GR PM says country has changed, seeks new mandate to speed up growth

Hellenic Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Reuters in an interview that he had learned to be bold on economic reform as he seeks re-election in a country that was once the Eurozone's problem child.
Hellenic Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told Reuters in an interview that he had learned to be bold on economic reform as he seeks re-election in a country that was once the Eurozone's problem child.

The leader of the conservative New Democracy party hopes to win a second term after a parliamentary election on Sunday with a clear majority, to unleash Greece's growth potential.

"I hope that my next 4 years will be years of rapid growth for Greece, but growth that will also limit inequalities and make sure that we focus on supporting those who are more vulnerable," Mitsotakis, 55, said in the English-language interview in Heraklion on the island of Crete.

Greece has emerged from a decade-long debt crisis that wiped out nearly a fourth of its economic output.

COVID-19 and high inflation, triggered by the Ukraine war, that have sent energy bills rocketing have battered households still reeling from a decade of austerity, while economic growth is forecast to slip to 2.3% this year from 5.9% in 2022.

While on a tightrope to keep Greece's finances in order, Mitsotakis has spent over 50 billion Euros in relief measures since 2020, hiked pensions and raised the monthly minimum wage by 20% to 780 Euros to cushion the cost-of-living crisis.

He also aims to boost revenues from Greece's economically vital tourist industry from 18 billion to 30 billion Euros annually by upgrading facilities to attract travellers beyond the May-to-October high season.

His New Democracy party is leading over the leftist Syriza party in opinion polls. But Sunday’s election may not produce an outright winner due to a new voting system. A second ballot may take place in early July, unless a coalition is formed, which Mitsotakis said he would prefer to avoid.

He has pledged to help Greece regain an investment grade credit rating after 13 years, create jobs and raise wages by an average 25% by 2027.

"I know very well that wages are still low," he said. "I know that many Greeks are struggling."


The former banker says that Greece, still the EU's most indebted nation, can negotiate a strategy on its primary surplus targets with its Eurozone lenders.

"Countries with a high debt need more time to bring their debt down and they need a tailor-made approach," he said.

"We can produce primary surpluses of around 2%. And this is what we're committing," he said.

Asked whether he had learnt lessons during his first 4 years in office, he said: "Oh, many lessons, if anything. When in doubt, be bold, rather than hold back. When it comes to reforms..., I really want to put Greece on a different trajectory." 

The botched economic policies of past conservative and socialist administrations catapulted Syriza to power in 2015. But chaotic, inconclusive discussions with lenders saddled Greece with yet another bailout that year, its third since 2010.

Syriza lost power to New Democracy in 2019, three years after Mitsotakis became the ND leader.

"There's no doubt in my mind that Greece in 2023 is in a much better position than it was in 2019. And I want to build upon that," Mitsotakis said, saying of the opposition: "They're promising the moon to everyone."

Syriza says that, if elected, the minimum wage will be raised to 880 Euros and then annually in line with inflation, while public sector wages would rise by 10% and pensions 7.5%.

Mitsotakis was born into Greek political royalty. His late father, Constantinos, served as Prime Minister and his sister, Dora Bakoyiannis, as a Foreign Minister. A great-uncle, statesman Eleftherios Venizelos, was a contemporary of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern-day Turkey.

Neighbors and NATO allies, Greece and Turkey have been shadow-boxing for years over issues ranging from maritime rights in the Aegean to the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.

"I've always said there is no reason why our relationship should be confrontational," Mitsotakis said. But he added that Turkey's Blue Homeland doctrine - which champions a more assertive policy over parts of the Mediterranean - was "deeply revisionist" and infringed upon Greek sovereign rights.

"My primary duty is to make sure that I defend those rights," he said. "At the same time I will always extend the hand of friendship to Turkey."

($1 = 0.9084 Euros)

tags: Interview