ATHENS – Even as he promised a fresh start after a summer of deadly fires and floods showing his government wasn’t ready to deal with – or limit them – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis hasn’t convinced Greeks he can do it.
Re-elected on the back of beliefs his New Democracy government would bring in business and reforms to modernize an outdated and generally seen inept bureaucracy, the disasters instead revealed the same old problems gone unsolved.
In a feature, the British newspaper The Guardian’s Athens correspondent Helena Smith, a long-time veteran in the country, pointed out the disgruntlement after floods wiped out a big chunk of the country’s agricultural heartland of Thessaly.
That showed that anti-flood measures weren’t carried out in many cases – the government blaming local municipalities – and a Supreme Court prosecutor probing where 240 million euros ($255.83 million) went earmarked for that.
Mitsotakis’ image as a competent manager and technocrat luring foreign investors has also taken a beating in the wake of two ministers quitting over missteps and even pro-government media ripping his political appointments.
After the floods – as after the fires – he said people and businesses affected would receive partial subsidies for their losses, the cost far higher than preventing or limiting the disasters and shaking faith in his governance.
The Thessaly catastrophe is seen further driving up sky-high prices for foods and as he backed away from a pledge to lower a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food despite economic growth he said would cover the disasters losses.
The state was slow to respond during the fires, with 19,000 tourists on Rhodes fleeing for their lives and depending on residents for aid and farmers and residents in Thessaly said they relied on volunteers, government teams absent.
NOT DOING WELL
“But anger is also mounting. In a region hit by a ferocious Mediterranean cyclone, … exactly three years ago … fury is widespread that almost no flood prevention measures had been taken even if most accept that this month’s storms, energized by a summer of unprecedented heat, had not occurred in several hundred years,” the newspaper noted.
The polling company Metron Analysis, releasing its first survey of public opinion after the floods, said 61 percent of respondents had a negative opinion of the government’s work, versus 57 percent in May.
“For the first time since Mitsotakis, who won a second four-year term in June, assumed power, analysts have begun to speak of the nation resembling a ‘failed state,” the newspaper said.
“There is a prevalent feeling that Greece is a failed state, that it cannot meet our expectations or challenges,” said Maria Karaklioumi, a political analyst at the polling company Rass.
“When Mitsotakis first came to power (in 2019) he promised that the country and state would work better and that hasn’t happened,” prompting him to scramble to to tell reporters he would turn that around.
Comparing Greek sentiment to the backlash against US president George W Bush, whose reputation was tarnished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she added: “People right now feel unprotected and abandoned. After the floods and fires, any sense of security that the state should offer has evaporated.”
Mitsotakis said climate change drove the wildfires and that an extreme weather phenomena shortly after brought the Biblical-scale floods but critics said in both cases the effect was worsened by failures to take measures against them.
“With the wildfires and floods expected to weigh on an economy otherwise doing well in the aftermath of Greece’s near decade-long debt crisis, the climate, more than any other potential foe has, after Daniel’s passing, clearly become the leader’s public enemy number one,” the report added.