What Really Happened In Greece

And What Will Come Next

A Greek presidential guard performs a ceremonial march at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the parliament building in Athens, Greece, September 12, 2015. Paul Hanna / Reuters

When the radical leftist party Syriza won a victory in snap elections in Greece in January 2015, many observers hailed it as a major challenge to the politics of austerity in the eurozone and to Germany’s hegemony in Europe.

Fast-forward a few months: An intense five-month negotiation led to a cliffhanger, with Greek banks shutting down, a snap referendum in which a large majority rejected austerity, and a Grexit seemingly closer than ever. And then, Greece’s government pulled a 180 degree turn and accepted a new bailout deal, one that extends the fiscal adjustment and structural reforms that were part of the previous deals and provides for extensive supervision by the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the IMF (with the addition now of the European Stability Mechanism). What is more, the Greek parliament approved this package with an unprecedented and overwhelming majority. The decision met with a notable absence of social unrest.

The latest episode in the saga is yet another snap election, set for September 20, this one following the resignation of Greek Prime Minister and Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras.

Greek former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves during a meeting with members of his Syriza party in Athens, August 29, 2015.
Greek former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waves during a meeting with members of his Syriza party in Athens, August 29, 2015. Stoyan Nenov / Reuters
To understand why and how the government reversed course and what will happen next, it is worth reexamining three critical moments: when, in October 2014, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras failed to live up to the terms of the second bailout; when, in January 2015, a snap election propelled a young and untested radical leftist politician, Tsipras, into power, followed by a protracted negotiation between Greece and the eurozone; and when, in July of the same year, a referendum in Greece threatened to blow up the common European currency but led instead to Tsipras’ capitulation.

TEST CASE                                                                                                         

On May 24, 2014, Greeks went to the polls to select representatives to the European parliament. The vote was considered to be a test for the coalition government made up of the center–right party New Democracy and the center–left party PASOK, which had ruled Greece since the summer of 2012. The government, under Prime Minister

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