ATHENS -- The strong mandate he got from the polls, has put a burden on Mr. Tsipras to fulfill the great expectations he produced. If he succeeds, the Spanish Podemos, the French Front National and Italy's Bepe Grillo could all follow suit and question Berlin's fiscal orthodoxy. The much feared domino effect set off by Greece at the outset of euro crisis in 2010 could now materialize in another way.
Europe should count itself lucky that a leftwing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who've had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right. If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe's financial markets, the EU's smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the winning Syriza coalition, says he doesn't want Greece to leave the Euro. He just wants Europe's leaders to renegotiate Greece's debt. It's about time. This crisis could have ended years ago with far less suffering for ordinary people who had no responsibilities for the offending policies. Greece, after all, has about two percent of the EU's total economic product -- and it has about 25 percent less than it had before the crisis. Writing off Greece's debt outright would have cost peanuts, and still would.
What is feared today is not the loss of any particular country to foreign conquest, but the loss of an imagined entity that binds us together. The Occident is a central piece of our mental maps and our cultural inventory. In a very visceral sense, Europeans are seized by fears of decline and by memories of cultural blossoming. Those fears culminate in the belief that our cathedrals will eventually turn into mosques, that their bells will fall silent and will be replaced by the cries of the muezzin.
Worries about the return of history's ghosts so far have been unfounded, at least as far as Germany is concerned. Though the global financial crisis and its effects on Europe have de facto turned Germany into an economic hegemon, it is not a role that the government sought or relishes. The reunited Germany remains a peaceful democracy, recognizes all neighboring borders and remains firmly anchored in NATO and the European Union.
The "Chlorhuhn" chicken symbolizes the fears triggered by a proposed free trade agreement. The fear is that foreign products will push out local goods, and that health standards will drop. We are also having an argument about the way the major Internet companies mine and use data -- with the danger that they will turn us into transparent human beings. But one thing we do agree on is that unrestricted monitoring of communications by secret services can destroy the Internet as a space of liberty. Google's Eric Schmidt rightly described this practice as "outrageous."
There was a bit of good news from Europe last week. Two of the nations that desperately need some respite from austerity essentially told German Chancellor Merkel to stuff it. France, under pressure from Germany and the European Union to meet the E.U.'s straightjacket requirement of deficits of no more than three percent of GDP (whether or not depression looms) informed the E.U. that they will not hit this target until 2017. The government of President Francois Hollande, under fire for failing to ignite a recovery, now plans economic stimulus measures -- and the target be damned. Under E.U. rules, France can be fined up to 0.2 percent of its GDP. The French seem to be saying, 'So sue us!'