Syriza is a vital actor in the Eurozone Crisis. Synaspismos, a coalition of liberal parties founded in 1991 became Syriza as it gained legitimacy in 2004. The party steadily rose in popularity until January 2015, when it won a majority in the Greek parliament with a coalition government. It was originally created as a coalition of different left-wing parties and now serves as the far-left party, ideologically between the Communist (KKE) and center-left (PASOK) parties.
The issue most important to the January 2015 election cycle was a solution to the financial crisis, which had begun to seriously escalate. Alexis Tsipras, the party chairman and Prime Minister, planned to present a resolution to the crisis and relief for the high unemployment rate and skyrocketing debt. Tsipras is a commanding leader with a reformist and progressive agenda. Although he has his faults, he is one of the best people to hopefully negotiate an agreement on debt relief or restructuring questions.
Outside of the political sphere, Tsipras is unique. In addition to his egalitarian economic policies, he has social views that are much more progressive than those of the average Greek person. For example, he is a proponent of gay marriage, an issue that is not even remotely discussed in Greece.
In addition, in a country where the church is very visible and an integral part of official life, he has distanced himself from the strong role that the Greek Orthodox Church plays in the state. Greek public schools teach religion as a compulsory class, and the Greek Church is linked with the Department of Education. Tsipras, for example, politely declined when the Archbishop requested to officiate his inauguration ceremony, declaring that he is an atheist. He is one of a number of European atheist leaders, including Francois Hollande.
Although Syriza’s victory was lauded by left-wing leaders throughout Europe, such as François Hollande, and the leaders of Spain and Germany’s leftist parties, the German establishment did not have a similarly positive perspective. Germany is the de facto fiscal leader of the EU because its economy is the strongest and its GDP the highest in Europe.
Tsipras continued to emphasize the importance of a solution to the Greek debt crisis from the beginning of his term with his first official state visit to Italy, where he discussed the austerity measures spearheaded by the European Commission, with the Italian Prime Minister.
The Greek people had great confidence in Tsipras at the beginning of his term and continue to do so, believing that he is one of their only hopes for debt relief. The global financial crisis has caused the Greek economy to contract greatly, decreasing GDP, which is exacerbated by austerity measures imposed by the European Commission.
In late June 2015, Greece became the first European country to default on an IMF payment. The German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, talked of a temporary Grexit. Negotiations turned sour, triggering capital controls and a much-discussed referendum in which Tsipras asked the Greek people their opinion on the obligatory austerity measures.
Greeks opposed the measures enacted by the European Central Bank and the European Commission by a large margin, and Tsipras was forced to argue for a similar agreement to the original deal he had rejected.
Since it was generally agreed that it was crucial for Greece to remain in the Eurozone, the Eurogroup (the Finance Minsters of Eurozone countries) called for serious austerity measures such as privatization of government-sponsored entities, cutting of pensions, and VAT (value-added tax, or consumption tax) increases.
The Greek government then had to ratify this deal and was generally against these terms. This resulted in Tsipras losing half of his own party’s support and his subsequent resignation. In the aftermath, he called for a snap election, and achieved a majority in Parliament, winning 35% of the vote. Tsipras continues to work toward debt relief for the Greek people with the goal of improving Greece’s economic state of affairs.