Greece is a country peripheral to Europe: geography, history and the mentality of much of its population have made it so (even those Greeks who feel ardently “European” often reflect on this from a quasi-outsider point of view). On the other hand, both the country and its people have the knack of participating to the debate about Europe; even to fuel such debate at decisive turns of the continent’s history.
Greece was the first country to break away from the Ottoman Empire, giving substance to the evolving concept of nation-state; it participated to WWI and WWII on the side of the Entente and the Allies, notwithstanding the fact that its economic interests were closer to MittelEuropa and a large part of its establishment, its royals and autocratic elites were German-leaning; post-WWII, it was around Greece that the West made the first moves of containment towards the USSR; Greece’s resistance movement under the Colonels served as a anti-authoritarian model for much of Europe, while its leaning on the EEC, then the EU, so as to anchor to democracy also offered substance to “Europe”. Last but not least, following the country’s successful integration to the EU, then to the Euro area, its tribulations in the zone of danger post-2008 made it a testing-ground for the area’s bail-out processes – but also for the efforts to cope with the refugee-migration issue.
So, it should come as little surprise that now that the EU is turning to being a testing ground for a new area of identity politics through fresh political movements; for conservative-leaning restructuring of venerable parties; as well as for the search of some kind of future by socialist formations, Greece may be called to contribute.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, of SYRIZA/radical Euro-hesitant Socialist party turned pragmatic and pro-European after three tough years at the helm, joined Portugal’s Antonio Costa and SPD’s leader Andrea Nales in trying to discuss “Left and Successful”; success being in short supply for the SPD, notwithstanding its participation to the ruling GroKo/Grand Coalition in Germany with quite a lot of its own social agenda being implemented. The road to European Parliament elections in some six months’ time is tough enough for Socialists: will a “left turn” as the one advocated in Southern Europe by both Tsipras and Costa contribute positively to the Socialist compaign for the European Parliament, aside more northern concepts as fighting for a “sabbatical year” for workers to offer some sort of (Sixties-sounding) relief from the drudgery of work?
At the opposite end of the political spectrum, Greek Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was an early supporter of Manfred Weber as candidate of the European People’s Party to head the European election campaign – and to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President. Given that Weber is supported by EU heavy-weights such as Angela Merkel and (outgoing) Juncker and European Council Chair Donald Tusk, Mitsotaki’s joining in support would seem a minor addition. But Weber had served as figure-head of European efforts to ease Greece out of the Euro area or of the Schengen zone (at the height of the refugee crisis), so thismakes his gaining Greek support a matter of some importance. Since M. Weber has got 80% the EPP support as Spitzenkanditat for the European elections in the hope that his leading in a right-turn might stem the flow of votes toward more extremist/Europhobic formations (such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Victor Orban’s Fidesz or Mateo Salvini’s League), the fact that somebody with rather centrist leanings and coming from beleaguered Greece joins in can be helpful. If catering to “identity politics” is to become the new hallmark of EPP in the run-up to European elections, the European South support of Mitsotakis might come handy.