Politics, Europe

Tough decisions await new Greek Premier Mitsotakis

Kyriakos Mitsotakis will need to take hard choices on economy and foreign policy to keep his campaign promises

Furkan Naci Top and Fatih Hafiz Mehmet   | 09.07.2019
Tough decisions await new Greek Premier Mitsotakis


Tough decisions await Greece’s new prime minister if he plans to keep the promises he made before last Sunday's snap parliamentary elections in Greece.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the center-right New Democracy (ND), was sworn in as new premier on Monday, succeeding Alexis Tsipras, leader of the leftist Syriza, who called the early elections in May after defeats in European and municipal polls.

Although Mitsotakis inherited a country where the economic crisis has receded, he still faces many challenges.

Greece has emerged from recession to reach growth rates of 2%, but during the economic crisis its GDP dropped a punishing 25%.

During the campaign, Mitsotakis had promised to cut taxes, fix the slow bureaucracy, and create an investor-friendly economy.

One of the most important questions in economy is Mitsotakis' promise to convince creditors to allow Greece to cut the projected budget surplus rate of 3.5%, which was accepted by the previous government to guarantee the country's financial stability.

Another key issue is the country's high unemployment.

Greek unemployment has dropped from 28% at the height of the economic crisis to 18%, but it remains one of the highest rates in Europe.

Facing diminishing prospects, hundreds of thousands of young Greeks left the country, but the new ND government will try to stem and reverse this brain drain.

Foreign policy and Turkish-Greek relations

In foreign policy, Mitsotakis blasted the agreement under which North Macedonia adopted its current name, while Athens dropped opposition to their neighbor joining the EU and NATO.

The deal, ending a quarter-century dispute between the two countries, went through under Tsipras.

It was popular internationally, but domestically faced considerable opposition.

Mitsotakis had pledged to change the agreement's section on Athens accepting the Macedonian nationality and language.

Mitsotakis’ Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias is considered a moderate figure, in contrast with more hardline nationalists inside the party.

On Greek relations with its much larger neighbor Turkey, Mitsotakis’ attitude is thus far uncertain, despite positive messages coming from Ankara.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday night was the first leader to congratulate Mitsotakis on his election victory.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu followed suit by congratulating Mitsotakis on Twitter in three languages: Turkish, Greek, and English.

Mitsotakis family is generally known to have a friendly attitude towards Turks, and his family -- including an infant Kyriakos -- fled to Turkey in 1968 to escape persecution by the Greek junta regime.

His father, late Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, spearheaded a policy of legal equality and equal citizenship for the Muslim-Turkish minority in Greece’s Western Thrace region.

After the minority suffered harsh persecution during the 1970s and ‘80s, the elder father Mitsotakis started a new era in the early ‘90s where the minority’s individual citizenship rights were restored.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis' sister Dora Bakoyanni, a one-time foreign minister, was the only Greek politician to attend Erdogan's swearing-in last year, a move criticized by then-Premier Tsipras.

However, there are many far-right names in Mitsotakis’ party, and he has previously urged the EU to impose sanctions on Turkey over its activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

Since this spring Ankara has sent two drill ships to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting the right of Turkey and Turkish Cyprus to the resources of the region.

Athens and Greek Cyprus have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.

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