Common sense prevails in Iceland

Last week, Iceland formally withdrew its EU membership application. Given the importance of fishing to Iceland’s economy it is hardly surprising that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy has proved a major stumbling block. As with Norway, it has long been a principal factor in Icelandic lukewarmness to the EU, and when the country did start formal accession talks following the collapse of its banking sector, an agreement on the CFP was always going to be a challenge. Discussions never got beyond an EU demand for Iceland to reduce its mackerel catch and to abide by EU quotas. As one report put it, the EU gave Iceland an ultimatum: It’s us or the fish. Iceland chose the fish.

With the a centre-right anti-EU government in power since elections in 2013, these devfelopments have come as no surprise. Accession talks ceased two years ago, although there has been some opposition recently to the process being terminated without a referendum. However, those supporters of membership who took to the streets of Reykjavik  must surely recognise that they represent a shrinking minority. Opinion polls indicate that the sceptical Icelanders are becoming even more opposed to their country joining the EU.

Many of Iceland’s senior politicians strongly support their country’s independence. Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, Iceland’s Foreign Minister, said that “Iceland’s interests are better served outside the European Union.” Iceland has an advantage over Switzerland and Norway in this area. In these countries, well-organised anti-EU movements have more or less ensured that any referendum on joining the EU would be defeated, but it would be over and against the wishes of quite a few senior politicians who would like their country to join. David Cameron is fond of quoting Norwegian politicians who moan about their country’s relationship with the EU, even though Richard North and Peter Troy were easily able to find Norwegian MPs who were far happier to be outside the EU when they produced their DVD The Norway Option.

There is a lesson for the UK here. If tiny Iceland, with its population of barely one third of a million people (less than the population of Gloucestershire, in other words), has the confidence that it can survive outside the EU, those politicians in the UK who paint such a bleak picture of our country’s prospects outside the EU must be challenged. Such negativity flies in the face of the reality of our northern neighbour’s self-confidence. If Iceland can prosper as a sovereign independent country, so can we.

Photo by JasonParis

Germany v Greece – the next instalment

The EU, we are told, is a good thing because it has kept the peace in Europe over the past 70 years. It may be true that the nations of Western Europe have not been at war with one another since 1945 but, quite apart from the credit for peace truly belonging to NATO, the drive towards ever-closer union between the different member states has not by any means ended the tensions between them.

Two recent examples prove the point – one fairly trivial, the other far more serious. A minor tension recently erupted between France and Belgium over plans for a commemorative €2 coin marking the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. The battlefield is a few miles from Brussels and the idea to mark this event originated with the Belgians. However, French sensitivities knocked the idea on the head on the grounds that glorifying a time of conflict ran counter to efforts to foster European unity. Ironically, last year France issued a €2 coin last year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Maybe the real issue for the French is not so much European unity but the simple fact that at Waterloo, they lost!

Outside the Eurozone, the UK is not bound by the wishes of other countries and our £5 commemorative coin has already appeared. We actually had a choice of victories to commemorate, as this year also marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill. Anyone with a detailed knowledge of the UK rail network would know that Handborough, the nearest station to Bladon church, where Churchill wished to be buried, is easiest reached from London’s Paddington station, but Churchill insisted that his funeral train was to depart from Waterloo as the very name would irritate his long-time nemesis General de Gaulle.

On a more serious note, the war of words between Germany and Greece has intensified in the last few days. Firstly, the Greek finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, accused his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schäuble, of calling him “naïve”, an accusation which Schäuble has emphatically denied. However, Greece’s Syriza-led government then poured fuel on the flames by raising the delicate matter of war reparations, seeking €341 billion from Germany to compensate for the behaviour of the Nazis during their occupation of Greece from 1941 to 1944. Germany has rejected these claims, saying the issue was dealt with in 1960, when a payment was made to the Greek government. Greece’s justice minister, Nikos Paraskevopoulos, then asserted that as Germany has refused to pay anything more, he is about to sign a court order allowing German property in Greece to be seized.

Where this is going to end up is anyone’s guess, but it looks like an amicable parting of the ways may be best for Greece and the Eurozone. Greece’s best chance of recovering from its financial woes is to follow Iceland’s example and default on its debts – a move which could only be accomplished outside the Eurozone. Greek public finances deteriorated during the four years the country was run by a government reasonably committed to the austerity programme demanded by its creditors. The country’s public debt to GDP ratio rose from 129.6% in 2010 to 174.9% between 2010 and 2014. Syriza wants to increase the tax-free allowance and spend more. The likelihood of any improvement in the public finances under the new government is therefore precisely zero. Indeed, Varoufakis has acknowledged the desperate plight his country faces. Greece is “the most bankrupt of any state,” he said, adding, “Clever people in Brussels, in Frankfurt and in Berlin knew back in May 2010 that Greece would never pay back its debts. But they acted as if Greece wasn’t bankrupt, as if it just didn’t have enough liquid funds.”

Statistics for January 2015 from the Greek finance ministry show that he is not exaggerating the plight his country faces. Income tax, which yielded €988 million in January 2014, brought in a paltry €519 million a year later, a drop of over 45% and barely half the €998 million target. VAT revenue also fell from €1,622 million to €1,329 million over the same period, whereas the target was an increase to €1,687 million. The fact that the Greek government managed to run a primary surplus for the month is an indication of the extent to which the austerity programme has forced it to scale back its public spending in order to satisfy its creditors. With public servants to pay and some substantial loan repayments due in a few months’ time, it is hard to see where the money is going to come from. In the past week a desperate search for cash has caused the Greek government to raid the bank deposits of pension funds while delaying payments to its creditors. It has even approached the Greek subsidiaries of multinational companies for short-term loans.

Things clearly are going to come to a head soon, especially as the Germans – both the government and the people at large – have no sympathy whatever for the problems of their fellow eurozone-member: “The Greek government is behaving as if everyone must dance to its tune. But there must be an end to this madness. Europe must not be made to look stupid,” said one German paper.

As a non-Eurozone member, we in the UK may feel that we are observing this tragedy as outsiders. However, Neil Woodford, the head of investment at Woodford Investment Management, a large firm in the City of London, believes that we cannot indefinitely continue to watch from the sidelines. “Ultimately, this country will have to make a choice about whether it is a fully signed-up member of a eurozone project or not,” he said. In other words, adopting the euro or withdrawal are the only long-term options. Whether we consider the curtailment of our freedoms to commemorate our victories over the French or our likely entanglement in the sport of spat going on between Greece and Germany at the moment, it’s pretty clear which would be the best alternative

Rising support for alternative parties

The daily round-robin e-mail from Open Europe on Monday 2nd March would have been unhappy reading for what might be termed the “EU mainstream.” No fewer than four of the eleven items featured discussed political parties in different countries which either are gaining or have gained support because of opposition to the Euro or to the EU itself.

Firstly, there is Syriza in Greece. The party leadership may have rolled over in the face of German intransigence over the bailout, but their climbdown has left a smouldering legacy within the party. A motion to oppose the bailout, put forward by one of the most left-wing factions, was defeated, but only narrowly. Furthermore, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras insisted that there would be no third bailout. He also hit out at Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, saying that Spain wanted “unconditional surrender.” Rajoy replied that, “We’re not responsible for the frustration generated by the Greek radical left, which promised the Greeks what they knew they couldn’t keep – as it’s now been proved.” Although Syriza has managed to maintain a very high approval rating among the electorate even after the humiliating agreement with the Troika, the violent demonstrations in Athens last Friday suggests that sections of the Greek electorate may soon switch allegiance to other more anti-EU parties if the new government is not seen to make a difference to their everyday lives, something which will not be easy in view of the stark financial statistics. It looks likely that the main pro-EU mainstream parties in Greece will be relegated to the margins for some time yet, during which time anything, including government insolvency or an exit from the Euro, could be on the cards.

Meanwhile, in France, Nicolas Sarkozy’s attempts at a political comeback have continued with a fierce attack on Marine le Pen’s Front National. Sarkozy, who said that Tsipras had had to “eat his hat”, warned that voting for the FN would lead to a similar scenario in France. Such rhetoric, however, has not impressed the electorate. Latest opinion polls show the FN leading on 33%, with the beleaguered Socialists in third place, down to a paltry 19%. As in Greece, another pro-EU mainstream party has taken a hammering.

February ended in Rome with a rally in Rome in support of Italy’s Lega Nord, a one-time partner of UKIP in the European Parliament. Like the FN in France, the Lega is not a party that fits into a tidy pigeonhole. Accounts abound of some pretty unsavoury statements by some senior figures in the party, but its leader Matteo Salvini is gaining in popularity by attacking austerity and labelling Matteo Renzi, the current Italian Prime Minister, a “dumb slave”, the “foolish servant of Brussels”. Opinion polls put the party in third place, quite a comeback for a party that polled a mere 6.2% in last year’s European Parliamentary elections. The party was founded to campaign for a separation of the northern part of Italy (Padania) from the rest of the country. Its revival, according to some commentators, has been built of switching its focus from Rome to Brussels as the source of all evil. Given the continuing popularity of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement, Italy too looks likely to drift further away from the pro-EU mainstream.

Then finally, there is Germany. This weekend, the anti-Euro Alternative für Deutschland party held a convention. Founded by a university professor, Bernd Lucke, AfD seemed a million miles away from the populist parties of the Mediterranean countries at its inception. Unlike Lega Nord or the Front National, AfD has never talked of withdrawal from the EU, but its recent embrace of the Pegida movement is pushing it further away from the bland centre of EU politics. Lucke’s statement that “Islam is foreign to most, or almost all Germans” is remarkably politically incorrect and the prevailing mood of the party delegates appears to be very much on the same lines as that of its leader. They voted by a large majority for a general ban on minarets and burquas.

It would be foolish in the extreme to celebrate the ascendancy of any political party purely because of its opposition to the EU. Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary in particular do seem particularly unsavoury. However, whether these new alternative parties are unpleasant or not, their growing popularity is an indication that the objective of ever close union which lies at the heart of the EU project, is being challenged as never before.

Sometimes, informal discussions between CIB committee members occasionally raise the possibility that we may not have to leave the EU because it may implode from within before we get the chance to vote. While this still remains quite a long shot, recent developments on the Continent suggest it is not perhaps as absurd a scenario as it might sound.

Photo by oscar alexander

Photo by SignorDeFazio

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Tsipras has taken a quick lesson in Euro-speak

Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has proved a quick learner. After less than a month in office, he has finally mastered the great quality of fudge necessary for dealing with the EU institutions. Mind you, it remains to be seen how convinced the Greek people will be that his capitulation to the hated “troika” was a victory. Before last Friday’s capitulation, he enjoyed a level of popular support which most Prime Ministers could only dream of – 75%. Unless the Greek people are particularly gullible, it is hard to imagine his government retaining its popularity for long.

Tsipras’ statement on Friday that “We kept Greece standing and dignified” was a masterpiece of Euro-Speak. He went on to say that the agreement with Eurozone finance ministers “cancels austerity” and added: “In a few days we have achieved a lot, but we have a long road. We have taken a decisive step to change course within the euro zone.” Reality is very different. Tsipras declared Greece was “leaving austerity, the bailouts and the troika behind” but has been forced to continue with austerity and extend the bail-out. As for the hated “troika (the ECB, the IMF and the European Commission), Syriza has secured an agreement not to use the name “troika”, but these three bodies, now referred to as “the institutions” will still oversee Greece’s bailout.

It promised to push through a series of anti-austerity measures including upping the minimum wage, scrapping taxes and re-hiring a number of civil servants. Instead, it has had to promise not to roll back the reforms introduced by previous governments or introduce any controversial measures during the four-month period of negotiations on a new long-term deal. Although Syriza has managed to reduce the agreed level of primary surplus it must achieve and has at least been able to suggest which reforms it would like to implement, they must be agreed by the other Eurozone countries. It is, to all intents and purposes, a total capitulation.

Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance Minister rubbed salt into the wounds when he said, “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream.” In other words, “this immature group of idealists has had to grow up quickly.” Herein lies Syriza’s problem. The party promised the impossible. The country is bust, its main creditors are fellow-EU member states and the only alternative to years of grinding cuts would have been an Iceland-style banking crash which would have forced Greece out of the Eurozone and possibly the EU as well. It would have meant a spike in inflation and things getting even worse before they got better. Faced with these tough choices, Tsipras and his finance minister Yanis Varoufakis blinked and rolled over.

What this will mean to those many Greeks who celebrated the Syriza victory with such enthusiasm less than a month ago remains to be seen. There may be issues within Syriza itself which, as has been pointed out before, is not a monolithic political party but an association or coalition of left-wing factions, some of which may not be willing to go along with this humiliation. PASOK, which Syriza has replaced as the main party of the left, was soon on the attack. “No propaganda mechanism or pirouette can hide the simple fact that they lied to citizens and sold illusions” said Evangelos Venizelos, the party leader.

In summary, Greece has secured for itself a four-month extension to the current deal at the price of an embarrassing climbdown which the party’s leadership has tried to disguise as a victory. It saves Greece’s banks from collapse for the time being while still leaving the most critical question unanswered:- How is a country that may no longer even be able to achieve a primary surplus bring down its vast debt of 175% of GDP? The markets may be happy at Friday’s deal, but it may yet prove a false dawn – a lull in, rather than a termination of, the Eurozone’s woes.
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Syriza wins in Greece. What are the implications for the Eurozone?

As widely expected, the anti-austerity Syriza alliance won the Greek General Election on 25th January. Syriza fell just short of an overall majority, but appears to have secured a deal with the Independent Greeks party to form a new government. This is an unlikely alliance, as this small party is right of centre and agrees with Syriza only on its opposition to the austerity measures imposed on Greece as a condition for a bailout by the so-called “Troika” – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. However, for better or worse, Greece now has a government which has pledged to stand up to its creditors and seek at least a partial forgiveness – or write-off – for the country’s debt, which stands at a staggering 175% of GDP. Given that the Greek people have been through a recession worse than the 1930s and seen GDP shrink by almost 25% in five years, they can hardly be blamed for turning to anyone who promises to offer some hope for the future.

But what are the implications for the country and the eurozone as a whole? The first question is whether the coalition will hold. While Germany is government by a “grand coalition” of left and right, Syriza is not a “mainstream” centre-left social democratic party like Germany’s SPD but an association of Maoists, Trotskyists, Marxists and Greens. It is probably the most left-wing party to have been voted into power in Western Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Independent Greeks, being conservative and nationalistic, are hardly the most obvious or suitable bedfellows for such a party. Any hint that the coalition may collapse before it has even got off the ground will only plunge the country into insecurity and talk of fresh elections. If it does hold, will Alexis Tspiras and his enthusiastic but inexperienced team be able to turn Greece around? Given the amount of ideological far-left baggage the party brings with it into government, this is unlikely. Let’s face it, Marxists, Maoists and Trotskyites don’t have a particularly good record at creating successful, prosperous economies. Venezuela, which boasts one of the world’s most left-wing administrations to have gained power through a (reasonably) democratic process, is currently suffering from an annual inflation rate of over 60% and has had to raise interest rates to over 19% to prevent a currency collapse.

Then comes the tricky question of the relationship with the rest of the EU. Comments on the election results from Northern European Eurozone members have been very stern in tone and quite uncompromising. Angela Merkel has insisted that the new Greek government must stick to the commitments made by its predecessors. Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister and chairman of the Euro Group was equally forthright. He stated that he would work with the new Greek government but there would be no softening of the line on austerity. “Membership of the eurozone also means you comply with all that we have agreed with each other,” he insisted.

Will there be any give and take on either side? Fudge and compromise are part and parcel of EU horse trading. For established political parties and their leaders, it is grist to the mill, but what of a party that has never been in government before? – especially a party that won a victory pledging NOT to compromise? Tsipras’ rhetoric in his victory speech is not the sort of language Brussels likes to hear:- “Greece is leaving behind the destructive austerity, fear and authoritarianism. It is leaving behind five years of humiliation and pain…The verdict of the Greek people, your verdict, annuls today in an indisputable fashion the bailout agreements of austerity and disaster…The verdict of the Greek people renders the troika a thing of the past for our common European framework.” It’s pretty uncompromising stuff, but what if it comes to a standoff? Syriza, like most left-of-centre-parties, claims to be strongly pro-EU, but will Syriza’s more hard-line members and supporters allow Tsipras to be bulldozed buy the EU juggernaut? What if he stands his ground and Greece is expelled from the Eurozone?

While unofficially, some politicians, especially in Germany, state that life would carry on for the other 18 countries without Greece and that a default would not cause the same problems as would have been the case at the height of the Greek debt crisis in 2010-12. But what if Greece then prospers outside the Eurozone? Admittedly, as has been stated, this looks pretty unlikely, but suppose after expulsion Greece, in a subsequent election, voted in a different party that turned the Greek economy around. Would other nations be tempted to leave too?

It is hard to say. Norway and Switzerland have shone for many years as a beacon of light showing how well a nation can do outside the EU completely, but so far, only in the UK are there many people keen to point this out and to suggest that their country ought to follow suit. However, as last May’s European Parliamentary election shows, increasing numbers of people are across the entire continent falling out of love with the EU. Once a nation effects a successful exit from the EU or even the Eurozone, the failure of the whole EU project will become apparent to all and sundry. That is inevitably going to cause a few worries in Brussels, but after years of ignoring referendum results that go the “wrong” way, can the EU élite really be surprised if voters discover other ways of expressing their discontent? General elections are due this year not just on the UK but also in Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Finland Portugal and Spain. In the latter country, a similar hard-left party, Podemos, has been rising in the polls and has also been closely watching Syriza’s progress. “Greeks finally have a government, not a Merkel envoy” was the reaction of one Podemos official to the result. Interesting times ahead, indeed!

Another act in the Greek tragedy?

There will be a General Election in Greece on 25th January and its result will be watched with some degree of apprehension in the rest of the Eurozone.

The Greek Parliament has been dissolved before the end of its term because it has been unable to agree on who the next Greek President should be. The candidate nominated by Antonis Samaras, the Prime Minister, was the former European Commissioner Stavros Dimas. However, in each of three successive ballots, Mr Dimas failed to secure the necessary 180 votes.

The post of President is largely ceremonial, wielding little power. However, the law states that in such circumstances, new elections have to be called, so Greek voters will have to go back to the ballot boxes after barely 2½ years.

The last election, held in June 2012, took place when the country’s strings being pulled by the so-called “Troika” – the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund. Greece was in its fourth year of a recession which saw the country’s economy shrink by 25% overall. The government was bust and the loans provided by the “Troika” came with strings attached – widespread privatisation and a drastic slashing of the state budget including thousands of public sector redundancies. This has caused great hardship for the Greek people. Anecdotal evidence talks of children scavenging for food in school litter bins, a sharp increase in the suicide rate and shortages of essential drugs in Greek hospitals.

At one stage, it appeared that Greece might exit the Euro. The ability to devalue a country’s currency reduces the debt burden and makes exports more competitive. Tied to the single currency, Greece did not have this option. Its government debt was already pretty substantial before crisis struck – in fact, even when Greece applied to join the Euro, the books had to be fiddled to enable the country to meet the necessary criteria. The recession therefore only compounded a long-standing problem.

In the 2012 elections, PASOK, the Greek Socialist party, bore the brunt of the voters’ anger. The dominant party in the period following the end of military rule, it is now a shadow of its former self, polling only 13.2% at the last election and expected to lose half its remaining seats this time round. Like many socialist parties in the EU, its loyalty to the great European project is unwavering. When George Papandreou, the former prime minister and PASOK party leader, provided a rare exception to this rule by threatening to offer the Greek electorate a referendum on the Troika’s austerity policies, opposition from Brussels forced him to resign. Lucas Papademos, a former ECB Vice President, was appointed to succeed him and he became Prime Minister without ever having stood for office in his life. Significantly, Papademos had been Governor of the Greek Central Bank at the time the country made its flawed application to join the Euro.

Although Papademos’ caretaker coalition was eventually replaced by a government headed by Samaras and the centre-right New Democracy Party at the 2012 elections, this has not meant the end of socialism in Greece. Enter the firebrand Marxist Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza party – or rather coalition, as Syriza – Συνασπισμός Ριζοσπαστικής Αριστεράς, (SYnaspismós RIZzospastikís Aristerás) in full, means “Coalition of the Radical Left”. It is a ragbag alliance of, among others, left-wing populists, Greens, Maoists and Trotskyites, all united in their opposition to Troika-imposed austerity. Tsipras once insisted he will tear up the current agreement with the Troika the day Syriza enters office, calling it “barbarous”. He has since toned down his language hut still intends to seek a re-scheduling of Greece’s debt and to reverse the swingeing public sector job cuts imposed in the last two years – a classic socialist “Tax and Spend” policy that Greece can ill afford with its government debt standing at over 175% of GDP. Furthermore, some of Tsipras’ colleagues have not toned down their rhetoric one iota. One Syriza MP, Yiannis Milios, said that whereas “New Democracy and PASOK have decided to pay up, ….we are saying that we might not pay. We might not pay because we will negotiate and say that this [bailout] program is not sustainable.”

In a nation still reeling after six years of harsh recession, Syriza has struck a chord. Even though anyone looking back over the last 100 years of history will recognise that Marxists, Maoists and Trotskyites have a much better track record of creating problems rather than solving them, the party has enjoyed a consistent lead in every opinion poll since the snap election was called. “The future has already begun,” Tsipras proclaimed after the elections were announced. “You should be optimistic and happy.”

Prime Minister Samaras has urged voters not to rock the boat and has warned that a Syriza-led government’s refusal to meet Greece’s debt obligations could lead to a default and ejection from the Euro. This is where things really start to get interesting. Although opposed to austerity, Syriza professes itself to be pro-EU and pro-Euro. However, its support is not unconditional. Panagiotis Lafazanis, the Syriza deputy leader stated in October that the movement must “be ready to implement its progressive programme outside the Eurozone if need be.”

In 2012, a determined effort was made to keep Greece in the Eurozone at all costs for fear of a domino effect if the country defaulted on its debt and returned to the drachma. There were concerns that a default by Spain or Italy might follow which would result in the collapse of the entire single currency. Two and a half years later, the Eurozone is still in a bad way, but the ECB believes the single currency bloc can better withstand the shock of “Grexit”. However, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, writing in the Daily Telegraph (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/comment/ambroseevans_pritchard/11319525/Greek-expulsion-from-the-euro-would-demolish-EMUs-contagion-firewall.html), maintains that the “firewall” is nowhere near as robust as senior EU politicians believe it to be. The evidence suggests he is correct. There is great alarm in Germany at the prospect of a Syriza victory. Wolfgang Schäuble, the German finance minister, made it clear that in his view, “there is no alternative. If Greece takes another path, it will be difficult. New elections will not change the agreements we have struck with the Greek government. Any new government will have to stick to the agreements made by its predecessor.”

Yiannis Milios replied that Germany was seeking to overturn Greek democracy. “Nothing is stronger than the sovereignty of the people”, he said. “If the Greek people decide to change policy by voting for Syriza, we are obliged to respect the people’s will. Mr Schäuble is forgetting this democratic principle.” It is interesting that George Papandreou has returned from the dead, leading a new party called “Allagi”. In spite of his offer of a referendum on the austerity measures in 2011, Papandreou is still viewed by the electorate as a spineless individual who caved in to the Troika. He is unlikely to receive many votes, but could it be that he is acting as a “spoiler” for Syriza? Indeed, in view of a recent piece in Huffington Post, allegedly written by Papandreou which encouraged meek acceptance of the Troika’s austerity measures, some commentators are wondering whether his attempts at a comeback is being sponsored by the EU or even the USA in a desperate attempt to derail Syriza.

But even in the unlikely event of this move succeeding, waiting in the wings in Spain is Podemos, another recently formed far-left party which came out of nowhere to win 5 out of 54 Spanish seats in the European Parliamentary elections. The party’s name translates into English as “We can”, which hints of Barack Obama, but its role model is rather Alexis Tsipras. On hearing of the news that elections were to be held in Greece, Pablo Iglesias, the leader of Podemos tweeted, “2015 will be the year of change in Spain and Europe. We will start from Greece. Come on, Alexis! Come on, Syriza!”

The Eurozone might survive the departure of Greece, but Spain, where elections are due to be held later this year, is a different matter. Like Syriza, Podemos is pro-EU and even reasonably pro-Euro, but what if Syriza wins this election in Greece, maintains its stance against the Troika, precipitates a Greek expulsion from the Eurozone and then a Greek recovery? Podemos might then alter its stance on the Euro. Meanwhile, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy and Marine le Pen’s Front National in France make no pretensions to be pro-Euro. They too would benefit politically from a successful “Grexit”.

As we have noted, the powers-that-be in Brussels will do their utmost firstly to deny Syriza victory and if this fails, will try to persuade Tsipras to compromise, but it is only a matter of time before one anti-establishment party in an EU member state will find itself in power and will refuse to give in to pressure. With opposition to the EU rising in much of Western Europe, the forthcoming election in Greece looks set to herald a particularly fascinating and unpredictable period in politics. On this note, Happy New Year!