ATHENS – Eclipsing the waning COVID-19 pandemic and even war talk from Turkey, Greeks are more concerned about the cost of living that his government is trying to contain, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
He told reporters at a rare news conference where he took questions ahead of elections coming in the spring and the major opposition SYRIZA snapping at his heels that outside forces were largely due to rising prices.
“We saw natural gas rates that were ten times higher than those we had two years ago. Consequently, the international economy has to deal with a phenomenon that required measures at the level of central banks from all the advanced economies. Interest rates rose in order to restrain inflation and all countries resorted to using all options offered by their state budgets to support households and enterprises, especially the most vulnerable,” Mitsotakis said, the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency ANMA said.
He said noted that “prices are still high, but the last ELSTAT (Greek statistics bureau) report showed a slowing of the inflation rate,” and noted that government measures had helped households cope.
Some 10 billion euros ($10.85 billion) in subsidies was poured into aid for consumers to deal with electricity bills that doubled in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which set off a worldwide chain effect.
He said there was a series of “inflation bombs” that produced the problem, so much so that he backed away from a pledge to consider lowering the 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, one of the highest in the European Union.
On profiteering, he noted that checks in the market were “not a simple matter” but that “for the first time we have laws and regulatory tools at our disposal that allow us to check the market with more efficiency compared with the past,” including heavy fines.
Pressed about the possibility of tax cuts if he’s re-elected he said that his government has already done that, some not talked about, as well as lower social social insurance contributions for employees and employers.
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“I would tell you that we have fully delivered on what we promised prior to the election, when I said that (main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis) Tsipras had wiped out Greek society and especially the middle class and that we will return to the middle class everything that Tsipras took from them,” he said.
He denied that moving back an increase in the minimum wage to April 1 to May 1 instead of later was an election campaign ploy to win votes and said it’s because of the start of the tourism season without explaining why it wasn’t set earlier before talk of the coming polls.
He said”The increase in wages has primarily to do with improving the productivity of the Greek economy. As our economy becomes more competitive, more extroverted, as it produces more added wealth, there will be an opportunity for businesses. But the labor market itself will demand the increase of the salaries.”
He added that, “We are not interested in being able to offer our fellow Greeks, especially young people, any job. We preferably want these jobs to be stable and pay better wages, so we have legislated a series of incentives.”
He said his government has reduced unemployment, particularly among the young who are the hardest hit and that it’s bringing higher quality jobs that are “more sustainable and more in line with the model of the competitiveness of the Greek economy for which we are working and try to serve.”
Outside domestic issues he said that the country’s image has improved abroad under his leadership, talking about his appearance at the Davos World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
There he talked about big interest for investments the country which he said meant “more and better jobs,” with major international companies taking an interest but concerned about political stability with elections coming.
But he acknowledged that the picture presented “should not make us believe that there are no problems in Greek society,” and that more state aid would be offered it was affordable.