From the devastating and ruthless austerity measures foisted upon the people, to the rise of the far-right in the shape of Golden Dawn, Greece is going through one of its darkest hours.
Now the Greek government is set to take over the European council's rotating presidency for six months with a promise to foster growth and prioritise the issue of migration. While prime minister Antonis Samaras has bowed to the troika and failed to offer any alternative to the shifting of economic burdens from the financial sector towards the poorest, I nonetheless see some potential for a change in emphasis during the presidency of a country that has suffered so much from blatant and irresponsible 'Merkelnomics'. Whether the opportunity to raise the serious problems posed by Europe's response to the crisis is taken remains to be seen. If such political courage were to prevail, the benefits to peripheral and memorandum countries could be considerable.
Meanwhile, in the European parliament, the economic affairs committee is set to begin an investigation into the conduct of the troika in the four so-called 'bailout' countries – Greece, Portugal, Cyprus and Ireland. My group will be very active on this issue over the coming months as we have been highlighting for a long time the lack of democratic accountability surrounding the troika and the disastrous effects its policies are having on economies and societies, most notably for young people and women. This is related to our work on the social dimension of economic and monetary union and the catastrophic consequences of neglecting this. Youth unemployment is clearly the most pressing concern (currently and outrageously at 60 per cent in Greece) yet sufficient measures backed up by hard cash for investment is still lacking. A key priority for us on the left will be monitoring any renewed threat to workers' rights.
With a renewed focus on migration set to be pushed by Athens, fighting the expansion of 'fortress Europe' and the criminalisation of migrants will be one of the left's strategic challenges over the next year. GUE/NGL opposes the externalisation of EU borders through cooperation with third countries and is working for a common European asylum system that ensures all who seek asylum will benefit from a humane standard of treatment.
This year will be a special year in terms of remembering the violent history of Europe and building a future in which such destruction is no longer possible. Our group will host a world war one commemoration and peace initiative in the European parliament to look back on the events of one hundred years ago.
At the same time, next May's European elections are fast approaching. More than ever, these elections will shape what type of EU we want to have. The left will defend social justice, equality, democracy, human rights, and solidarity within the EU but there are serious questions about what kind of right-wing we will be faced with in the next legislature. [pullquote]With EU leaders' austerity dogma continuing to breed fear and hate, we could see a sizeable group of radical right MEPs seeking to challenge even the most fundamental of human rights[/pullquote]. The Greek people, with their proud antifascist traditions, have been at the coalface in dealing with the rise of the far right recently. Samaras and the rest of the EU leaders would do well to consider this threat as yet another reason for abandoning and reversing their perverse and failed austerity obsession.