A Greek flag flies outside the Hellenic stock exchange in Athens. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News)

As everyone knows, Greece is in trouble. Among other things, its far-left and far-right parties have come together to form a government — even though one of the few things they have in common is skepticism about the European Union.

Greece isn’t alone in having its far right and far left united by their dislike of the E.U. That’s true across Europe. That dislike, however, springs from very different sources. Far left political parties oppose what they see as the E.U.’s neoliberal, deregulatory ideology. Far right parties see the E.U. as a threat to distinctive national identities and state power.

By contrast, mainstream left and right-wing parties have long supported the European Union, seeing it as a way to improve economic and national security. (Of course this short summary is an oversimplification, but if you allow for some exceptions, it’s roughly accurate.)

In Greece, the newly governing coalition of Syriza and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) shows how this opposition to the E.U. is affecting political competition in Europe. The Syriza/ANEL coalition, formed after the Greek January 2015 parliamentary election, is a surprising union. Syriza – which stands for the Coalition of the Radical Left – combines various labor, ecological and feminist movements. The Independent Greeks stand for less immigration, an increased role for the Greek Orthodox Church in family life and education, and opposition to multiculturalism.

But anger at the bailout’s imposed austerity and general skepticism about the E.U. brought them together. The figure below shows the relationship between the general left-right position and European integration position for Greece’s political parties.

Caption: 2014 Greek party positions on general left-right and European integration. (Data: Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Figure: Jonathan Polk)
2014 Greek party positions on general left-right and European integration.
(Data: Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Figure: Jonathan Polk)

Together with a number of colleagues in Europe and the United States, we have been collecting information on the positions of political parties in Europe with the Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Using expert evaluations of party positions, we collected the most recent round of these data in 2014 and recently made them publicly available for analysis. The 2014 dataset includes 268 political parties in 31 countries, which includes all members of the E.U. The data show the relationship between left-right ideology and support for the European Union.

As you can see, Syriza and the Independent Greeks (ANEL) are far apart on general ideology but close on their ambivalence toward European integration — especially when you compare theirs to the positions of the main center-right and center-left parties, PASOK and New Democracy. As you’d guess, attitudes toward the E.U. are significantly more important for the parties in Greece than it is for parties elsewhere in the E.U.

But as you can see in the figure below, this pattern is not just present in Greece. All across Europe, the extreme left and extreme right parties oppose European integration, while the vast majority of center-right and center-left parties embrace the E.U.

2014 party positions on general left-right and European integration (Data: Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Figure: Jonathan Polk)
2014 party positions on general left-right and European integration
(Data: Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Figure: Jonathan Polk)

Syriza and ANEL share another position: a drive to reduce the political corruption that plagues Greek politics and thwarts reform. The two former power players in Greek party politics, PASOK and New Democracy, are far less interested in ending corruption. Even with this shared emphasis on corruption, though, reform has been difficult.


Salience of reducing corruption for Greek parties in 2014
(Data: Chapel Hill Expert Survey. Figure: Jonathan Polk)

What does this mean for Greece and beyond? These Euroskeptic parties may be able to agree on the E.U. and corruption, but they disagree on most issues and the coalition is finding it difficult to govern. The Greek Prime Minister Tsipras has been unable to even secure all Syriza votes for the E.U.-required reforms. Instead, he must rely on New Democracy and the other opposition parties to institute the reforms required for the bailout to move forward.

With a wide array of Euroskeptic parties, on the far left and right, gaining strength in national parliaments, Greece — and other E.U. countries — will find it increasingly difficult to form effective governments, so long as this apparently never-ending crisis continues.

Ryan Bakker is an associate professor in the political science department at the University of Georgia. Seth Jolly is an associate professor of political science at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. Jonathan Polk is a senior lecturer in the political science department and Center for European Research at the University of Gothenburg.