By Laura Griffiths
The potent austerity measures that Southern Europe has had to contend with as a result of the Eurozone crisis were never going to be welcomed with open arms. With the number of people protesting in the hundreds of thousands and culminating in violence since 2010, it was inevitable that the masses would be listened to by new emerging political parties or young coalitions. Disenchantment in politicians and a tough economic situation on a national level has always resulted in a want for political change, and there has almost always been a need for it. In a multi-country, continental context level such as the financial conundrum of the Eurozone crisis, the more older, radical right wing movements are no longer different enough for the electorate to believe in anymore. It was therefore only a matter of time before the political parties of the left began to rise like a phoenix once more. Greece’s Syriza, the Podemos party in Spain are the party and coalition that we should associate with this leftist emergence.
Syriza, Greece’s ‘Coalition of the Radical Left’, has existed for over a decade. Having become the main opposition party in the 2012 Greek Parliamentary elections, Syriza is now the major partner of Greece’s new coalition government after snap elections took place last month. The first 10 days of this government, let alone the first 100 days, is all about the bailout, fighting back against austerity and the awful fiscal programme implemented by the previous Greek government. Using the prospect of change, which for once I actually believe to be a genuine motive beyond election season, Syriza wants a new economic deal for Greece, one that doesn’t have to be wrapped up in the blanket of austerity or equate to a bullet in the foot for the country.
However, there is something is very unique about Syriza’s political approach that puts it in complete contrast to all other existing political parties internationally – being youthful. Having a ‘Benjamin Button’-esque element, Syriza had more electoral access options than other Grecian political parties such as New Democracy. To realistically target the younger electorate through not only ideas but through descriptive representation has clearly made the left more appealing in Greece.
Following the success of Syriza in Greece’s 2015 Hellenic Parliament elections, Spain protested once more with the Puerta del Sol square in Madrid being occupied by 100,000 people. This was a protest that signified change, being similar to that of the Los Indignados movement which has been prominent in Spain’s political landscape since 2011. The extremely high levels of unemployment and coercive austerity measures like that of Greece has resulted in Podemos, the “we can” political party of Spain.
Forming in January 2014, Podemos have gained both popularity and rapid success in last year’s European elections, the party are sailing on the leftist Southern Europe ship of change. Likewise, the change that Podemos are promising means that the electorate target of young and able yet unemployed people is huge. If this egg can be cracked regionally starting with the Andalucia elections in March, who knows how successful they will be when it comes to the Spanish general election at the end of the year. Having gained momentum so rapidly, can the one year old political party maintain their increasing levels of membership and translate it into parliamentary seats? Given the media cynicism towards Syriza in the run up to Greece’s 2015 election, anything is possible.
Gauging success and longevity of political parties is not easy – some Southern European democracies such as Portugal’s are only 40 years old. Likewise, there is still the issue of extreme right wing parties being dominant across Europe. However, I do think the times are changing politically due to the effect the Eurozone crisis has had on younger European citizens. It is this change that the leftist political parties in Europe need to realise and utilise if they want to succeed.