Mitsotakis Says Greece No Longer Europe’s Outcast

Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis waits for a news conference to start during the Thessaloniki International Fair at the northern city of Thessaloniki, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI – Trying to boost an economic revival after a 9 ½-year crisis, using tax cuts and kick-starting stalled major projects, Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Greece is “no longer the black sheep of Europe” on his watch.

Speaking at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) where he announced more corporate and income tax cuts and plans to lure back foreign investors scared off by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, he said the scheme will bring renewed confidence and business.

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Posted by Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Sunday, September 8, 2019

While thousands of protesters outside the fair hall demanded rights for workers that his party is stripping them of, he lauded his scheme as bringing a renewal to a country and people brought down by harsh austerity, some imposed by his party when it was under the leadership of then-Premier Antonis Samaras, who was beaten by SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras in January, 2015.

Under Mitsotakis, the Conservatives took back power in July 7 snap elections, easily tossing out Tsipras and the Leftists who had reneged on anti-austerity promises for 4 ½ years and buried Greeks and businesses under an avalanche of tax hikes and more brutal conditions.

He said his government will also speed the 8-billion euro ($8.83 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport site blocked under SYRIZA, fast-track the 800-million euro ($882.89 million) overhaul of the port of Piraeus by the Chinese company COSCO which operates it, and green-light licenses for a gold mine in northern Greece that had also been stopped by the former government.

Mitsotakis said the government would “turn dynamically toward investments to create new wealth and boost employment.” Such steps, he said, along with a “bold wave of reforms,” would restore Greece’s credibility and allow it to better negotiate with its creditors, The New York Times reported.

Another initiative aimed at slowing the shrinking population rate would give a 2000-euro ($2207.22) bonus to a family for each new child born, with the decline undercutting the social security system.

Three international bailouts of 326 billion euros ($359.78 billion) ended on Aug. 20, 2018 but Greece still hasn’t been able to make a full return to the markets, opting instead so far only for a 7-year test bond that sold above the interest rate for the rescue packages.

After talking about changing the target, Mitsotakis is agreeing to the conditions set by the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) that put up an 86-billion euro ($94.91 billion) third bailout in the summer of 2015 under SYRIZA for a 3.5 percent primary surplus of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP.)

He said said financial reforms such as reducing taxes, fighting bureaucracy and attracting investment must be implemented before the country asks its creditors to agree to lower budget surpluses.

Mitsotakis promised to reduce taxes, especially on lower incomes, cut the dividend tax to 5% from 10%, cut corporate tax to 24% next year, and eventually 20%, from 28% and other measures he said would boost economic growth after his government cut property taxes an average of 22 percent after winning power.

Another big investment, by pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, calls for an international digital technology, artificial intelligence and large data analysis center in Thessaloniki, the country’s second-largest city.

Mitsotakis said he wants Greek banks to reduce their bad loans, as a percentage of the total, to single digits by 2021 but didn’t mention that New Democracy and its former coalition partner, the now-defunct PASOK Socialists, owe 250 million euros ($275.9 million,) aren’t paying fully and gave immunity to the bank officers who approved the payout without getting enough collateral beyond taxpayer subsidies not enough to cover the loss.

“With this bold wave of reforms, we gain in credibility,” Mitsotakis said, adding that only then will he ask the country’s creditors to agree to lower primary budget surpluses, claiming that  Greece is still on target to achieve the surplus goal and the 2020 budget, whose draft must be submitted to creditors within a week, maintains that target.

Mitsotakis promised to improve infrastructure, including finishing the long-delayed Thessaloniki metro, whose “imminent” operation had been promised to Greece’s second largest city back in 1999. Mitsotakis committed to an opening date of April 2023.


(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)