By Dimitris Rapidis. First published by Blog Active.eu. Hyperlinks added by this blog.
Between October 13-16, the governing Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) party held its second congress in Athens. There were many debates and fruitful discussions but above all else the congress addressed some major issues that define the party’s new vision and political scope.
1. Euclid Tsakalotos Comes in First in the Central Committee Ballot
The Greek Minister of Finance achieved to get the first place among the contenders for the party’s Central Committee. This is an historic achievement, considering also that he is the one managing negotiations with the creditors and implementing the bailout program. Leading one of the influential political trends in SYRIZA, the Group of 53+, mostly critical to the bailout deal, Tsakalotos combines efficiency in negotiations — considering the balances of power with and among the creditors — and a constant effort to open the debate over the political vision of the party and the Left in Greece and Europe. While he is not clamoring for any leading position in the party nor is he promoting himself, Tsakalotos turns out to be extremely popular in the party. He can definitely build on that, empowering his position abroad and building the bridge connecting policy-making and daily management of policy consequences.
2. Alexis Tsipras Gets Remarkably Strong
The Greek Prime Minister seems stronger than ever. After getting rid of the fractionists of Popular Unity last summer, he is now very powerful, endorsed by all sides or political subgroups within the party. Tsipras got more than 93.5% of the vote and was re-elected as the party leader. At this stage, he seems to be the most important asset for the party and the government, the one that can lure undecided voters that supported SYRIZA in last September’s snap elections. The New Democracy party (ND) tries to trim his popularity, but there are two big obstacles toward that end:
- The first is his strategic maneuvers on the domestic front and his constant efforts to build strong alliances with other leftist or socialist leaders of the European South. At the same time, he is endorsed by solidarity movements in Europe and abroad, with many delegations and activist groups coming to Athens to show support.
- The second obstacle is the very weak popularity of ND party leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the fact that he is always dragged backwards by the discrepancies of his own political past, his links with corruption, improper financial management, and his neoliberal ideas that have proved catastrophic over the previous years.
3. Debt Relief Is Top Priority
This is the big challenge for the government and the party in the coming months. Silent, consistent work done by the Vice President of the European Parliament Dimitris Papadimoulis on that front has yielded concrete results, with Commissioner Pierre Moscovici and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker openly standing for the Greek side, calling for concretization of short-term debt relief measures by the end of this year. In the same context, a growing number of Members of the European Parliament are siding with the Greek government, pressing for fast conclusion of second bailout review, asking for debt relief measures that would unlock Greece’s economic potential and invigorate domestic financial transactions. The Greek government and the European institutions know that now is the momentum for a positive development, abiding also by what has been agreed on that field at last May’s Eurogroup meeting.
4. The “Parallel Program” Widely Endorsed
Ministers and deputy Ministers of Health and Education (i.e. Andreas Xanthos, Pavlos Polakis, Nikos Filis) are placed among the top-ranked members of the Central Committee. The same goes for Minister of States Nikos Pappas and that has achieved to put rules of transparency and redress the entire media landscape in Greece, after 27 years of anomie, tax evasion, and scandals. Among the major reforms of the Ministry of Health was granting free access for 2.5 million people in the primary sector, i.e. including unemployed people, uninsured, refugees, vulnerable social groups, and the fight against bribery, whereas for the Ministry of Education it was the introduction of the special program for refugee children in primary education, and the legislation aiming at defining clear roles in education between the state and the church.