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A 'Reagan-Style' Reformer in Greece's Future?

A 'Reagan-Style' Reformer in Greece's Future?

During recent visit to Washington D.C., Greece's New Democracy Party President Kyriakos Mitsotakis sits down for interview with Newsmax's John Gizzi. (Courtesy of Thanasis Bakolas)

Sunday, 25 March 2018 12:39 PM Current | Bio | Archive

Germany, the United Kingdom, France—all three held national elections last year and in each country, traditional parties of the center-right were severely crippled at the polls.

What is happening to traditional conservatism in Europe, Americans wondered. Is a failure to deal with current upheaval stemming from the refugee crisis and economic uncertainty killing the right and center-right? Are Europe’s conservative parties doomed for a lack of new ideas?

One who says a defiant “no” to this gloom-and-doom mindset is Kyriakos Mitsotakis, president of Greece’s New Democracy (conservative) party and the current betting favorite to become the next prime minister of the birthplace of democracy.

With elections scheduled for October 2019, a just-completed Rasmussen Poll shows New Democracy leading Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ SYRIZA (the Party of the Left) by a 35.8 percent to 23.4 percent nationwide. Two other polls completed in March give New Democracy double-digit leads over the ruling party.

“There’s great disappointment with Tsipras, who presented himself as an anti-establishment, populist candidate and turned out to be the exact opposite from what he promised,” Mitsotakis told us, “If you compare Greece to the rest of Europe or the rest of southern Europe, we’re actually doing pretty well—for an establishment party.”

During a recent visit to Washington, the Greek opposition leader spoke to Newsmax about the “new look” he has given his conservative party as well as Greece’s relations with Turkey, Europe, and the United States.

Mitsotakis raised a few eyebrows when he characterized himself a “political outsider.” To hear it from the son of the late the son of the late Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis and brother of Dora Bakoyannis (Greece’s first woman foreign minister) is a bit like hearing Jeb Bush or George W. Bush claim to be an “outsider.”

“Look, I’m proud of my family,” he explained, “and you can say I come from a political family. But I ran against three opponents and had no backing at all from our party’s members of parliamentary wing. I criticized my party and said we were not doing enough to cut public spending. So I’m perceived as someone who speaks his mind and has new ideas.”

Much like Ronald Reagan when he was governor of California and called for a “Creative Society,” Greece’s Mitsotakis spells “conservatism” “R-E-F-O-R-M—taking the existing services of government that are causing the most trouble and streamlining them to work effectively.

In his words, “The reforms we are talking about will be in public administration and education reform, in privatization, and in reform of the judicial system. Pensions will also be critical. At some point, we need to rethink the architecture of the whole system. I want to use the private sector to do this.”

But a “Prime Minister Mitsotakis” would wrestle hardest with public pensions. In Greece where one out of five citizens worked for government, the obligation to provide pensions almost wrecked the Greek economy.

With a debt of roughly $323 billion and facing expulsion from the “euro” currency, Athens agreed to an international bailout from what Greeks call “the Institutions”—the European Central Bank, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund.

“There will be pension reform in Greece but it has to be structural—not cutting pensions right and left,” he told us, “What I want is more ownership of pension contributions with the logic of the 401(k): you have a mandatory obligation to save for your own private retirement. You’re entitled to manage these funds in the best way that you consider appropriate. And the government sees that they are properly regulated.”

As Greece apparently emerges from its debt crisis, Prime Minister Tsipras has said that there will be “enough debt relief” from its creditors to make a “clean exit” from them this summer.

Mitsotakis sees it differently.

“'A clean exit; is never going to happen,” he said flatly, “Because the Europeans are going to ask for an enhanced supervision mechanism in order to make sure Greece stays on the right track after the program.”

The only formula that will keep Greece “on the right track,” he believes, is “a pro-reform, center-right competent form of government [that] can deliver the policies that will again make Greece an attractive place for global investment, domestic capital, and the creation of private sector jobs. So we think we have a compelling story to tell.”

In terms of Greece’s rapport with the United States, the New Democracy leader considers his country “the most credible long-term ally the U.S. can have in this part of the world. Greece is a strategic partner for the U.S. in a very volatile area of the world.”

Even as President Donald Trump remains a controversial and enigmatic figure to most Greeks, Mitsotakis won’t say a harsh word about the U.S. president. What is important, he believes, is “there is an overall consensus in Greece that is very pro-American. That’s especially true for me, because I studied here [Harvard, Harvard Business School, and Stanford, where he received an MA in International Economic Affairs].”

“As Turkey becomes unpredictable, it’s only natural that the value of Greece should arise,” said Mitsotakis, “I’m not naïve. Turkey is very, very important. But in the context of the region, Turkey is exhibiting a sort of a revisionist approach to foreign policy that is alarming.”

He ticked off statements Turkish President Erdogan has been making questioning the Lausanne Treaty—a 1923 international agreement that set the borders of the current Turkish republic and is the foundation of the Greek-Turkish relations.

“Any talk about the Lausanne Treaty is viewed [in Greece] with a lot of concern because it implies that Turkey could have territorial aims that are not on its current borders,” said Mitsotakis, “This is not acceptable.”

With Greece’s next election more than a year away, no change of government is in sight for now. But it is clear that conservatives worldwide will be hearing more about and from Kyriakos Mitsotakis—and possibly taking a few pages from his playbook.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2018 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Germany, the United Kingdom, France-all three held national elections last year and in each country, traditional parties of the center-right were severely crippled at the polls.What is happening to traditional conservatism in Europe, Americans wondered? Is a failure to deal...
greece, leader, conservative
Sunday, 25 March 2018 12:39 PM
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