Greece is almost one month away from the crucial European Parliament elections of 2019, yet both the government and opposition have turned the political debate into a frenzy of scandal-talk, diverting public opinion by their endless bickering.
To a certain degree, this is to be expected, as the results of the European Parliament and local government elections – held at the same time – reflect the intentions of voters before Greece’s national elections in October.
Syriza came first in both elections in May of 2014, which was a precursor of the victory of the leftist party in the January, 2015 Greek national elections.
However, this May things look quite different if opinion polls are any indication. The New Democracy Party has been far ahead of SYRIZA for some time in the polls, showing as much as a two-digit margin over the reigning party in some surveys.
As a result, Maximos Mansion has brought the alleged Novartis scandal to the top of the national agenda.
Both Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis have taken the gloves off in their campaigns. Instead of talking about issues, they seem to be involved in a relentless war of accusations regarding scandals and corruption.
Most of the allegations put forth by both sides are nothing more than mud-slinging, with both parties denying that they have had any part in the alleged wrongdoings, naturally.
It is a war which neither party will win, and the allegations and slander will linger until election day. Some undecided voters will believe that the scandals are real and cast their ballot for one of the two sides. Yet there is a certain loser in this war — and that is the Greek people.
This year’s European Parliamentary elections are very important, certainly more crucial than those of 2014. There are grave issues which need a strong European Parliament to resolve them by passing the appropriate legislation.
The enormous influx of migrants, the rise of populism and nationalism in some countries, Brexit repercussions, and terrorism rank high in importance at this crucial time in European history.
However, the environment, Turkey’s constant jousting regarding sea and airspace with Greece (and thereby its borders with the EU), are subjects which are also far more worthy of discussion than the supposed scandals which have filled the airwaves and the pages of newspapers recently.
The rise of euroscepticism, the very future of the European union and, of course, Greece’s status in the EU after the bailout program, must also be addressed.
Yet neither Tsipras or Mitsotakis speak of Turkish threats, the rise of nationalism in Hungary and Italy, the future of Greeks who live in Britain, or threats to the environment which could affect our children’s future. One also never hears them discuss the overall position of Greece within the EU. None of these issues ever seem to be on the agenda.
Instead, all the two party leaders and their MPs talk about is how supposedly corrupt the other side is. And as neither party improved the lives of Greeks while they were in power — New Democracy before and Syriza now — all they can tell voters is how bad their opponent would be as prime minister.
And interestingly, while both party leaders speak out against populism, they have chosen as party representatives for the European Parliament well-known personalities such as actors, singers and journalists. Easily-recognized people, surely, but in most cases having dubious qualifications for the demanding job of a MEP.
As for their verbal exchanges in the House, the two leaders and their MPs downgrade the Greek Parliament, with SYRIZA “winning” in vulgarity and disrespect for the country’s democratic institutions.
With this approach, the political parties are downplaying the role of the European Parliament, which is a major mistake as many EU laws have a direct impact on the country and shape Greek legislation as well.
Unfortunately, the Greek government has failed to inform citizens of the importance of the European Parliament and how decisions taken there affect them in their daily lives. Important issues which range from the exclusivity of Greek yogurt to the number of migrants Greece will have to accept, to the very environment in which we all live.