Theresa May wasn’t the only European leader sweating a confidence vote on Wednesday night. In fact, her margin of victory (52-48 in percentage terms, believe it or not) was comfortable compared to the result in Athens, writes Paris Gourtsoyannis
Alexis Tsipras avoided a snap election by winning the support of 151 MPs in the 300-seat Greek parliament. His coalition partners the Independent Greeks pulled out over a treaty resolving the decades-old row with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about the name the country shares with a region of northern Greece, and Tsipras’ minority government only survived with the backing of a handful of MPs from other parties. That’s why May clings to the DUP.
While Tsipras will now stay on until scheduled elections in October, his left-wing Syriza party looks set to be ousted by the centre right New Democracy. It will close a circle a decade in the drawing, reversing the first big political shock of the Great Recession – a series that includes Brexit.
It’s worth reflecting on what happened in Greece in the intervening years. The most left-wing government in modern Greek history grudgingly accepted the punishing bailout from the EU that kept the country in the euro. Public pain has bought a balanced budget, at the cost of a quarter of Greece’s economy. Swastikas returned to the streets, this time carried by Greeks. Tsipras, who angrily condemned Angela Merkel before his election, warmly welcomed her to Athens this month. In all that time, despite a readiness four years ago to tumble out of the European currency, there has never been a plurality of opinion in favour of leaving the EU.
Greek anger was tempered by the knowledge that their country had no unbroken tradition of parliamentary democracy before joining the EU. How much has changed since 1981 was proven when the leader of the Independent Greeks resigned as defence secretary: the head of the armed forces was named as an emergency appointment. Half a century ago, his predecessors were imprisoning Tsipras’ political forefathers on a barren leper colony in the Aegean.