ROME – European anti-establishment parties of all political colours are rallying behind Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in his standoff with creditors, which threatens to force Athens out of the eurozone and undermine the single currency.
Parties with virtually nothing in common except a rejection of EU-imposed austerity are hoping public sympathy for Greece and its radical leftist leader will translate into a backlash against traditional parties and a boost in their own support.
Tsipras’s battle has united parties as diverse as Spain’s left-wing Podemos, the anti-immigrant Northern League and the grassroots 5-Star Movement in Italy, France’s far-right National Front and the anti-EU United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).
They all cheered Tsipras for rejecting the creditors’ cash-for-reforms offer on Saturday and calling a referendum on the proposal, a move that appalled the mainstream parties represented in the other 18 eurozone governments.
Podemos (We Can), which vies for supremacy with the Popular Party and Socialists in Spain and triumphed at mayoral elections in May, said Tsipras was “exemplary” in calling a referendum in the face of “blackmail” on the part of the lenders.
“Today in Europe there are two opposing forces: austerity and democracy, government by the people or government by the markets and unelected bodies. We are with democracy, we are with the Greek people,” the party said in a statement on Monday.
Podemos, led by charismatic, pony-tailed politics professor Pablo Iglesias, is at least ideologically close to Syriza, unlike many parties now clambering onto its bandwagon. Both movements are left-wing and say they support the euro but want to change the economic policies that underpin the currency bloc.
Marine Le Pen’s National Front (FN), one of the main opposition forces in France, is on the other end of the political spectrum but also welcomed Tsipras’s election victory in January in the hope it would help undermine the euro.
Its reaction on Monday to the latest rupture between Greece and its creditors was enthusiastic.
“I hope we will soon be seeing the first historic setback for the European Union,” FN’s vice president, Florian Philippot, said, adding that a Greek euro exit would “show that the progress of this devilish project is not inevitable”.
In Italy, where anti-euro sentiment has grown steadily during seven years of stagnation and recession, the two main opposition parties both want Rome to quit the single currency.
Northern League leader Matteo Salvini, who in the last year has eclipsed former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as the dominant figure on Italy’s right, said Greece’s difficulties were “first and foremost the failure of Europe.”
“With a currency that doesn’t work there is nothing that can be done,” he said, while applauding Tsipras for “holding his head high” and not bowing to the demands of Greece’s creditors.
The 5-Star Movement, which opinion polls say is Italy’s second largest party behind Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD), said Tsipras was paving the way for a broader revolt against austerity on Europe’s southern rim.
“Very soon southern Europe will definitively break the chains of the euro and austerity,” 5-Star’s parliamentarians wrote on the blog of the party’s leader Beppe Grillo.
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia says the EU is trying to undemocratically force Tsipras from power just as they say it forced Berlusconi out of office in Italy at the height of the eurozone debt crisis in 2011.
It is too early to say whether these disparate movements can really galvanize support from the Greek crisis. Much will depend on whether Greece actually leaves the single currency and how it fares on its own if it does.
Public opinion toward Athens is also divided and varies strongly around the eurozone countries.
Portugal, which exited its own €78 billion bailout last year, has held a tough line on Greece and has seen no significant anti-establishment movements. The only anti-euro party are the Communists, with less than 10 percent of the vote.
In Ireland, an austerity poster child that has returned to strong growth after exiting a €64 billion ($71 billion) bailout in 2013, the leftist opposition has fiercely criticised the government’s tough line on Greece, while public opinion appears divided.
Even more hostile to Greece are the Baltic states, which have far lower average salaries and pensions and resent what they see as Athens’ fiscal irresponsibility.
The Baltics have no significant anti-establishment movements and even originally anti-euro parties such as the pro-Russian Concord party, the largest in the Latvian parliament, has no sympathy for Greece.
“The Greeks cheated before and after joining the eurozone and they are cheating now,” Janis Urbanovics, chairman of the Concord’s parliamentary group told Reuters on Monday. “The question is not whether Greece will leave the eurozone, but whether it will remain and blow up the eurozone.”