Greece had always a peculiar relationship with things European. Euro-hesitant when it joined the then EEC, the country turned fast enough Euro-enthusiastic - true enough, agricultural subsidies and regional aid funding for infrastructure projects (but also for research grants or for training programmes) played a role. When Greece joined the euro area, pride in participating to the “core” of the European construction joined the experience of low-interest lending from local and foreign banks to both consumers and businesses.
Then came the financial crisis, with three successive strict Adjustment Programmes that turned public opinion much more reticent, while political capital came to be collected through attacks against “Europe”. Then again, a pattern according to which conservative parties (such as Right-wing Nea Dimocratia, whose founder Constantine Karamanlis is considered the one to have brought Greece to the EU) were pro-European, while the Left (originally radical-sounding Socialist PASOK that gradually turned pro-European, then during the crisis years still-radical SYRIZA) ranged from hesitant to frankly hostile towards Europe.
All of which constitutes an old story. Because just right now, in a peculiar reversal of roles, what have we? Well, the SYRIZA government looks very much set on sticking to a European course: after all, the end to the strict Adjustment Programme is being proclaimed by all and sundry in Brussels, Paris but most importantly in Berlin. Alongside this, praise is heaped on the current government’s stance to try and bring about some sort of deal with Greece’s northern neighbor, FYRoM, over the latter’s name issue, ending a decades-long dispute and purportedly contributing to regional stability, development etc. Last but by no means least, the Athens government looks set to adopt a pragmatic approach in the difficult refugee/migrant issue that causes great political harm to the likes of Chancellor Merkel but – increasingly so – also to European political cohesion.
While this sort of pragmatism-cum-Europeanism looks set to conquer the Government benches, the Opposition in Greece slowly drifts to an increasingly Euro-hesitant posture. On the FYRoM issue, a national issue par excellence, Right-wing Nea Dimocratia is unyielding to any sort of deal – certainly so not the present deal that is being acclaimed by European capitals. On the refugee/migrant front, there are negative reflexes of having the country over-run by fresh waves of people from the Turkish shores through the Aegean islands joining large numbers of those who have made their way to Central Europe (especially Germany) and now see their refugee status denied and are thus sent back to the country of first entry, why on earth, the thinking goes, should the current Greek government yield to pressure from Germany on this issue? Last but not least, the Eurogroup decisions over Greek debt relief and putting an end to the last of Adjustment Programmes are considered by the Opposition as too little/too late, as much less than an effective promise to end the years of austerity.
History goes in circles, or so it seems: “Europe” will remain a field of contention in Greece for quite a long time, with the Left switching roles with the Right over it.