All three are loyal ambassadors of reformist and ambitious leadership. While the Italian, disavowed at the end of 2016, has been discreet on the public scene, the other two still occupy the front of European political life. The Greek, elected in 2019 Prime Minister of his country – a parliamentary regime – is now fighting for another term. According to polls, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, 55, will fail to secure an outright majority in the national elections on May 21. He will probably have to resort to a second ballot in early July, raising the specter of political instability.
Trial in arrogance
After ten years of economic crisis and drastic austerity, the head of government has a very solid economic record. Unemployment, the highest in the eurozone just five years ago, has fallen below 11%. The minimum wage, increased three times, now stands at 780 euros. Tax revenue in March 2023 exceeded the set target by 12.4%. By 2026, the debt ratio should fall by 36%, to 135%, and the Greek deficit would then fall behind that of Italy. All while allocating 10 billion euros to energy. Greece even afforded the luxury of posting a small budget surplus of 0.1% at the end of 2022.
However, the Prime Minister, decked out like Macron with an image of an arrogant technocrat, failed, like him, to reap the electoral benefit of his good economic performance. “When I observe these two leaders, I see a Europe that has a long-term, liberal and reforming vision, underlines Maria Diamantopoulou, candidate of the conservative party for Greeks abroad, living in Paris. For example, today today, we are talking about Greece 2.0, with a greatly reduced bureaucracy. Unthinkable just a few years ago.”
It is difficult not to compare the French president and the Greek head of government. Same prestigious university course: Sciences-Po and ENA (now INSP) for one, Harvard Business School for the other. Both cut their teeth in banking, Rothschild for Macron, McKinsey and the National Bank of Greece for Mitsotakis. “They speak the same language, believes Andreas Drimiotis, political analyst. They have a formatted thought, giving priority to the financial markets, which is essential to the image that their country projects on the international scene, and are less sensitive to disputes. They know that if the markets go wild, it will be an economic tsunami.”
Macron and Mitsotakis do not hesitate to run marathons in contact with the population, and to use all the new tools of well-honed communication. “If some consider them haughty and sometimes contemptuous, it is because they are trying to pull their country up and do not seek to be ‘normal'”, defends one of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ advisers. One of the reasons which undoubtedly explains the distrust of part of the electorate towards them.
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But the fall in popularity of the Greek Prime Minister is also due to other reasons. First, his reputation was tarnished by a dark wiretapping affair, in which dozens of politicians, journalists and economic leaders were monitored by the secret services. Above all, Mitsotakis suffered popular condemnation after the railway tragedy of February 28, which claimed 57 victims, many of them young people. “This drama has demonstrated the failure and carelessness of certain infrastructures, such as the railroad, comments the pollster Angelos Sertakos, head of the Prorata Institute’s investigation division. Even if he is not entirely responsible, this anger necessarily refers to the party in power.”
In the processions chanting the word “murderers” and calling the authorities to account, calls for the resignation of Kyriakos Mitsotakis are increasing. On March 8, at the height of the mobilization, they were at least 65,000 in the streets, including 40,000 in the capital.
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In addition to their economic similarities, Macron and Mitsotakis maintain bonds of friendship today. A relationship born in the summer of 2020, when Greece was threatened by neighboring Turkey. In a show of force, Ankara had a drillship escorted by warships in the Aegean Sea. Despite declarations of support from the UN, NATO and the European Union, Athens felt quite alone. Nobody took action… except Emmanuel Macron. Thanks to the intervention of fighter planes and French ships, in the form of military exercises, the Turkish artillery turned back. “Mitsotakis returned the favor, all things considered, during the Aukus scandal and the cancellation of the order for French submarines by Australia, concludes Andreas Drimiotis. It was at this time that Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that he was buying three Belharra frigates from France.”
If Paris cannot officially support the candidate Mitsotakis, it should nevertheless be noted that ten days before the election, Clément Beaune, Minister of Transport, was received in Greece with all the honors to announce a close collaboration with the SNCF. And better heal the wounds left by the frontal collision of the two trains, at the end of February.
A First Lady as an ambassador
His non-conformist personality fascinates the Greek media. Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis met her husband Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the benches of the prestigious Harvard Business School. For a long time at Deutsche Bank in London, she decided to drop everything in 2013 to help her country, which was sinking into crisis. She then created Zeus + Dione, a ready-to-wear haute couture brand inspired by ancient Greece. Immediate success. But when her husband becomes Prime Minister, she has to give up the leadership.
Since then, the First Lady – who had separated five years from her husband – has become an ambassador of Greek arts. On May 24, it is she who will welcome, during the award ceremony, the winner of the Pritzker Prize, the British architect David Chipperfield chosen to transform the Archaeological Museum of Athens. Perfectly English and French speaking, she immediately formed a close friendship with Brigitte Macron. This link would even play, it is said, an important role in the Franco-Greek idyll.
Mareva Grabowski-Mitsotakis. This banker met her husband at Harvard. Credit: Alexandros Vlachos/EPA/MaxPPP
By Alexia Kefalas