Mainstream governments are facing difficult times. For the last two years, there has been an avalanche of crises. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed governments worldwide in a precarious position. In the beginning, the dilemma was between saving the economy or the people.
In EU countries like France and Greece a clear choice was made to save the people. Social cohesion came first. At the same time, lockdowns were difficult to support psychologically, especially for the vulnerable. There was a glimmer of hope. Vaccines arrived and were found to be effective. We all assumed that the game was over and that we should resume our normal lives.
Unfortunately, this did not occur. A new crisis erupted almost immediately. For millions of people the highest inflation in decades has made daily life a struggle. The cost of basic goods skyrocketed. In January 2022, I could buy a souvlaki with pita in Athens for 2.5€. In July 2022, the price will have risen to 3.4 €. This is a 36 per cent increase in a Eurozone country like Greece. A few years ago, it would have been considered a black swan scenario, practically improbable.
In the past the Eurozone’s adoption of a single currency aimed, among other things, at containing inflation and protecting purchasing power. Nevertheless, the old nightmare has reappeared two decades later and month on month prices rose especially in energy. This time due to the February Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow, is using natural gas as a weapon to apply pressure on Western democracies. It wants them to stop assistance to the Ukrainians, or at least, stop them imposing economic sanctions against Russia. However, from a systemic standpoint, this undermines and destabilizes western societies and governments. It takes advantage of people’s everyday problems and collapses their purchasing power. Democratic institutions and common logic appear vulnerable in this asymmetric war, as Moscow attempts to undermine them from the bottom up.
Europe, especially Greece, will reach a tipping point in the coming winter, it will determine whether Greek and French democracies are strong enough to resist and survive under such difficult conditions.
High inflation and the energy crisis appear to be creating ideal conditions for populist political parties to grow electorally and even gain power. The right wing Giorgia Meloni, could become Italy’s next Prime Minister. In Sweden, social democrats just lost elections. A few months ago Emmanuel Macron lost his parliamentary majority in France, and according to polls, the Greek conservative prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, may lose his parliamentary majority in the coming months.
Unlike in France, where coalition governments have a long history, a coalition of conservative parties does not appear to be a viable option in Greece. Any chance of working together appears to be impossible due to the Mediterranean temperament and strong egos. As a result, Macron and Mistotakis are walking on eggshells, at least for the time being. Politics are like quicksand, and everything can change in a split second. This happened before and it is bound to happen again.
Despite this the French-Greek relationship appears stronger than ever. On September 6, France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met with her Greek colleague Nikos Dendias, to underscore France’s close relationship with Athens. Then Emmanuel Macron received Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the Elysée Palace a few days later.
For now, consistency between Paris and Athens can be viewed as the best option in this complicated period for both the nations’ leaders. Particularly true given the likelihood that this winter will be worse for both France and Greece. The whole of Europe will be frozen according to a propaganda video released by Russia – mainly as Russian gas is cut off. Commodity prices may rise further triggering a chain reaction, and voters in France and Greece could be swayed by populist candidates and their political parties. Political stability in Athens and Paris will be critical in the coming months and should continue until the storm passes.
Dr George Tassiopoulos is a political scientist, with a PhD in Political Science from the University of East Paris. Born in Athens, he has lived in France for the past 20 years and teaches geopolitics in a business school in Paris.