Greece’s Syriza Faces Hard-Left Split as Bailout Negotiations Continue

Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis
Reuters / Alkis Konstantinidis

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes to get the final details of a bailout deal with the European Union worked out by Sunday, but he has faced increased criticism from the hard left in Greece for negotiating at all.

“Talks will continue in the coming days, and further progress is needed,” European official Annika Breidthardt said. “We’re not there yet. There are open issues which need to be resolved.”

Tsipras’ camp remains optimistic, saying their hopeful demeanor “is based on very specific facts. We are going into these negotiations with the aim to have an agreement with our partners by Sunday,” according to Greek spokesman Gabriel Sakellaridis.

Cutting pensions and restricting workers’ rights may be necessary parts of a deal with the EU, which Greek authorities are pursuing to avoid defaulting on loan repayments to the International Monetary Fund. Hard-left members of Tsipras’ party are grumbling about the potential compromises they may be forced to make if they agree to such a deal.

The leader of the hard-left faction within Greece’s ruling party, Costas Lapavitsas, told the LA Times, “I think we’ve been put in an incredibly difficult position by lenders. We’re being squeezed and stopped from implementing our programs.”

Syriza, Tsipras and Lapavitsas’ party, is a coalition of radical left-wing groups. The party came to power in 2014 and cemented its hold on the Hellenic Parliament in a snap election earlier this year, if only by a small 12-seat margin.

In the run-up to the 2015 elections, Syriza released a 40-point platform promising expanded definitions of workers’ rights, a massive uptick in government spending, and extensive new entitlements, along with protection of old welfare benefits.

IMF officials believe that these plans are fiscally irresponsible, and they aim to rein in the hard-left impulses of Greece’s ruling party before reaching a debt deal.

Some within the leftist coalition see the compromises of the deal as inconsistent with their principles, and are advocating default rather than accept the current terms.

Syriza’s Central Committee debated the state of the negotiations this weekend. The hard-left faction pushed for a rejection of the deal in the committee, but were narrowly defeated in the vote, 95-75.

A poll released earlier this month found that 66 percent of the Greek public wants the debt deal to go through, and only 31 percent want to see the deal fail. In addition, approval for the way Syriza is handling the situation dropped by nearly 30 points. Almost half of respondents said that Syriza’s handling of the deal was “worse than expected.”

Tsipras faces pressure to work out a deal from more than just the Greek people; U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been urging negotiators to work to find a solution, warning that the fallout from another Greek debt crisis would send shockwaves through the global economy.

“It is profoundly in the interests of the U.S. and European economies for the accident to be avoided,” he said. “Brinksmanship is a dangerous thing.”

Should default occur, Greece would likely be forced to drop out of the euro, which would be disastrously disruptive to the European economy.

Some in Syriza, however, are actively seeking withdrawal from the European currency union. They view the euro as a means by which a few privileged nations take advantage of smaller, less economically powerful states, such as Greece.

What does all this mean for Syriza and Greece’s future?

As the debt fiasco continues, Syriza’s leadership is uncertain about what will happen if a deal proposal goes before the Hellenic Parliament. The 30 lawmakers who make up the Left Platform may break from leadership and vote to shoot it down.

If that occurs, it may precipitate an official split within Syriza, with various leftist factions within the coalition breaking off.

At the very least, these developments may foretell Syriza’s fall from power. If public outrage is strong enough, one of Syriza’s main rivals, either the center-right New Democracy Party or center-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement, could be thrust in the spotlight to make sense of the financial and political mess.

The Golden Dawn, an ultranationalist party accused of pushing fascist and neo-Nazi ideas, is also viewing the growing controversy as an opportunity to expand on its 17 seats in the Hellenic Parliament.

Surely, the political and economic consequences of the negotiations will send tremors across the global stage, whatever the outcome.