Has the sun set on Golden Dawn?

Whatever the crackdown against Golden Dawn means for Greece, the hope is now rekindled that the EU might be starting to see the rise of the far right as the threat that it is.

More than 20 members of the Greek neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn were arrested in late September. This unprecedented crackdown on the far right followed public outrage at the murder of the anti-fascist musician Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, by a self-proclaimed Golden Dawn member. Greece’s public prosecutor labelled the party a criminal organisation and among those arrested were its leader, Nikos Michaloliakos; his deputy, Christos Pappas; the spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris; the press officer Ilias Panagiotaros; and the man touted to be the link between the parliamentary team and the party’s activists, Ioannis Lagos.

The public prosecutor’s report links Golden Dawn to multiple offences, including trafficking, kidnapping, money laundering and extortion, but the main charges remain those of multiple accounts of murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. The prosecutor argues that the party’s strict, almost military structure strongly suggests that every hit was carried out as a result of orders from higher up.

The testimonies of two ex-members paint a picture of hardcore groups undergoing special-forces-like training in order to carry out brutal, sometimes deadly, attacks on leftists and immigrants.

The Greek government’s reaction might seem to imply it has woken up to the truth about Golden Dawn’s practices, but in reality the government’s hand was forced by pressure from Brussels following the murder of Fyssas.

In Athens people are feeling pessimistic. This is for two reasons. On the one hand, two Golden Dawn MPs, Kasidiaris and Panagiotaros, were released on bail, a first for anyone charged with helping to lead a criminal organisation. As Anny Paparousou, a Greek lawyer with expertise in the field, told me, “This will definitely shift the weight of the trial to their favour when the time comes, as they will walk in as free men.”

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is reportedly furious at the public prosecutor for his decision and insiders say he almost sacked two ministers over the incident. Many analysts now believe that Greece won’t see the convictions many wish for. That the name of one of the witnesses under protection was accidentally leaked to Kasidiaris shows how hastily everything was put together. A positive result for Golden Dawn would cement the party’s support for years to come.

On the other hand, Chrysanthos Lazaridis, a senior adviser to the prime minister, has stated that Golden Dawn and Greece’s leading left-wing party, Syriza, are “the same thing”, hinting that leftists and anarchists will face persecution, too.

Elsewhere in Europe, as in Greece, the best bet for defeating far-right extremism will be to deal not only with openly fascist groups but also with those that paved the way for parties such as Golden Dawn by legitimising hellish detention camps for immigrants, by prosecuting activists in Skouries simply for opposing the destruction of their natural environment, and by adopting racist rhetoric to try to win back right-wing voters.

Whatever the crackdown against Golden Dawn means for Greece, the hope is now rekindled that the EU might be starting to see the rise of the far right as the threat that it is.

It is shameful that the Greek government and the European leadership have pretended they didn’t know what was happening. Now, they have run out of excuses.

Members of the Greek far-right ultra nationalist party Golden Dawn (Chryssi Avghi) demonstrate outside the Turkish consulate in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki during the visit of the leader of the Turkish ultra-nationalist group Grey Wolves, Devl

Yiannis Baboulias is a Greek investigative journalist. His work on politics, economics and Greece, appears in the New Statesman, Vice UK and others.

This article first appeared in the 11 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Iran vs Israel

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After Article 50 is triggered, what happens next?

The UK must prepare for years, if not decades, of negotiating. 

Back in June, when Europe woke to the news of Brexit, the response was muted. “When I first emerged from my haze to go to the European Parliament there was a big sign saying ‘We will miss you’, which was sweet,” Labour MEP Seb Dance remembered at a European Parliament event in London. “The German car industry said we don’t want any disruption of trade.”

But according to Dance – best known for holding up a “He’s Lying” sign behind Nigel Farage’s head – the mood has hardened with the passing months.

The UK is seen as demanding. The Prime Minister’s repeated refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is viewed as toxic. The German car manufacturers now say the EU is more important than British trade. “I am afraid that bonhomie has evaporated,” Dance said. 

On 31 March the UK will trigger Article 50. Doing so will end our period of national soul-searching and begin the formal process of divorce. So what next?

The European Parliament will have its say

In the EU, just as in the UK, the European Parliament will not be the lead negotiator. But it is nevertheless very powerful, because MEPs can vote on the final Brexit deal, and wield, in effect, a veto.

The Parliament’s chief negotiator is Guy Verhofstadt, a committed European who has previously given Remoaners hope with a plan to offer them EU passports. Expect them to tune in en masse to watch when this idea is revived in April (it’s unlikely to succeed, but MEPs want to discuss the principle). 

After Article 50 is triggered, Dance expects MEPs to draw up a resolution setting out its red lines in the Brexit negotiations, and present this to the European Commission.

The European Commission will spearhead negotiations

Although the Parliament may provide the most drama, it is the European Commission, which manages the day-to-day business of the EU, which will lead negotiations. The EU’s chief negotiator is Michel Barnier. 

Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He has said of the negotiations: “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

This will be a “deal” of two halves

The Brexit divorce is expected to take 16 to 18 months from March (although this is simply guesswork), which could mean Britain officially Brexits at the start of 2019.

But here’s the thing. The divorce is likely to focus on settling up bills and – hopefully – agreeing a transitional arrangement. This is because the real deal that will shape Britain’s future outside the EU is the trade deal. And there’s no deadline on that. 

As Dance put it: “The duration of that trade agreement will exceed the life of the current Parliament, and might exceed the life of the next as well.”

The trade agreement may look a bit like Ceta

The European Parliament has just approved the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) with Canada, a mammoth trade deal which has taken eight years to negotiate. 

One of the main stumbling points in trade deals is agreeing on similar regulatory standards. The UK currently shares regulations with the rest of the UK, so this should speed up the process.

But another obstacle is that national or regional parliaments can vote against a trade deal. In October, the rebellious Belgian region of Wallonia nearly destroyed Ceta. An EU-UK deal would be far more politically sensitive. 

The only way is forward

Lawyers working for the campaign group The People’s Challenge have argued that it will legally be possible for the UK Parliament to revoke Article 50 if the choice is between a terrible deal and no deal at all. 

But other constitutional experts think this is highly unlikely to work – unless a penitent Britain can persuade the rest of the EU to agree to turn back the clock. 

Davor Jancic, who lectures on EU law at Queen Mary University of London, believes Article 50 is irrevocable. 

Jeff King, a professor of law at University College London, is also doubtful, but has this kernel of hope for all the Remainers out there:

“No EU law scholar has suggested that with the agreement of the other 27 member states you cannot allow a member state to withdraw its notice.”

Good luck chanting that at a march. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.