The ascenscion of liberal Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the New Democracy party’s leadership has shaken Greece’s fragile political landscape. EurActiv Greece reports.
On 10 January 2016, Kyriakos Mitsotakis won the intra-party elections, receiving 52.43% of the vote.
New Democracy had been without an elected leader since July, when party chief Antonis Samaras resigned after the “No” vote in the Greek referendum.
A pro-EU politician
In an interview with EurActiv before the party elections, Mitsotakis noted that Greece was being treated [by its EU partners] more like a Balkan country, and less as an equal.
“Our country needs to regain its lost credibility with our European partners. Unfortunately, they do not trust us,” Mitsotakis said, mainly blaming ex-Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis for the situation.
“European cohesion has been shaken as Europe grew in width wide but not in depth. The institutions need to be strengthened. Solidarity should be stimulated,” he stressed.
The unity issue
New Democracy consists of three different ideological factions.
One is a “popular right” tendency traditionally represented by former premier Kostas Karamanlis, a liberal one promoted by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and a right-wing faction, which helped the new leader get elected.
Mitsotakis was the only New Democracy lawmaker who didn’t vote for the President of Greece (February 2015), Prokopis Pavlopoulos, who is also a party member, and belongs to the Karamanlis camp.
Pavlopoulos was proposed as a candidate by the Syriza-led government, a move that triggered reactions over the “special” relationship between Alexis Tsipras and Kostas Karamanlis.
EurActiv was informed that the Karamanlis camp has no option than “accept the new situation”.
Since he was defeated in snap general elections in 2009, Kostas Karamanlis has kept his distance from Greek politics, and avoided making public statements, despite still being a lawmaker for the party.
“He has been absent for years […] he cannot only intervene to urge Greeks to vote yes in the referendum and to support Meimarakis [the rival of Mitsotakis] in the party elections,” a New Democracy official, who asked not to be named, told EurActiv.
EPP trusts the new leader
The center-right European People’s Party hailed the change in New Democracy’s leadership.
“I believe that Mitsotakis will be able to maintain the Greek center-right united and build on New Democracy’s past achievements,” Joseph Daul, the President of the European People’s Party (EPP), told EurActiv.
Daul continued, saying that “the new leader will enhance ND’s role as a strong pro-European alternative force in the country”, and will lead the party to victory in the next parliamentary elections.
“But more importantly, I hope that the party will be able to unite the people of Greece behind a common reform agenda,” he noted, adding that the EPP counts on ND as a stable and credible partner that can promote a pro-European agenda.
Potami in trouble
Mitsotakis’ victory will have an impact on the centrist Potami party.
Since its establishment, Potami was attacked for having an inconsistent ideological position.
Potami belongs to the Socialists & Democrats in the European Parliament, but a number of its deputies profess a more liberal politics.
Unsurprisingly, it’s being intensely courted by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Party, which has openly supported it in Greek elections.
In the last snap election, the S&D group did not publicly support Potami, or the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), which is also a member.
On the contrary, S&D chief Gianni Pittella had said that the best option “would be a coalition government established with all progressive forces”.
Charis Theocharis, an influential lawmaker in the party, told EurActiv Greece that the shift in New Democracy’s leadership should make Potami think about the next day “as citizens are looking for a political expression beyond populism and short-term considerations”.
He noted that the victory of Kyriakos Mitsotakis reflected the demand of Greek people for a substantial renewal of the political system.
“It’s an actual proof that the old [political] system comes to an end,” he stressed, adding that Mitsotakis has a great chance to promote a new pro-European agenda and ‘’not be influenced by the barons of his party”.
Meanwhile, the new political alliances on the Greek centre-right will possibly affect the Pasok, too.
Leonidas Grigorakos told Skai news today (12 January) that members, or even lawmakers of the party, could move to New Democracy.
“Mitsotakis is expected to influence, in a positive way, the two smaller pro-European parties, the centre-left Pasok and Potami. A lot of voters of these parties support the ideas presented by Mitsotakis and could switch their preference to him," New Democracy MEP Giorgos Kyrtsos told EurActiv.
And he added: “He is expected to introduce an element of competition in Greek politics and force the Tsipras government to become more effective in dealing with major economic and social issues in order to avoid a further big drop in its popularity.”
“The EPP knows that it now has a reliable partner, who not only will be able to explain how the situation in Greece is, but he will always try to claim the best for Greece. I am sure that our partners from the first moment will understand that the New Democracy party will be again the power that can restore the credibility of the country,” New Democracy MEP Maria Spyraki, told EurActiv.