The dust settles on Greece, but where does it go from here?

New Democracy must now form a coalition, and the EU has a contradiction to resolve

The New Democracy party has won the Greek legislative elections with 29.7 per cent on the vote, narrowly beating the radical left-wing party SYRIZA, which earned 26.9 per cent, in what is widely seen as a referendum on the Greek people's acceptance of the EU-imposed austerity package.

Under Greek electoral law, ND is awarded an extra 50 parliamentary seats for coming in first place, which means it has 129 seats overall. A viable coalition requires at least 150, however, so it will still have to find a coalition partner. It is most likely to join forces with the centre-left party, PASOK, previously its major opponent in fights for the centre-ground of Greek politics but now an uneasy bedfellow as implementing the European memorandum (which ties the Greek government to large spending cuts) takes priority.

A PASOK-ND coalition would have 162 seats, and appears likely to be topped up with another 17 from the Democratic Left party (DIMAR), formed of ex-PASOK and SYRIZA MPs. There are several hurdles to be overcome before this coalition can be put in place, not least of which is the self-serving nature of PASOK itself.

Reports from Greece indicate that PASOK's leaders are only too aware that being in charge of a second round of crippling spending cuts could destroy their electoral base, particularly when they have such a viable contender for the left's votes in the form of SYRIZA. As a result, senior figures at PASOK are suggesting that they won't join a coalition unless SYRIZA joins as well - something which the radical left is unlikely to countenance.

While it seems likely that PASOK are only making such a demand out of a desire not to seem too eager to run into the arms of their former enemies, it highlights the difficulty this coalition will have in doing anything not related to the near-state of emergency that Greece is currently experiencing. Many of the more pessamistic analysts and commentators are predicting a breakdown in relations before the end of the year, leading to a third set of elections – one which SYRIZA would almost certainly win.

Even if the full ND-PASOK-DIMAR coalition comes about, all Greece has achieved today is a return to the status quo of earlier this year. Greece remains in the euro for the foreseeable future, but the root of its problems with the EU are no closer to being addressed. The austerity which the coalition will impose will keep Germany and the ECB happy, which will keep money flowing into the country for the time being (an undoubtedly good thing, since reports had suggested that Greece was likely to run out of money to pay its public sector around mid-July without more European funds), but eventually that spigot will have to be turned off.

In addition, the bank jog which could see Greece being mechanically ejected from the single currency won't stop just because SYRIZA came in second place. Deposits have been steadily flowing out of Greek banks since 2009, and if too many euro end up in German banks, the Greek banking sector could fail in one go. 

Even the surface level negotiations – the ones which don't solve the underlying contradictions, but merely provide the funding and credibility for Greece to carry on as it has – could go in any number of directions. The troika (the European Central Bank, the European Commission, and the IMF) is likely to head to the country as soon as there is someone to negotiate with, and there have been reports that they are likely to give the Greek people a "reward" for being co-operative. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle suggested that the coutnry may be given more time to repay its debts, and the Financial Times last week claimed that the EU was preparing to offer Greece discounted loans if New Democracy won the elections.

When the dust settles, the European Union will find that it has to decide whether it heads down the road of ever deeper fiscal integration, turning Greece into 

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496