European leaders can only look on as Greeks cast their ballots in a historic vote. There are fears that a far-left election victory would have far-reaching consequences for Europe's common currency.
European leaders on Saturday braced themselves for the outcome of Sunday's parliamentary election in Greece, which could determine not only that country's political direction but also the future of the eurozone.
Luxembourg's prime minister, Jean-Claude Juncker, warned of serious consequences if the SYRIZA party emerges as Sunday's big winner.
"If the radical left wins - which cannot be ruled out - the consequences for the currency union are unforeseeable," Juncker told the Austrian daily newspaper Kurier.
"We will have to speak to any government. I can only warn everyone against leaving the currency union. The internal cohesion of the eurozone would be in danger," added Juncker, who is also head of the Eurogroup, which brings together eurozone finance ministers.
SYRIZA firebrand leader Alexis Tsipras has raised fears among eurozone leaders by saying that if his party forms Greece's next government, it will throw out the current terms of the country's 130-billion euro ($164 billion) international bailout.
While Tsipras has said he wants Greece to continue to use the bloc's common currency, the euro, he has also said that it should not have to comply with the harsh terms of the agreement. Instead, he has said he would seek to reopen negotiations in an effort to win more favorable terms.
This idea doesn't sit well with politicians in places like Germany.
“If the radical left carries on saying it wants the help of all the other countries in the eurozone but does not offer anything in return, then it will only be a matter of time before Greece exits" said Wolfgang Bosbach, a senior member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in an interview to be published in Sunday's edition of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
Need for Athens to keep promises
Chancellor Merkel herself used a speech on Saturday to stress the importance of Greek voters electing a government that will live up it to Athens' commitment to continue efforts to bring down the country's deficit. This is a key condition for Greece to continue receiving funds under a second international bailout, which has kept Athens financially afloat.
"It cannot be ... that what comes out in the end is that those who don't keep to an agreement can, so to speak, lead everyone else through the arena by the nose ring," Merkel told a conference of the CDU in the west German city of Darmstadt.
"This is why it is so important that, in the Greek election tomorrow ... a result emerges in which those who form a government in the future tell us, yes, we want to keep to the agreements," she added. "This is the basis on which Europe can prosper."
The last opinion polls published two weeks prior to Sunday's vote put SYRIZA neck and neck with the conservative New Democracy party, which is committed to the bailout agreement and the austerity measures linked to it.
The polls opened at 6:00 a.m. local time on Sunday and will close 12 hours later.
pfd/slk/tj (AFP, Reuters, dpa)