Europe's Populists Rally To Greece's Side

Europe's Populists Rally To Greece's Side

Populist parties in Spain, Ireland and other austerity-stricken European countries are flocking to support the Greek government’s defiance of its creditors, and to encourage Greek citizens to vote against the creditors’ bailout proposal in a July 5 referendum.

Spain’s ascendant left-populist party Podemos called for a solidarity rally with Greece’s Syriza-led government, drawing hundreds of attendees in Madrid on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Francisco Ramon, an unemployed technology worker, told the Wall Street Journal the outcome of Greece’s struggle with its creditors could affect Spain’s ability to advance its own economic prospects.

“What’s happening in Athens now is decisive not only for Greece, but also for Spain and for all of Europe,” Ramon said.

Syriza’s decision to call a referendum vote on the creditors’ proposal also elicited the endorsements of Gerry Adams, the leader of Ireland’s left-wing opposition party Sinn Fein; Italy’s contrarian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo; and other critics of eurozone austerity policies.

And in an indication of how populist challenges to the European status quo cross ideological lines, Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s far-right National Front party, hailed the move as a reminder to “the European elite that in democracy, there are people, and they are the only sovereigns.” Le Pen stopped short of embracing Syriza’s position in her remarks. The National Front has many positions that put it at odds with Syriza and other left-wing parties like it, including its explicit support for France’s departure from the eurozone and staunch opposition to immigration.

But nowhere do expressions of solidarity with Syriza resonate as much as in Spain, where Podemos is seen as a credible threat to the ruling conservative government. While Spain’s austerity policies have won it plaudits from eurozone leaders, they have proven less popular at home. Podemos has taken advantage of dissatisfaction with the country’s high unemployment rate to win mayoral races in Barcelona and Madrid, Spain’s two largest cities. The two wins could portend a victory in general elections later this year.

Analysts believe Spain’s ruling conservatives have taken a hardline approach in negotiations with Greece at least in part out of fears that a bailout deal that is too accommodating for Greece will be a boon to Podemos at the polls. Podemos’ leader Pablo Iglesias told the Wall Street Journal in an interview earlier this month that consequently, Podemos’ rise has hurt Syriza in negotiations. “Since Podemos has existed, defeating the government of Greece has been converted into another instrument for trying to pressure us,” Iglesias said.

On Saturday, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras called for a July 5 referendum on Greece’s creditors’ latest bailout proposal, after dismissing the offer as an “ultimatum that insults the Greek people.”

The support from fellow left-wing groups in other countries comes amid mounting pressure on Greece from eurozone officials and financial institutions after the announcement of the referendum. The European Central Bank halted its emergency lending to Greek banks, prompting the Greek government to limit bank withdrawals to prevent banks from running out of cash -- a procedure known as imposing “capital controls.”

Greece faces a Tuesday deadline for a 1.6 billion-euro debt repayment to the IMF that it needs bailout money to pay. The International Monetary Fund has said it will consider any late payment tantamount to default.

If the ECB declines to restore its lending to Greek banks, Greece could be forced to leave the eurozone, an outcome known as a "Grexit."

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday that a Greek “no” vote on the referendum would amount to rejection of Greece’s membership in the eurozone.

According to tweets from his staff members, Tspiras in a television appearance on Monday maintained that a “no” vote on the referendum would strengthen Greece’s hand at the negotiating table, not begin the process of a Grexit. He implied that Greece’s differences with the other eurozone nations were relatively narrow on budget savings, but that the two sides were further apart on matters like debt relief and labor union rights.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said the government would seek an injunction from the European Court of Justice to force the ECB to resume its emergency lending to Greek banks.

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