Rethinking Europe

Greece: The Mitsotakis Family Clan is Back in Power

Mitsotakis can celebrate his win and the return of his family clan to political power. But the problems will arrive very fast in Greece.

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Takeaways


  • Mitsotakis can celebrate his win and the return of his family clan to political power. But the problems will arrive very fast in Greece.
  • Now that he has been elected, Mitsotakis has to deliver. But reforming Greek government is hard to do.
  • At the core, Greece is still beset by the same problems as over 30 years ago, when the elder Mitsotakis ruled Greece.
  • Despite claims that Europe was drifting towards anti-EU politicians, the win for Mitsotakis shows that populism has not won out in the nation that invented democracy.

Dynastic politics may be on the wane in India. But it is back with full force in Greece.

Greece’s new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, is the son of a former prime minister. His older sister was Foreign Minister of Greece and his cousin is the New Democracy mayor of Athens.

Mitsotakis, educated at Harvard and Stanford, is descended from Eleftherios Venizelos, who set up the modern Greek Republic after World War One.

George Papandreou, the son and grandson of two Greek prime ministers, and himself a former Greek PM, was also a candidate in the Greek election which saw the leftist Syriza government ejected from power.

Mitsotakis campaigned with the promise to modernize Greek politics and the Greek economy. He became New Democracy leader over the head of party barons who preferred the decades-old back-scratching clientelism of Greek politics.

A Herculean task

Now that he has not only been elected, but equipped with an absolute majority in parliament, Mitsotakis has to deliver. However, reforming Greek government, especially local government with its endless web of special interests fighting for protection, is hard to do.

Encouraging start-ups and entrepreneurship and foreign investment is key. Greece is not short of human potential. Far from it. The country has produced star economists and Nobel laureates in economics and other fields, but they all live and work outside Greece.

Hundreds of thousands of young Greeks emigrated under the old regimes as well as during the years of the Syriza government. Will they come home? Can Greece offer a future that is not based on the supremacism of the Greek Orthodox Church or the refusal to pay taxes by the ship-owners, as well as by the upper-income professional?

The Greek stock market has done well and Greek debt is cheaper for investors to buy than Italian bonds.

Will history repeat itself?

But the question for Greece and Europe now is this: Will we see a repeat of the old political tale where a left-of-center party cleans up the economic mess inherited from its predecessors — but then not only gets no reward in the ballot box, but sees its conservative competitors imbalance the economy again with tax cuts that don’t deliver solid and sustainable economic growth?

Tsipras had to shut off traditional Greek leftist anti-Americanism as Turkey’s irredentist claims in the Aegean increased in the later Erdogan years and Greece needed to hold Washington and NATO close to offset Turkey’s sabre-rattling.

To his credit, Mitsotakis, 51, has opened up his New Democracy party to liberal reformist politicians like Harry Theoharis, Greece’s former chief tax collector who was hounded out of his job for exposing chronic tax evasion by the asset-rich tax dodgers that have made Greece’s tax system so ineffective.

However, if Mitsotakis’s game plan is to start weakening labor trade unions and cutting public and social programs, he may quickly face a re-invigorated Syriza reverting to all-out opposition, street protests and a strategy of tension against the new center-right government.

Populism reigned in

Despite all the claims since 2016 that Europe was drifting towards capture by a team of anti-EU politicians like Marine Le Pen, Matteo Salvini or Nigel Farage, supposedly all orchestrated somehow by Steve Bannon, the win for Kyriakos Mitsotakis and New Democracy in Greece shows that populism has not won out in the nation that invented democracy.

Conclusion

For now, Mitsotakis can celebrate his win and the return of his family clan to political power. But the problems will arrive very fast.

At the core, Greece is still beset by the same problems as over 30 years ago, when the elder Mitsotakis ruled Greece.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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