Syriza teams up with right-wing Independent party | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 27.01.2015
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Syriza teams up with right-wing Independent party

Alexis Tsipras, the new Greek prime minister, has formed a coalition with the right-wing populist Independent Greeks. Opposition to Europe's imposed austerity has been the one issue to consistently unite the parties.

As political weddings go, this one was not completely unexpected. Just like the ruling left-wing Syriza party, the Independent Greeks also sometimes refer to Greece's international creditors as "occupiers." Both parties are vehement opponents of the austerity course laid out by the EU, the European Central Bank, and the IMF. And both also agree that Germany still owes Greece reparations from World War II.

The parties have grown closer since 2012, when both voted against former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras' austerity program. Since then, they've barely been seen to attack each other in parliament. Now, the Independent Greeks have helped the new left-wing Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (right in photo) form a majority government.

Their position on austerity aside, there is little common ground to unite the parties on other key issues. The right-wing populists are against the separation of church and state, call for tax relief to spur investment, and would deport undocumented immigrants. These are all positions that most Syriza supporters would reject.

"There are fundamental differences between the two political camps, especially with regard to foreign policy and immigration policy, and that is bound to become an issue," said Alexis Papachelas, executive editor of the daily Kathimerini newspaper. Their very cooperation is likely to be seen abroad as a position of intransigence against Greece's creditors, he added. "At the same time, in an era of economic crisis politicians are always good for a surprise. We've often seen politicians change their minds about an issue once they're in power," Papachelas said.

Political one-man show

Among the Independent Greeks, one man's opinion carries extra weight: that of party leader Panos Kammenos (left in photo). The former deputy shipping minister founded the party in 2012 after he was forced to leave the governing conservatives because of his vocal opposition to austerity measures. Today, his party has the added allure of celebrity. Among his colleagues are the TV personality Terence Quick, former beauty queen Helena Kountoura and popular Greek comedian Pavlos Haikalis. In the European Parliament, the Independent Greeks work closely with the nationalist UK Independence Party, which is against mainstream European immigration policies. Notis Marias of the Independent Greeks is also chairman of the parliamentary faction of European Conservatives and Reformists. But that doesn't stop him from attending the odd press conference of the Greek leftists in the EU parliament.

On a personal level, Kammenos is known for being very friendly. At the same time, he's a master of populist campaigning. A few days before the election, he railed against the "austerity dictatorship" of the international creditors and Greece's growing poverty, which has forced many people to seek a better future elsewhere. "We will bring your children back home," he told a visibly moved audience. Greek Independent MP Nikos Nikolopoulos is an equally passionate campaigner. At a speech in the western Peloponnese, he said he was fighting to "free the country" from creditors and return national sovereignty to Greece. Nikolopoulos promised voters nothing less than a "Europe of the people," in contrast to a "market dictatorship."

Scandals and intrigue

Kammenos has long made himself a name in foreign policy, though here, too, he has courted controversy. In December 2011, he appeared before a military court to defend elite soldiers accused of racism and hate speech. In the 1990s, he published a much-vaunted book about international terrorism that continues to cause him headaches today. That's because the unknown author of the text has come forth to demand payment. What's worse, the ghostwriter is rumored to be Giorgos Georgalas, a journalist with nationalist tendencies and former spokesman for the Greek military junta that was in power from 1967 to 1974. Kammenos denies that he ever had a deal with Georgalas. Independent MP Pavlos Haikalis has also been making headlines for accusing an advisor of offering him 3 million euros to vote for the previous government's presidential candidate in the failed election in December. He said the bribe was offered by none other than former Prime Minister Samaras, but later dropped the accusation after secretly filmed footage surfaced of him meeting with a dubious middleman.

The former Independent politician Rachel Makri no longer wants to be involved with such intrigue. She left the party at the end of 2014 after filing a complaint against Kammenos alleging that he had failed to conform to party rules. Since then, she has switched her support to Syriza.

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