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The threat of Pasokification

While long-anticipated, Syriza’s victory in Sunday’s Greek general election represents a mini-electoral earthquake which has further divided European social democracy. 

Parties are split on the implications: some factions see a great awakening, some a useful pressure point against Angela Merkel’s Europe, others either fear ‘Pasokification’ (the annihilation process that saw Greece’s centre-left Pasok party fall from 43.9 per cent in 2009 to 4.7 per cent last weekend) or a dangerous injection of wishful thinking at a time for hard truths.

Matteo Renzi in Italy and François Hollande in France were among the first callers to Alexis Tsiparis. Terrified by Podemos, Pedro Sanchez in Spain moved further in support of easing Greece's burden. In contrast, the German SPD and others further north gave veiled warnings and rejected a haircut on debt. Some simply avoided commenting on the meaning of the result altogether.

As Yannis Palaiologos sets out in our Greek feature, if Syriza manage to get concessions from the troika – be it on investment, interest rates or debt maturation – it will celebrate it as a first victory. Moreover, it will strengthen those advocating a Syriza-like appeal in austerity-hit, economically stagnant countries far beyond Greece’s borders.

Nonetheless, as Palaiologos argues, Syriza does not hold all the cards. Tsipras must now shift from a campaigning to governing mode. If he is to achieve the debt relief his government has promised, he needs allies. Hollande and Renzi will be key. But as each works to drive through sometimes painful structural reform at home, neither is likely to be willing to give Syriza a free pass and allow Tsipras to shrink from this challenge simply because it may unsettle some of the vested interests that helped bring him to power.

In Britain, a country edging towards its own election in May, Labour’s chances of winning a majority, reports Hopi Sen, are under threat from a rise in support for the ‘outside left’, principally in the form of the Scottish National party and Greens. Coupled with the United Kingdom Independence party’s attempt to peel off traditionally Labour-inclined white working-class voters, this challenge poses a strategic dilemma as Sen outlines: “a green-cosmopolitan agenda of socially liberal leftism is fundamentally incompatible with Ukip’s social conservatism”.

Ed Miliband’s dilemma – grappling with the tensions between ‘cosmopolitan’ and ‘communitarian’ supporters on the one hand and traditional left-right economic questions on the other – is one that is all too familiar for much of the European centre left. But if Miliband can overcome it, a Labour victory in May, coupled with the centre left in power or in coalition in countries such as France, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands offers some hope.

What radical left salvos fired from Greece and most likely Spain will add to this mixture remains to be seen. The populist revolt against the European establishment has reached new heights. In the lexicon of the crisis, Pasokification has now joined Grexit.

This month's State of the Left features critical analysis from Denmark, France, GreeceItaly, the Netherlands, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the United States

State of the Left is a regular insight bulletin that reports from across the world of centre-left politics.

Each month it combines a Policy Network editorial with a range of political opinion pieces from expert commentators in different national settings. Regular contributors and guest writers ensure insight on key political developments and debate across Europe and beyond, including the US, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Italy and Latin America.

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