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Politics

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis Talks to TNH About the Greek Diaspora and Upcoming Euroelections

Greek voters in the homeland and the Diaspora will be able to participate in elections for the European Parliament through a postal voting system for the first time though on June 9. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke to The National Herald about the election, Greek-American relations, and the major issues concerning Greece.

The National Herald: Is there a national stake in the European elections? And if so, what is it?

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis: This is an election with a European scope but also national content. On June 9, citizens are called to choose who will represent them in the European Parliament and how strong the national voice will be there. Most decisions affecting everyone’s lives are made in Strasbourg and Brussels: from immigration and the Common Agricultural Policy to economic competitiveness, addressing inflation, and Europe’s Common Defense. Additionally, on the same ballot, voters will decide whether they want the country to remain on the same path of progress, as they chose in the national elections of 2023 – with prestige abroad and political stability at home. A stability, however, that does not mean stagnation, but rather certainty regarding the major changes the country needs. So, if I had to summarize the electoral stake in a slogan, I would say that “a strong New Democracy in Europe means a strong Greece in Europe.”

TNH: The Diaspora will vote through a Postal Voting process. Why should they vote for Kyriakos Mitsotakis and New Democracy?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, and Prime Minister of Greece Kyriakos Mitsotakis attend the Greek Independence Day parade in Montreal, Sunday, March 24, 2024. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

KM: After three consecutive legislative initiatives with the continuous goal of facilitating voters abroad, the New Democracy government managed to make a longstanding demand of the Diaspora a reality, by abolishing the incomprehensible distinctions among citizens and granting all Greeks a constitutionally guaranteed democratic right, simultaneously freeing thousands of our compatriots from unnecessary expenses, effort, and inconvenience. They can now vote from their home or office without having to travel to another state or country in a process that meets all requirements to ensure integrity and confidentiality. Everything indicates that we are successfully passing the ‘test’ regarding this reform, with the registration of over 200,000 citizens. This paves the way for extending the right to national elections as well. It is not just the Postal Vote. For the first time, Greece is implementing a structured National Plan for the Diaspora with the primary goal of upgrading consular services and overcoming bureaucratic [obstacles] and delays. [This is happening] with the help of technology – we are utilizing the Virtual Assistant and the Digital Request Management Service in 150 Consular Offices. Meanwhile, the ‘Diaspora Greeks section’ of the gov.gr platform gathers together all services relevant to them. We are also strengthening Greek-language education beyond our borders with the secondment of teachers and special educational materials, a part of the continuous efforts to preserve our language and heritage. These are the stable bridges connecting the Diaspora with the Motherland. I could talk for hours about our efforts for the benefit of our compatriots and Global Hellenism – not only because it is a duty [of office] but also my [personal] responsibility, and of course, my personal choice.

TNH: Will you insist on implementing postal voting in national elections as well? What do you think about the opposition’s refusal?

KM: Of course I will insist. Immediately after the European elections, we will bring the relevant law to Parliament. And there we will all be counted, as the required threshold of 200 votes will not allow any party to hide. I will, therefore, await with interest the positions of the opposition, especially after the tours they organized abroad [prior to the election], seeking the votes of the Diaspora.

TNH: How did your years of studying in America influence your relations as Prime Minister, particularly with the Greek-American diaspora?

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis visits St. Nicholas Church & National Shrine in New York, September 22, 2022. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Dimitris Papamitsos)

KM: During the years I lived in the United States and in my visits as a politician, I met countless compatriots from various fields: from business and academia to the arts and sports. What never ceased to impress me, besides their diligence, is their enduring love for Greece. Even if decades have passed since they emigrated, they continue to support their homeland. They uphold our flag, language, religion, and precious heritage. All the members of the Diaspora, and especially those in America, hold a special place in my heart. I admire and thank them for their contributions through their presence and actions.

TNH: What do you consider the three biggest problems facing Greece right now?

KM: The number one problem is high prices. Although we are gradually leaving the worst behind, we cannot ignore the fact that persistent inflation still besieges incomes, eroding the wage increases we’ve achieved over the past five years. However, once prices stabilize, the wage increases will remain, permanently and steadily strengthening households. Our goal is for the average wage to reach 1,500 euros and the minimum wage to reach 950 euros by 2027.

Beyond prices, we are focusing on public health and education, which also impact the daily lives of citizens. That’s why these are central priorities for us. Using resources from the Recovery Fund and the ESPA, we are renovating 80 hospitals and 156 Health Centers nationwide. We are expanding free preventive check-ups and we are recruiting thousands of people so that all citizens have access to quality care. I know this effort requires time and persistence, but that doesn’t deter us. Instead, it fuels our determination to continue.

In education, significant changes are also taking place: interactive teaching boards, robotics kits, and the Digital Tutoring platform demonstrate that all educational levels are modernizing and evolving. Simultaneously, actions against bullying and juvenile delinquency are intensifying. Also, public universities are being strengthened, and the operation of non-state institutions is being liberalized.

TNH: Regarding Greek-Turkish relations: Do you believe that our main differences with Turkey can ever be resolved, or will Turkish revisionism always overshadow our relations?

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis meets with the President of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Monday 13 May 2024. (DIMITRIS PAPAMITSOS/PRIME MINISTER’S PRESS OFFICE/EUROKINISSI)

KM: My meetings with President Erdogan and the regular contacts between our two sides demonstrate what we have maintained from the start: that we can have differences without being in constant tension. We can disagree but still have discussions. The rapprochement process is beneficial and productive for both countries. This is seen daily by our islanders, who see a reduction in illegal migratory flows and an increase in tourism from Turkish visitors to our border islands.

As for my meeting with President Erdogan, I believe it gave impetus to this rapprochement process. Political dialogue must continue based on the Roadmap that has been agreed upon. Meanwhile, our cooperation in Civil Protection, focusing on natural threats that know no borders, is progressing, as are trade and investment initiatives. The aim is to double bilateral transactions over the next five years.

All this does not negate our single fundamental difference with our neighbors: the delineation of maritime zones, specifically the continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. This issue will be resolved only based on International Law and the Law of the Sea. Until then, however, we can live not ‘with fingers on the trigger’, but with a focus on the common interests of the two peoples, in an Aegean without violations, with calm but always free and blue waters.

TNH: You have made it clear that if our northern neighbors do not comply, their path to Europe will be closed. Do we have other means to ensure their compliance?

KM: The new President of Skopje and the appointed Prime Minister insist on violating the Prespa Agreement and even their own country’s Constitution. The reactions from Europe and the United States have been immediate and very clear. Our position is also unequivocal: if the agreements are not upheld, Skopje’s European path should not be considered a given. We will, of course, await the official positions of the new government, but we cannot ignore the initial negative signs.

Regarding the ‘negotiating weapons’ we have at our disposal, I believe our northern neighbors understand them better than anyone. And I’m not just referring to the memoranda that will only be ratified by Parliament if the other side complies. Our country, as a state with continuity and consistency, does what is required – as long as the other side does not change its stance.

We are not pleased that our reservations about the agreement have been confirmed. We have always insisted that once it is signed, it must be implemented. But it is truly puzzling to see the main opposition in Greece pressuring us to ratify the three memoranda at the exact moment when nationalist forces in Skopje are moving in the opposite direction. Essentially, they are asking us to surrender every negotiating tool of our country voluntarily. Unfortunately, this cannot be called a responsible national stance.

TNH: What differences do you see between Tsipras’ SYRIZA and Kasselakis’ SYRIZA?

KM: I see differences in communication, but I struggle to identify differences in substance. The new president may have a different style and a more colorful demeanor, but with what he publicly states, he shows that he faithfully follows his predecessor: lies, personal attacks, and unfunded promises. There is shameless populism and cheap activism – vile fake news, toxicity, and unfunded promises that will lead to new troubles.

It is baffling how someone who supposedly represents ‘the new’ is applying such outdated practices. It is also surprising that he hasn’t learned anything from the consecutive electoral defeats, approaching another electoral battle with the exact same agenda and strategy, merely wrapping it in a ‘lifestyle veneer’ and a ‘non-political populism’.

TNH: Greek-American relations are at their best point in decades. What else can Greece expect? How much better can they get?

PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis with USA Ambassador to Greece George Tsunis. (Photo: Twitter/@USAmbassadorGR)

KM: Indeed. Our bilateral relations are at their best ever. The United States recognizes us as one of their most stable allies. They highlight Greece’s role as a pillar of peace and stability at every opportunity, especially during a period of international turmoil and deep geopolitical crisis in the broader region.

During my time at the helm, we have improved our longstanding relationship and expanded our cooperation in many areas: from tourism, exports, and trade to armaments and civil protection. Emphasis has been placed on investments, where there is a significant increase in interest, with many Greek-American investors seeing the opportunities that are emerging.

There is, of course, room for these relations to improve even further. Our strategic decision is to work more closely together to jointly address the major challenges of our time.

 

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