St. George day (May 6th) seems to be a crucial day for Europe. Three important countries for the European Union will hold elections, believed to have long term consequences for the entire Union. The French have not only to choose their next president, but also a partner of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, for the governance of the EU. The Serbs must demonstrate their willingness for full EU membership, the way to which goes through improvement of relations with Kosovo. And the Greeks must ensure that their rescue was not like drawing water in a sieve but will be supported by a real effort by the whole society.
Over the past year we were often hearing Brussels say that Greece needed broad political consensus for the implementation of the bailout programmes. And even more often we were seeing the failure of the Greek political forces to achieve that. Until last November, when the then prime minister George Papandreou threw the bomb of a referendum for the euro. On the verge of bankruptcy without a second bailout, the Greek political parties agreed to form a government of national unity, stipulating early elections to be held in the spring of 2012. Meanwhile, the technocratic government of Lucas Papademos, supported by the EU, had to move forward the reforms envisaged in the second rescue programme.
The two major parties - the conservative New Democracy and the socialist PASOK - have guaranteed with the signatures of their leaders that they are committed to implement the programme after the elections, though knowing it would alienate many of their voters. According to recent polls, New Democracy would emerge as a winner, but with a modest result of 20 to 25%, according to various opinion polls. PASOK comes second with 14%, followed by several smaller leftist parties - Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) with 10-13%, the Communist Party (8-11%), Democratic Left (6-9%).
The newly formed nationalist group "Independent Greeks" can win 8-10% of the votes and the far-right populist movement "Golden Dawn" - 4-6%. The Greens, the Orthodox Popular Movement (LAOS) and the Democratic Alliance also have a chance to enter Parliament. A total of 32 parties will struggle to pass the 3% threshold to enter Parliament and to allocate 250 out of 300 seats (the other 50 are given to the party with the highest score).
The two major parties PASOK and New Democracy have a chance to win a majority, although with only one third of the votes. Both, however, have promised their voters to demand concessions for the implementation of the rescue programme. And some nearly 30% of Greeks are willing to support small far-left parties declaring themselves to be against the measures of fiscal discipline and cutting money for social activities. And nearly 20% will cast their votes for any of the far-right populist formations, calling against Europe and immigrants.
Against this background, the risks to the implementation of the rescue programme, of which the Troika has long been warning, are completely real. Given the experience of the last two years, there are reasonable doubts that even the two major parties might not honour their commitments in full. And the fact that half the population is ready to protest against falling living standards by voting for extreme left or right parties promises new outbreaks of social unrest.
The ultimate result could be not just a failure of the implementation of the rescue programme, but a Greek exit from the euro area. Many analysts have already warned that this would be much more painful for the Greeks than the Troika`s measures. And 80% of people said they did not want to abandon the euro. Whether they are willing to pay the price, however, will become clear after the elections on May 6th.