ATHENS – Speaking more like a Prime Minister than a candidate, with polls showing he’s on course to win election this year, major opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis repeated his pledge to lure foreign businesses that hard-core elements in the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA are trying to keep out of the country.
In an interview with CNN during a visit to the United States, he hammered away at his oft-stated goal, a pro-reform, pro-market mantra, seizing on Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ plunge in surveys after reneging on anti-austerity promises and with a number of major projects stalled.
Those include the $8 billion redevelopment of the old Hellenikon International Airport, delayed 12 years including because of government obstacles, and a $580 million renovation of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO which operates it being blocked.
While Tsipras has been claiming he’s bringing recovery from a nearly nine-year-long economic crisis – without mentioning, if so, it’s largely because he kept imposing austerity – Mitsotakis said the economy has not come back, even with a third bailout in 2015 for 86 billion euros ($96.98 billion) that Tsipras sought and accepted after saying he wouldn’t because it came with more brutal measures he swore to reject but agreed to implement.
Mitsotakis said projected growth rates of 1-2 percent are not enough and that the economy needs more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to accelerate the rate of recovery.
Three international rescue packages of 326 billion euros ($367.52 billion) from the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) and the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) won’t be repaid until after 2060. As of January, 2019, only 41.6 billion euros ($46.9 billion) had been paid back.
Mitsotakis said another key is getting businesses who spirited money out of the country, especially ahead of a brief closing of banks in 2015 by Tsipras, to return deposits to boost banks already injected with 50 billion euros ($56.37 billion) in Greek corporate reserves are held outside the Eurozone member-state’s credit system and that bringing the monies back would show confidence in Greek banks who are also being allowed to hound people buried under brutal austerity measures to repay what they owe.
New Democracy, along with its former coalition partner, the now-defunct PASOK Socialists, owe banks more than 250 million euros ($281.84 million) in loans not being repaid and the bank officers who granted them without sufficient collateral were given immunity.
Mitsotakis again promised tax cuts for individual taxpayers and businesses to reverse an avalanche of tax hikes and new taxes imposed by Tsipras, who said he would also cut taxes before breaking his word on that too.
Mitsotakis told a CNN interviewer that Greece will be a “positive surprise” for the international investors in the next two to three years without going into further details how he would spur the recovery without breaking agreements with creditors.
He told CNN Greeks feel crushed by overtaxation that he promised to scale back and that his government wouldn’t favor businesses who’ve been tight with successive governments – including previous New Democracy administrations – over the years.
Mitsotakis’ priority is to reduce corporate tax to 20 percent from the 29 percent set by Tsipras, which has scared off prospective investors, and to cut the property tax by 30 percent over two years.