Greece Can Achieve Growth Rates Exceeding 3 Pct of GDP, Mitsotakis Says in FAZ interview

Αssociated Press

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Greece's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, talk prior to a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis invited German businesses to invest in Greece, in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) published on Thursday; the same day as his visit to Berlin for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Greece was capable of achieving growth rates that exceed 3 pct of GDP, the Greek premier said in the interview, noting that the recent elections were an important step toward being finally done with "what has for some time now been called the Greek crisis."

For the first time in 10 years, Greece had a government with a single-party majority in parliament that was clearly dedicated to carrying out reforms, Mitsotakis added, having beaten the populists without copying them or resorting to exaggerated promises.

Asked whether he intends to seek a reduction of the 3.5 pct primary surplus target, Mitsotakis explained that this was a "legacy of the past" and a serious drag on the Greek economy at a time when the global economy was slowing down.

"We will naturally stick to this target in 2019 but also in 2020. For the following years, however, we would like to discuss it. Initially, it is important to restore Greece's credibility and to carry out real reforms," he said.

On his visit to Berlin, Mitsotakis said he intended to outline Greece's plan for economic growth and present the opportunities that it offers to German businesses, inviting them to take a "new look" at Greece. A number of German companies were already operating in Greece, he noted, but he hoped for a further expansion in areas where both Greece and Germany could benefit for cooperation, such as in environment-friendly technologies.

The Greek prime minister also referred to the currently low borrowing costs for Greece and the recent full abolition of capital controls, as well as flagship investment projects, such as Hellinikon.

On the subject of reforms, Mitsotakis said that "we have to reform Greece but in our own way." The idea of following a plan written for Greece by others was "not the right approach," according to the Greek prime minister, adding that Greece was a sovereign country and should be in a better position to know which reforms are essential.

"I consider myself a proud reformer but reforms must be directed by domestic policy," he said.

According to Mitsotakis, the ability to carry out reforms was one of the reasons why his first act of legislation had concentrated so many powers in the office of the prime minister.

"I was accused of setting up a Greek chancellorship but I prefer this model. The prime minister is very important based on the Constitution but until now was very weak in terms of imposing a government programme. We now have a comprehensive plan for reforms, are deploying action plans for the ministries and closely monitoring the activities of each ministry. This in itself is an important reform, because without clear government leadership, each minister could previously do whatever he or she liked," Mitsotakis said.

On what he hoped from the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Mitsotakis noted their good personal relations and her support in the European elections, adding that the Greek commissioner would very likely get an important portfolio in the next Commission. He also expressed support for her "brave agenda" and said that he would be an ally in helping the EU Commission achieve its ambitious goals.