From The Financial Times, September 19, 2019
Ten years ago Greece plunged into a debt crisis that threatened to sweep away much of the political, social and economic progress achieved after democracy replaced military dictatorship in 1974. The economy shrank by a quarter, unemployment soared and Greece came close to crashing out of the eurozone. The crisis tore at the fabric of society and demolished one of the two political parties that had alternated in power since the return of civilian rule.
Today, on the face of things, the emergency is over and the outlook is bright. The authorities have lifted capital controls, imposed four years ago. Greece’s 10-year bond yield touched an all-time low in July. Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000. Elections in July produced a comfortable parliamentary majority for New Democracy, a conservative party committed under prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a well-designed programme of economic reform, fiscal responsibility and administrative modernisation.
New Democracy’s victory represented the delayed revenge of the Greek bourgeoisie against the Syriza party, which came to power in January 2015 as the most radical leftist government seen in a European democracy since the second world war. However, even critics of Alexis Tsipras, Mr Mitsotakis’s predecessor, ought to acknowledge that some of the credit for Greece’s recovery goes to the Syriza leader, who eventually swallowed the medicine prescribed by Greece’s creditors.
The most impressive aspect of Greece’s return to stability is the resilience of its democracy. Many outsiders claimed, at the height of the crisis, that Greece was at risk of succumbing to rightwing extremism and even becoming unmoored from the western alliance system. Yet the far-right Golden Dawn party did not win a single seat in the July elections. So far from being an awkward partner for its EU and Nato allies, Greece is rightly regarded as a pole of stability in the turbulent Balkans and eastern Mediterranean.
It is important not to paint everything in rosy colours. Greece’s return to two-party politics is a positive development insofar as it avoids the kind of political fragmentation visible elsewhere in the EU. However, Greece’s old two-party system, which pitted New Democracy against the Pasok socialist party, was notorious for clientelism and corruption. It is vital that these deeper currents of Greek public life do not reproduce themselves in a system now dominated by New Democracy and Syriza.