Ten days before the Greek elections a televised debate between the main political leaders failed to make the voters any wiser.
During the three-hour debate, whose format did not allow for overheated clashes, politicians engaged in parallel monologues, offering their differing takes on six separate themes including the economy and foreign and defense policies.
Participating were New Democracy leader and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras, PASOK-Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Nikos Androulakis, Communist Party of Greece Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoubas, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos, and MeRA25 Secretary Yanis Varoufakis.
Greek elections: Economy in the debate
The issue of inflation is a global one, New Democracy leader and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. “It has started dropping in Greece, although food prices remain high.”
He said that families challenged by the high cost of living were supported through the market pass program, but that the policy for a second four-year term would be to increase wages.
“Inflation will drop, but wage increases will be permanent,” he asserted.
Civil servants’ wages have not increased in 14 years, and there is fiscal space to do this, SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras said, adding that there is fiscal space to do this from taxing the excess profits of large businesses.
“While the average household is left without money three weeks into the month, 15 large businesses in the Stock Exchange have 20-year records of 1 billion euros in profits each,” he underlined.
He criticized the government for 10 billion euros in subsidies “so that energy companies can keep prices high,” and added that “if we do not decide to make radical changes, in a few years from now there will be no middle class left.”
PASOK-Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Nikos Androulakis said he supported stability for economic prospects, and not a standstill or new fiscal adventures.
Its plan aimed at serving the interests of the Greek people, said the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoubas, while all other parties spoke of painful primary surpluses and 350 directly antipopular measures to bring the Greek people to its knees again.
Every serious country should have a Plan B to overcome difficulties, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said. Having a parallel currency does not help, but there must be an alternative in case something serious happens in the eurozone, particularly if it ends up collapsing, Velopoulos noted.
“We believe that joining the euro was a mistake, but we also recognize the great cost of leaving [the eurozone],” MeRA25 Secretary Yanis Varoufakis said, adding that his party’s plan ‘Dimitra’ does not relate to a currency, but to a payment system. Greece is heading to a minefield of international economy, without any defenses for what is coming, he warned.
Foreign policy and defense
The armaments programs were very well planned and did not diverge from fiscal rules, New Democracy leader and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
“That is why we achieved primary surpluses in 2022 and will do so this year as well.”
He added that Greece “built very powerful alliances, and the balance between Greece and Türkiye in the US Congress is leaning toward Greece.”
The ND leader also commented on Turkish elections, saying that “we will respect the choice of the Turkish people, and I am willing to talk with whomever it chooses.”
SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance will “obviously honor the defense contracts Greece has signed, but will fight to bring projects to the Greek defense industry as well,” party leader Alexis Tsipras responded.
He added that “it is unacceptable that a program of 14-15 billion euros has not brought a single euro to the Greek defense industry.”
The main opposition leader also said “Defending the borders is self-evident” and his government would not tear down the border wall. He stressed however, that migration and refugee issues cannot be resolved through walls but only through negotiations on a European level.
In terms of relations with Turkey, PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis said that his party’s policy followed three main paths, whoever wins the elections in the neighboring country:
a) Lifting the veto in the EU so that a European policy for Türkiye can be formulated,
b) guarding the borders and using European funding to strengthen the border wall, since Greek borders are also European borders, and
c) strengthening armaments programs and the Greek defense industry.
All armaments agreements signed with France, the United States, and other countries serve NATO’s interests and lead to participation in aggressive acts that will make Greece a target of retaliation, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Dimitris Koutsoubas said.
“Sending armaments to Ukraine, having Hellenic Air Force jets flying over the Balkans and warships sailing the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea does not serve the need to protect Greece’s airspace, borders, and sovereign rights,” he underlined.
In a multi-polar world you must choose who to align with, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said. “Under the West, we lost the name ‘Macedonia’ and North Epirus, while international treaties said different things.
We lost half of Cyprus, we are losing the Aegean, and we may lose Thrace. For Greek Solution, the national interest establishes whose side we will join,” he said.
“The defense of our national space is an obligation we all have,” MeRA25 Secretary Yanis Varoufakis said, in response to a question on what he would do if Turkish commandos landed on a Greek islet.
“Deterrence is utmost,” he noted and said that MeRA25 is leading efforts for a regional international conference on delimiting maritime zones since it rejects bilateral contacts with Turkey.
Wiretapping Scandal and Greek elections
Opposition leaders attacked Mitsotakis on the wiretapping scandal that rocked his government in the summer of 2022.
Asked by journalists whether he had had any thoughts of resigning, the New Democracy leader responded that he did not, “but courageously assumed my responsibility and two specific commitments”: to have the issue examined and to amend legislative missteps.
The explanations for tapping the head of the Greek Armed Forces, a political leader, and an active minister “were not adequate,” the PM said, adding that “Mr. Androulakis does not comprise any kind of danger for the security of Greece, and should not be under surveillance.” The New Democracy leader said that the case created “a shadow over our government, I have no doubt about it, and it should not have occurred.”
“Well, if the prime minister is asked and he replies, ‘The explanations I gave were not adequate,’ let him give us some today,” SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras said, questioning how he could “collaborate with Androulakis tomorrow if he is truly an ‘agent’ and ‘a national threat’.”
In terms of forming a coalition government in the upcoming elections on May 21, the main opposition leader said he has called on all progressive parties to join his, as there is a future based on a program that will increase wages, reduce prices, and manage debts. “I see there are approaches, but we shall see them better after elections, I think,” he noted.
The wiretapping issue “has haunted the domestic political system, Greece has come into the cross-hairs for issues related to institutions, violations of human rights and of the division of powers,” PASOK-KINAL’s Androulakis said.
“I trust Greek justice, but not its political system,” he added.
Androulakis expressed disbelief that there would be “such a dark state with so many involved, and the crisis of trust is also related to the behavior of other parties.”
He said that “respect and justice mean that we politicians should show that there is a separation of powers.”
Asked what could be done for a more independent judicial branch, the PASOK-KINAL leader said, “We need modernization and great institutional changes for a new European reality. We have not become a Hungary, Mr. Mitsotakis, but we are on the path to becoming one.”
On the question of why KKE declines Tsipras’ invitation to join a coalition government, KKE party leader Koutsoubas explained, “We never said that Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Mitsotakis were the same, or Syriza and ND, and all the rest of the parties. What we are saying is that they have common programs and the same goals. In this direction and on the basis of these programs, we have said that we will not tolerate or support such a government.”
Asked if he expected far-right voters to cast their ballot for his party, after the blocking of a neo-Nazi party by the Supreme Court, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said that according to the Constitution, that party leader (jailed former MP Ilias Kasidiaris) has a right to vote.
“Political leaders cannot block the path for anyone who wants to go to elections and then allow him, while governing, to make statements from within the jail. Only the Greek people can decide who will be elected.”
MeRA25 leader Yanis Varoufakis described Greece following the loan memoranda as “Swiss cheese”: the state does not check the tax service, while the digital minister does not even have access to the software of the tax service.
“Do you know any other country in which a Superfund is controlled by foreign lenders?,” he said, referring to Greece’s national investment fund. He proposed instead consultation councils, which would include citizens chosen both by vote and by lottery, to serve as supervisors of civil services.
He proposed that an FBI-like agency be set up to pursue large business and political crime, and asked the prime minister why he did not draw up an investigative committee on the 2015 negotiations in the EU that he conducted. “Why did you balk [at doing that], Mr. Mitsotakis?”