Cyprus Mail

Tough talk on Greece alone won’t boost Ireland, Spain at home

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Spain and Portugal of leading a conservative conspiracy to topple his government

By Padraic Halpin and Sarah White

Europe’s tough treatment of Greece’s new government has eased some immediate anti-austerity pressure in Ireland and Spain, but it may take a lot more than that to put Dublin and Madrid’s ruling parties’ re-election prospects back on track.

Elected months apart in 2011 as financial crises enveloped their own countries, the two centre-right led governments’ hopes of winning a second term risk being upset by anti-austerity opponents aligned to Greece’s Syriza, among other challenges.

They both toed the line with Germany in demanding that Greece stick to its bailout commitments – a blow to Athens, which had hoped for some support from countries that also suffered badly in the debt crisis.

That was underlined on Saturday when Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused Spain and Portugal of leading a conservative conspiracy to topple his government because they feared the rise of anti-austerity forces in their own countries.

Madrid and Lisbon complained about the accusation to the European Commission.

Ireland avoided Alexis Tsipras’ ire, but it has taken one of the hardest lines with Greece. Unlike Portugal, it faces an anti-austerity challenge similar to Syriza in Greece and Spain’s anti-establishment Podemos party. It comes from left-wing Sinn Fein.

After the new Greek government was unable to end the European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout it was elected to dismantle and was instead forced into a climbdown, Ireland, fresh from its own bailout, was among the first to exploit the retreat.

“In 2016, the people will have a clear choice: between stable and coherent government; or chaos and instability,” Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told his Fine Gael party’s annual conference last month, a shot at its closest poll rivals Sinn Fein.

Kenny awoke the next day to a Sunday Times editorial that proclaimed ‘Sinn Fein’s Greek tragedy is a win for Fine Gael’.

After wielding painful austerity measures, the Spanish and Irish governments’ election hopes rely largely on voters feeling the benefits of recovering economies. Ireland’s is forecast to be the fastest growing in Europe again this year at almost 4 percent with Spain’s, six times as big, close by on 2.4 percent.

For now, the Greek parallel has served to underscore early campaign messages by Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who took veiled swipes at Podemos, the anti-establishment movement that has painted itself as Syriza’s sister party.


But the tough rhetoric could equally backfire for the two governments, some analysts say. Neither can afford to push Greece over the edge for fear of the economic impact.

Setbacks for Syriza – while limiting the risk of emboldening Sinn Fein and Podemos – may also not necessarily translate into a boost for Fine Gael or Rajoy’s People’s Party (PP). Elections are due in Spain around November and, at most, five months later in Ireland.

Both the PP and Fine Gael still face big challenges at home. Nearly one in four Spaniards is out of work while frustration over Ireland’s uneven recovery last year spilled into the first major street protests in years.

That has left many voters keen for political renewal, most acutely in Spain, as they blame local leaders for their woes, even if like Greece the two countries took international bailouts, in the case of Spain for its ailing banks.

“The anger is more with the two big parties (in Spain) than with Germany,” said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca, senior fellow at the European Council on Foreign relations, referring to the PP and opposition Socialists being overtaken by Podemos in polls.

Another new party, centre-right Ciudadanos, is also starting to gain traction, eating into the PP’s own turf.

Meanwhile, a wretched 2014 has left Kenny open to charges that little had changed in Irish politics since the crisis and has propelled independent candidates into first place in most opinion polls.

But the status quo shake up may not be as deep in Ireland where the ruling coalition is making a tentative recovery.

“There was a lot of anger in 2011 but we got the same old, same old. I don’t think we’ll see a massive change,” said David Farrell, professor of politics at University College Dublin

“The conservative Irish voter is just a phenomenon that we have to recognise.”

Related Posts

Rescue teams scan mountains for missing after Italian glacier collapse

Macron appoints COVID minister as new face of government policy

Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, U.S. says

Ukrainians take up new positions as Putin proclaims victory in Luhansk

European Union to set up platform for Ukrainian reconstruction

Turkey halts Russian ship, investigates Ukrainian claims -senior official


Comments are closed.