If Greece were to hold elections tomorrow, the pro-European conservatives Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, ND) would clearly win. According to polls, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who has headed his party since January, has gained popularity. Many believe he would be a better prime minister than Alexis Tsipras.
The pro-European and neoliberal Mitsotakis, a scion of a Greek political dynasty, holds degrees from Harvard and Stanford. He has worked in politics and investment banking. His father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, is a former Greek prime minister and his older sister, Dora Bakoyannis, former mayor of Athens, also served as Greek foreign minister and culture minister.
The Mitsotakis political tradition goes back to the charismatic statesman Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936), who is considered to be the founding father of modern Greece. Today’s Greece is in a lamentable situation that young politicians have inherited from the old political dynasties. Now, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is presenting himself as a reformer and a vehicle of renewal.
Putting political reason ahead of populism
His opponents, many of whom can also be found within his own party, accuse him of political suicide. They do not believe that he is capable of offering normal people convincing arguments for his policies.
Mitsotakis is seen as lacking the charisma to put Tsipras on the spot in parliamentary duels, relying instead on volume to put his points across. Yet Mitsotakis is determined to lead Greece out of what he calls the “catastrophic policies” of the current prime minister.
Opponents accuse Mitsotakis of lacking charisma, but he sees himself as a reformer who can solve Greece’s woes
“I understand that there are worries abroad about repeated elections in Greece, but Tsipras’ government cannot and does not want to carry out any reforms or privatizations,” said Mitsotakis in an exclusive interview with DW. “A new government under ND would signalize to Europe that populism – especially now after Brexit – cannot not be countered by populism, but instead, political good sense.”
Mitsotakis seeks close ties to decision-makers
The head of the strongest Greek opposition party, who is a big advocate of privatization, meticulously cultivates his image. Outside of the country, he is trying to build up the profile of a trustworthy Greek politician. Mitsotakis has forged ties with the European People’s Party (EPP Group), which consists of center-right and Christian democratic European parties. He seeks close relationships with important European decision-makers like German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He has already visited French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron. In London, he met renowned investors, and in Frankfurt, he discussed the Greek bank situation with Mario Draghi, the head of the ECB. In May, he met Russian President Putin and recently, he was received by the Israel president and prime minister. Tsipras’ adversary is taking every opportunity to present the ND platform as a sustainable alternative to the left-wing prime minister’s policies.
Although Mitsotakis did vote for the third bailout package in parliament and was heavily involved in Greece’s pro-European course, he is still opposed what he called a “political mix” with which the government is trying to reduce state debts. He supports cuts in government spending, and is against higher taxes.
“Greece now has the highest tax rates among European countries. Higher revenues cannot be expected from constantly increasing taxes. The opposite is the case,” cautioned Mitsotakis. “Foreign investors are staying away; a black market is emerging and normal people cannot pay their taxes.”
‘The Greek crisis is homemade’
Mitsotakis is also skeptical about the savings goals agreed with those lending money to Greece. Like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and many foreign economists, he doubts the feasibility of GDP growth targets starting 2018. Mitsotakis calls for a cut. “Together with forceful structural measures, we can stop the vicious cycle in the Greek economy,” he said, convinced of his ideas.
Nonetheless, he supports the reforms stipulated in the bailout deals. “We did not vote for the reforms in the bailout program because the Germans or Brussels wanted it, but because they are right for the country.” Furthermore, he maintains that the Greek crisis is homemade and not created by the bailout packages. “What Greek politician dares to tell the truth?” asked Mitsotakis.
Message to ‘friends in Germany’
The refugee crisis and Brexit have eclipsed the Greek crisis in public debate, even though an economic downturn is expected in the fall. Negotiations with money lenders will become more difficult. People are expecting more cuts in pensions and salaries, more youth unemployment and increased social unrest.
Mitsotakis is sounding the alarm. “Our friends in Germany should know that the time until 2018 is lost time. Our economy will fall back to the level of 2014. That is why Greece needs a new, dependable government with friendly investment policies.” He emphasized that this would also be good for partners in an EU of 27 nations.