Former prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ coalition paid the price for implementing the harsh austerity conditions of the third bailout programme, losing both the European and national elections within a few months.
Following the comprehensive defeat of Syriza in both the European election and concurrent local elections in Greece, and the triumph of the liberal-conservative New Democracy party, a snap national election was to be held on 7 July. The grounds for ultimately neglecting the key issues of European politics are various and sometimes alarmingly obscure.
There were at least three distractions that made people stop thinking about the European elections per se for a while and focus instead on what specifically characterized the Greek situation on 26 May.
The Diem25 thriller
DiEM25 could just as well be called the European Realistic Disobedience Front but is actually known in full as Democracy in Europe Movement 2025. Predictions for the new Pan-European political party ranged from 2.99 to 3.01 percent – depending on when you looked. But ultimately the party failed to win the 3 percent that a Greek political party requires to secure a seat in the European parliament.
Thus Yanis Varoufakis, the former minister of economics who dominated the first year of the rule of ‘leftist’ party Syriza in Greece (2015), came quite close but not close enough to gaining a seat last May. Or rather his movement did, Varoufakis himself ran for election without success in Berlin and not Athens. So the whole discussion about DIEM25’s final result proved something of a double distraction from the true importance of the European elections in Greece.
The general’s name
Another new political party that ran in May is known as ‘Greek Solution’. Anything but pan-European, it was successfully led by Kyriakos Velopoulos, a journalist and the author of the three-volume (almost cult) ‘Greece Bleeds’, not to mention a former MP for the far-right LAOS party and former member of New Democracy. The rightwing party won a not inconsiderable 4.18 percent, enough to secure it a seat in the prestigious European Parliament.
However, it seems that many voters confused the name of Fragkos Fragkoulis – a well-known former general, former Chief of the Greek Army and former Minister for National Defence – with the 25-year old dentist Emmanouil Fragkoulis. He is said to have used his nickname (which is apparently ‘Fragkos’) on the voting slip, where he was therefore listed as ‘Fragkos Fragkoulis’. Initial unofficial estimates indicated that the infamous 25-year old dentist may have taken as many as 11,000 votes, just because of the recognition his alleged nickname commanded.
The general himself appeared to be furious at the attempt to use his name so that Greek voters might understandably receive the false impression that he was running to become an MEP. However, the general did not issue any injunction before the elections or file a suit afterwards. Thus the public debate wandered from the true purpose of the EP elections to a singular case of misleading labelling.
Semina Digeni’s resignation
Notwithstanding the common and well-justified assumption that a seat in the European Parliament is more prestigious, luxurious and certainly better paid than a seat in the Greek Parliament, the eminent journalist and writer Semina Digeni took the quite unprecedented decision – shortly after being elected an MEP on behalf of the Greek Communist Party – of submitting her resignation in order to run as a candidate for the same party in the national election on 7 July.
Digeni’s unexpected decision constituted the third and final nail in the coffin of the European elections in Greece. It also came as a clear signal that for many good reasons the snap national election may well prove far more important than the recent European vote.
This article is published in association with Eurozine.
Eurozine describes itself as “a network of European cultural journals, linking up more than 80 partner journals as well as associated magazines and institutions from nearly all European countries.”