ATHENS – Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has managed to put a lid on a cooling spyware scandal in Greece but it’s bubbling over in the European Parliament and his critics are trying to keep it alive.
It broke just as he was about to enter a pre-election period leading up to the mid-2023 elections and gave rival parties a chance to take open shots at how he handled reports that the leader of the PASOK Socialist party Nikos Androulakis had his phone bugged by the National Intelligence Service (EYP.)
Also a Member of the European Parliament, that wasn’t revealed until after he had taken his cell phone to a research lab there and found that an attempt was made to install Predator spyware on it.
The spyware was successfully put on the phone of financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis – said to be looking into ties between Mitsotakis and business – and EYP admitted bugging his phone too.
A parliamentary committee set up to investigate is ruled by member of the New Democracy government and said it would be kept secret, the findings and the discussions, shutting out the public.
With EYP admitting that 15,745 people have had their phones bugged, saying it was for “national security,” the scandal left open the question of who else is being monitored and why but no answers will be given.
In a feature for POLITICO, journalist Nektaria Stamouli – who the government earlier tried to tie to the major opposition SYRIZA, drawing a scathing response from critics – outlined the dangers for Mitsotakis.
Mitsotakis said he didn’t know of the bugging and wouldn’t have allowed but said while wrong it was legal and he forced out his then General-Secretary, and nephew, Grigoris Dimitriadis and EYP chief Panagiotis Kontoleon for not informing him.
“Mitsotakis is now holding firm, insisting he must stay the course amid gathering economic storm clouds, a war raging nearby and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from rival Turkey,” the piece wrote.
“I’m not going to be the overseer of political instability,” Mitsotakis said at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) earlier this month, adding that, “I will lead to the end of the four-year term and then we will be measured.”
He’s still riding high in opinion polls with a lead over SYRIZA and the resurging PASOK although in two recent surveys just a little more than half of respondents felt he should resign.
With record inflation, soaring energy prices and the fears of a cold, dark winter if Russian energy supplies exempted from European Union sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine are limited, many Greeks could care less about spyware and phone bugging though.
Members of the European Parliament are looking into it though and Greece’s European Commissioner Margaritis Schinas – from New Democracy – called out the use of spyware against journalists and politicians.
“Mitsotakis pledged not to go to elections in autumn, after a good tourist season, but in spring, after a very difficult winter,” Athanasios Diamantopoulos, a Greek political specialist at Panteion University told the news site.
“By then, reports of the wiretapping will not have died down, but there will be so many economic troubles that this will be the main stake.”
A New Democracy former premier, Kostas Karamanlis, was also unhappy at the events that hit the party that had been applauded for speeding an economic recovery during the fading COVID-19 pandemic.
“In such situations, catharsis occurs only when they are fully clarified,” he said during a recent party event in Crete, showing the divisions among the Conservatives where there are different factions.
“For these events to have been caused by government initiative is not only undemocratic and illegal but so far beyond the bounds of morbid imagination and political nonsense that it is unthinkable,” he said.
In the Greek Parliament, where New Democracy has 158 of the 300 members, one of its own – Deputy House Speaker Nikitas Kaklamanis – said he opposes a measure barring people whose phones are bugged to be notified. Before the scandal, PASOK supported it though.
Konstantinos Tzavaras, another New Democracy MP, said that it was a “disgrace” that the Greek media are writing relatively little about the scandal, leaving it up to international journalists and media freedom groups.
“The functioning of the constitution has taken a severe blow and the prime minister must rise to the occasion,” said Tzavaras, one of the party’s representatives in a parliamentary inquiry investigating the issue, said POLITICO.
Mitsotakis has the power to eject any party member who doesn’t do as told but that hasn’t happened yet and he still has the unswerving support of the rest whose political livelihood is in his hands.
“If we were in any democratic state we would not have political instability,” Nikos Marantzidis, a Political Science professor at the University of Macedonia told the site. “The PM would have already resigned and succession developments would have been initiated,” he said.
Mitsotakis, Marantzidis argued, “identifies his personal future with the future of democracy and the country when he says that if I resign there will be instability,” counting on voters to want stability, especially now.
Mitsotakis acknowledged that, saying: “People know us. If not us, then who?” further playing to what he believes is his strength with voters worried about issues that affect their lives and pocketbooks.
Ironically, with changes in the electoral law passed by SYRIZA in the last days before being routed in July, 2019 snap elections taking away a 50-seat bonus for winners of an election it was thought that was leading toward a scenario with New Democracy leading a coalition with PASOK in 2023.
“It is now very difficult for PASOK voters to move towards New Democracy, but even more difficult for them to put pressure on their party leadership to participate in a coalition,” said Diamantopoulos.
Mitsotakis apologized to Androulakis initially but now has become irked that his rival seems to be wanting to capitalize on the scandal that has brought the once-dominant but then-dormant party back to life.
“I believe that what happened helped Androulakis to walk a line that was predetermined, that of rupture with New Democracy,” said Mitsokis, and that Androulakis is “disharmony” with his own voters, the report said.
In what could be ominous for Mitsotakis though, political analysts not named told the site that there’s still a chance for a New Democracy-PASOK coalition in 2023 – but only if Mitsotakis isn’t Premier, remote at best.
“Obviously the government strategy is to forget what is happening,” said Marantzidis. “But,” he added, “one way or the other, just as Nixon didn’t avoid the truth, Mitsotakis will not be able to avoid it either.” But he has so far.