For New Democracy, the Era of Populism Is Over
New Democracy wants a strong mandate to rebuild the brand of Greece. But how are they going to achieve that?
Konstantinos Kyranakis is a 32 years old Greek politician, and he is running for the national parliament with New Democracy in the south of Athens, which is the largest voting district in Greece. He has served as the party’s deputy spokesman and also as the President of the Youth of the Europeans People’s Party. A few days ahead of Greece’s national elections he visited AthensLive and talked about the broader significance of Sunday’s vote not only for Greece but for Europe in general. Here’s the full transcript of our interview with him:
Kyriakos Mitsotakis is ahead in the polls with a difference of 7–11%. Why do you think there is such a significant difference?
Maybe a bit more but the real battle is not with Syriza or any other party. The real struggle is with whether we can achieve an absolute majority percentage. So we are asking our base not to get relieved but to go to the polls on Sunday with a high amount of decisiveness to make the change we all want in the country. We will not have any other chance to have this amount of seats in parliament in the next year. We didn’t have this chance in the last ten years at least. So we’re asking our base not to waste this chance this time.
Why should New Democracy come into the office?
Three main things are essential, and they all conclude in making our lives a little bit easier — economy, security, and how we re-organize a state beginning by the economics of course. The highest priority for us is to reduce the taxes cut the taxes is critical for our policy. If we cut taxes and we have a stable tax rate it will be easier to attract investment. It will be easier to create jobs. It will be easier to generate growth. Number two in the program of New Democracy is security. Everyone is asking for it’s a high priority for us too. The first move that the new government if elected is going to do is abolish the law about the asylum in Greek universities. There is a law that protects criminals. Anyone who wants to sell drugs anyone who wants to create a Molotov bomb or anything else that goes beyond the limits of the law they can do it in Greek universities, in Greek public universities. So this is, in my opinion, crazy. And Kyriakos Mitsotakis is very decisive about repealing this law and also helping the police doing their job correctly. We have huge problems with police cars. We will hire a thousand five hundred new law enforcement officers. With key moves assisting the police in doing its job I think we’ll be able to protect our citizens from protecting their lives and from protecting their homes. And of course, universities which are very crucial for us.
Number three is organizing the state. And organizing the state means making it easier for the citizen that is in touch with a state or a Greek business which is in touch with the state to do their job to get done with the paperwork. So we will have a minister that will be responsible for digital policy, and he will be able to change protocols and processes all across the public sector in order to simplify bureaucracy to cut bureaucracy and in order for citizens through their smartphones being able to do what is important for them and their business and their lives.
The economy is crucial to Greece, but the official numbers show that Syriza has achieved some significant growth rates. And also we have managed to achieve a primary surplus bring unemployment down to rates were very much unknown in the past. How are you going to achieve a 4 percent growth rate? SYRIZA didn’t manage to get even closer to this number.
The key policy for the whole program of New Democracy is job creation. And this is the only way to achieve a 4 percent growth rate next year. This would mean that more than one hundred thousand jobs would be created. More taxes and more social contributions would come in and help the whole system being much more healthy. SYRIZA, in my opinion, has not achieved significant growth rates. The former New Democracy government got Greece with minus 9 percent of negative growth of recession, and in two and a half years we had zero point eight positive growth. With SYRIZA in power, we had a recession for the first two years, and after that, we had small growth. But this is not enough. This is not even close to what Greece needs to restore its financial stability. So we think we can achieve a 4 percent growth rate by attracting foreign investment would bring back people Greeks who have left the country with a brain drain crisis come in and help Greek businesses and perhaps the Greek public administration also to get better. This would be the first step to create more jobs so unemployment would go down with the private sector jobs which is much more critical than public sector jobs which were the toy which was the choice of Syriza and therefore the banks would be healthy.
Greek businesses would be more healthy; more taxes would come in so that the circles the economy has to be fed in all its parts such as banks, business creation, job creation, cutting taxes, bringing foreign investment. All these critical points in our program are important, and we cannot let one aspect of this program being left behind.
The second issue you mentioned is security. Why is security so important? More important than other issues. It sounds to me that the debate about security is a debate that is trying to engulf voters and citizens that belong to the center-right and the far-right. Is it a topic that was brought to the agenda precisely because of you its heavy symbolism?
I don’t think that any SYRIZA voter or someone who is ideologically left when a burglar comes into their home and they’re stealing something from their home or threatening their lives they’re thinking: “Oh my God, New Democracy is talking about security and they’re doing it for ideological purposes.” When violence is touching our lives, we cannot think, and we should not think about ideological differences. So security is crucial for us no matter if citizens vote for SYRIZA or New Democracy. We want to protect their lives, their homes, and of course, universities and public property. For example, there’s this group called Rouvikonas. They are breaking stuff and damage public property all the time. Destroyed property is a cost for the Greek taxpayer, and therefore, security is good for private property and public property and generally for our lives. It shouldn’t be an ideological debate. It’s something that is a constitutional obligation for any government to protect the lives and the properties of their people.
I’ve heard many times by New Democracy officials that migrants are looting and they pose a threat to national security. Don’t you think that’s a bit too much by involving people who migration into the homeland security issues?
The problem with migration is that we don’t know that. We don’t know if someone who will come into the country illegally is with ISIS activist or only someone who is a refugee and wants to protect his own life running away from war. We don’t know that so this is a big problem. There are several aspects to deal with migration. Number one is protecting our borders. Every country that respects itself has to protect the borders. The United States, Canada, EU countries are doing the same. So Greece being in the very edge of the European Union has a European aspect to this whole thing. It’s a European obligation to protect the borders of Greece in the Aegean Sea and of course the border of Greece in Evros so that we know that is control and people who want to come in they can do it lawfully. This is crucial for us. Once they come in, we have to distribute them to separate them in groups. If you’re a refugee and you’re running away from war, you are protected by international law. If you’re not a refugee and you illegally cross the borders, you have to go back home. This is the law, and it has to be implemented. We shouldn’t have this is another issue that is for some reason ideologically charged.
It shouldn’t be ideologically charged. Every country that respects itself has to know who is coming in and who is coming out. It’s a question of stability. Now if an ISIS activist comes in and we don’t have this whole system, we wouldn’t know in the unfortunate case of a terrorist attack that the person who would come in has a certain nationality et cetera. So we have to control the borders. This is crucial for our program.
On the borders of Lesbos and sometimes other refugees, including kids who live in squalid conditions of the camps. Are you going to fix that?
I think it’s a scandal that the European Union has spent over one point six billion euros and the result is Moria, the camp where children and their families live in a completely unacceptable situation. We have to investigate where this money went. What these NGOs are doing with the money they’re getting from the European Union and what happened to conclude in a situation in Moria, which is completely inhumane and unacceptable.
Which are the immediate steps you are going to take to fix the conditions in the Greek islands?
Implement the European Union policy. There’s big money coming in to fix the immigration crisis and having human conditions in Moria, and other camps which would which will be controlled. It’s something that should be simple. If certain politicians or certain people in the SYRIZA government have taken advantage of these European funds to benefit themselves and not to fix the immigration crisis and create human conditions for the refugees, this has to be investigated. We will have to be very strict because it’s completely unacceptable to have children running away from war and getting into a situation that in my opinion, is utterly inhuman.
Let me ask you something about children. Some days ago you stated that there should be -and correct me if I’m wrong- a “Greek only” child benefits. Do you think refugees in Greece should get EU money? Do you believe that children who were born in Greece but their parents should not get perks and allowances from the Greek state?
This is not what I said, and the whole public discussion in Greece went crazy around this thing. I just repeated the program of New Democracy and Kyriakos Mitsotakis. This benefit is about the demographic problem we have in Greece and is a 2000 euro grant for every family of Greeks giving birth to a young Greek, even if one of the two parents is Greek and they’re giving birth to a baby, then the baby has a right to have Greek citizenship. So if you want to solve the Greek demographic problem, you cannot ask Greek taxpayers to pay for an allowance or a grant to give birth to citizens of another country or a third country. It’s simply impossible. Some policies assist legal immigrants, and others help European Union citizens residing in Greece. Some policies are helping people who legally participate in the job market or Greece. But if we want to solve the demographic problem of Greece we need to ask the Greek taxpayers to pay for births of babies by Greek parents. It’s as simple as that. And it’s another issue that in my opinion, also shouldn’t be ideologically charged. There are European Union laws there are European Union standards, but every nation every EU state has a right to select also national policies. And if we want to solve a demographic problem of Greece, this is a national policy, and it should be seen as one.
Throughout our time together, I’ve heard you many times repeat the phrase “ideologically charged.” What you like to hear from you is how do you define New Democracy today.
New Democracy is a big center-right party. It has voices that are more than the right or more of the center or even now in the center-left. It’s a big popular party. We also belong in the European People’s Party. And the basis of our philosophy is that we always have to express the vast majority of the people. This is the philosophy of the European People’s Party. So the center-right in Greece for some reason, I hope for a good cause has stayed in one party, New Democracy. This is a good thing because it allows us to have voices that express a large part of society. We don’t have to agree on everything, but a big, moderate liberal center-right party can agree on critical issues that can take the country forward. And this is important for us.
Your critics accuse you of being neo-liberals.
When we want to cut the taxes, they’re calling us neoliberals, when we want to bring foreign investment they are calling us neoliberals. People will decide if foreign investments and job creation and cutting taxes are right for their lives and suitable for businesses. It doesn’t matter if our critics call us neo-liberal or something else. We want to implement policies that we help that will help Greeks have more money in their pockets have more stability in their lives, being able to dream and create a family in Greece without wanting to leave the country as so many generations have done. And these are policies that our critics can call neoliberal. We know that we’re doing the right thing and this is what’s more important for us.
What’s very interesting with this year’s elections is that Kyriakos Mitsotakis is ahead in the polls while belonging to a well-established political family of Greece. This is quite unfamiliar in Europe right now; we see new faces popping up. But why are Greeks picking someone with strong ties to the past?
Because Greeks are tired of populism, I think that we’re ahead of other European countries in that circle. Greece is over with a circle of populism, and now people want solutions. People wish for realistic hope for their lives. And I think Kyriakos is precisely that. Maybe he’s coming from a political family, but he has paid the price for being the son of a former prime minister. He is paying the price every day, and his critics are always striking him on this issue. But I think if he becomes prime minister, he will be able to convince with reforms and real growth and by acting in favor of the vast majority of Greeks to convince them that he’s a good politician and someone that loves his country regardless of his family.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis fiercely opposed to the Prespes Agreement.
We were against the Prespes agreement from the beginning. We’re still against we still think that is a bad deal for the country, but there are a few things that we can do to leave behind the bad aspects of the agreement. Number one is the Macedonian products. The Greek flag needs to be stronger next to the brand “Macedonian product.” European consumers and international consumers need, for example, to know when they buy Macedonian wine that it is a Greek product Macedonian product. We should distinguish Macedonian products from the North Macedonian ones. Number two is school books. In our neighboring country Skopje they say that Alexander the Great was Macedonian. They are claiming that he had the national identity of their own. This is a lie, falsification of the real history of European history. Alexander the Great is a global figure, and we have the right as Greeks, and we have the rights us as a country that respects its history to claim that history in making everyone know that the books in our library country will no longer say that Alexander the Great was merely Macedonian. Number three is that Kyriakos Mitsotakis will use his veto rights in the European Union as long as he sees that the Prime Minister Zaev or the next prime minister keeps creating problems with aspects of the deal that are not clear. So we’re warning our neighbors that we will use this veto right as long as they keep creating problems and as long as they don’t respect the deal.
If Greeks on Sunday do not elect New Democracy with a strong mandate, would you be willing to work with Syriza?
You cannot enter a fight without being sure that you’re going to win. We’re going to win on Sunday, and we want to win the elections for the new government from the 8th of July to start working in the benefit of the Greek people. We want to win this fight, but more critical for us is to win the battle every day every week, every month, in the next four years for the Greek people to feel safer, to feel more stable and to be financially stronger. This Sunday’s national election is not only crucial for Greece, but it’s important for the whole of Europe and a large part of the international community. It symbolizes in no small extent the end of a circle of populism. There are countries in the European Union that right now have big problems with populists rising and parties populist parties rising. We’ve seen that in the European elections. We are done with populism in Greece, and the 7th of July is a critical date that many Europeans will remember for an election that is important not only for us but for that for the whole of Europe. We’ll do our best to change the brand of Greece in the next years. And we’ll do our best to change the mindset of Europeans and friends abroad and anywhere in the world. As a member of the new generation of Greek politicians, I’m willing to work very hard with friends abroad and with our friends in Europe and the United States for the economy to grow stronger for the brand of Greece to be much better than it was before.
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