over national sovereignty and democracy.

Grillo, who wants out of the euro, said in a blog post that Europe “humiliated” Greece. Tsipras was “forced to capitulate to EU despotism,” National Front leader Le Pen said in a televised news conference Monday. The bloc’s common currency, she said, is “not sustainable and a catastrophe.”

Greece’s struggle with euro-area creditors over the terms of a third bailout echoed more broadly across the political spectrum, from Spain in the south to Scotland in the north. That solidarity fuels the risk of political instability as anti-establishment forces that variously reject austerity, oppose the EU or abhor the single currency feel vindicated by Greece’s treatment.

Government bond yields rose in Spain, Portugal and Ireland on Tuesday as the reverberations from Greece continued.

“While Tsipras in the end had to play by the rules of the euro zone, the ‘enough is enough’ message from Syriza and similar movements resonated strongly across Europe,” Shada Islam, director of policy at the Friends of Europe advisory group in Brussels, said by phone. “I don’t see that voters will become any less supportive of these parties.”

‘Mafiosos’

Grillo, whose Five Star movement is Italy’s second-largest party, and Le Pen, who leads first-round presidential election polls in France, lost no time in leading fresh attacks against the bloc’s focus on fiscal prudence after the Greek deal was announced Monday morning.

Spanish party Podemos, which ousted Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party in regional elections in Madrid in May on a similar anti-austerity platform to Syriza, took more time to digest the outcome.

Podemos, which faces national elections later this year, will hold a press conference later on Tuesday. Leader Pablo Iglesias, who has in the past traveled to Athens to demonstrate solidarity with Tsipras, expressed his support for Greece “against the Mafiosos” in a Twitter post Monday.

U.K. Relish

Tsipras’s struggle has been watched with some relish by euro-skeptics in Britain, where anti-EU sentiment has become mainstream after Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to hold a referendum on membership in the 28-nation bloc by the end of 2017.

London Mayor Boris Johnson, a Conservative lawmaker who has said he’d favor bringing the vote forward, said in an op-ed in the Daily Telegraph on Monday that German-led proposals to take over Greek state assets were “tantamount to tyranny.”

“If I were a Greek politician I would vote against this deal,” said Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party that campaigns for withdrawal from the EU. The accord shows that “national democracy and membership of the euro zone are incompatible,” he said, adding that he’d be “protesting in the streets” if he had been a Greek “no” voter in the July 5 referendum.

Some will see Tsipras’s capitulation as evidence the system is stacked against anyone who challenges the status quo and hence be spurred to further action, said Daniela Schwarzer, director of the German Marshall Fund’s Europe program in Berlin.

‘Self-Correct’

Tsipras’s failure to press creditors to back down can be seen as proof “the system doesn’t self-correct,” Schwarzer said. “You elect a party into office which wants a different policy and it can’t have it.”

Tsipras faces Syriza defections while attempting to push the deal through the Greek parliament on Wednesday. Insurgent movements across Europe may also become weakened as the public concludes they can’t deliver, said Vincenzo Scarpetta, a policy analyst at the Open Europe think tank in London.

“The capitulation of Tsipras and the further deterioration of the Greek economy since Syriza took the helm are likely to turn undecided voters in other countries away from supporting similar parties,” Scarpetta said in an e-mail.

The perception of a democratic deficit that allows the EU’s big powers such as Germany to dictate to smaller states like Greece may be a lasting impact of Syriza’s challenge.

Such impressions are a turn-off for voters, and that’s a lesson European leaders would do well to heed, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in The National newspaper on June

30. Her pro-independence Scottish National Party won 56 of Scotland’s 59 parliamentary seats in U.K. elections in May after campaigning on an “anti-austerity” platform against Tory budget cuts.

“Ordinary people generally do not react well to what is or can be perceived as threats,” Sturgeon said.

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