Greek PM: coronavirus crisis has discredited populists | FT

Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discusses his country’s surprising success in containing Covid-19, in an interview with FT editor Roula Khalaf and Europe editor Ben Hall. Read more at

I’m rula khalaf editor of the ft and i’m joined by ben hall europe editor we’re interviewing kyriakos mitsutakis the prime minister of greece a country that surprised many with its theft handling of the covet crisis i’m going to dive right in and just start off by asking you about your covet experience because a lot of people have been just watching greece

And wondering how did you get it right well it was certainly a very very intense period as you can imagine and you know looking back to what happened over the past four months i think we took some difficult decisions very early on we clearly listened to the experts it was very very obvious to me that at some point we needed to go into full lockdown mode and

My political decision was to do it earlier rather than later and i think we convinced the people that we needed to demonstrate collective responsibility in order to essentially protect what is the most valuable asset that we have which is our public health and of course i also knew coming into the crisis that we had relatively relatively small number of icu

Beds that coming out of a 10-year austerity we had an underfunded public health system so we could not afford um to have our health care system overrun by covet cases which we could not deal with i made it very very uh very clear that we needed to to sacrifice the potential for economic growth in order to get this crisis uh under control and my argument was

Also relatively simple the more successful you are in quickly flattening the curve and bringing the crisis under control the more vigorous the recovery um afterwards the second part of the hypothesis hasn’t been proven yet but by intervening uh quickly i think we have essentially set the foundations for a more uh robust recovery and we’ve also um helped the

Greek brand uh of course because what what you what you described came as a surprise to many so we got a lot of the press and a lot of people were pleasantly uh surprised by what they what they call uh you know the greek success story and a lot of people obviously are looking forward to to spending a summer holiday in greece and you have just opened up the

The tourism sector again although not for everybody the uk is still an exception is that going to come soon now i think it will come soon if things continue to go according to plan we should be able to welcome visitors from the uk as of july 15th maybe for the first 15 days just in a couple of our airports so they may have to fly through athens um we’re still

Looking at the data but we want to make sure that the people who come to greece do so in a in a safe manner for themselves but also for the local population and we’ve put a lot of effort in making sure that the experience is as safe as possible what does this mean as far as i know we’re one of the very few countries if not the only country that actually still

Does random but targeted screening of visitors who actually come to greece so we have a very complicated algorithm that essentially allows us to identify those tourists who will be screened up on arrival we don’t force them to go into quarantine we just ask them to be careful for a day until the results come back in case they are they are positive they obviously

Need to self-isolate but so far from the data that we have because we’ve been testing people coming into greece for the past two months a very very very small percentage of people actually test positive and we do hope that this trend is going to continue you told the cabinet uh recently that the tourist season was going to be very difficult yet earlier in the

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Crisis your your government was a bit more upbeat and thought that it could salvage the seasons so what’s made you more pessimistic and why how much of the season do you think you can actually save this year the very honest answer is i don’t know most of our tourists come during the summer what we’ve seen recently which is optimistic is we’ve seen a lot of

Bookings last moment bookings even for the month of july so i think as long as people understand that we’ve done what needs to be done that greece is a safe destination i do expect people who want to travel to have greece as their top choice and we hope that this is going to uh that the trend is going to the positive momentum is going to build during the summer

Look last year we welcomed 33 million visitors it’s going to be a fraction of that um i don’t i can’t give you a an an exact number uh but probably by the end of july things go go well i do expect a much better august and a much better september and hopefully we can actually extend the season into october and why not november your recovery after the financial

Crisis was driven by tourism and now for this year tourism will not perform the way that you wanted and it has become in some ways a liability because you rely on on visitors from from abroad how are you thinking about the diversification of of the economy how do you make up for that we have a very uh very aggressive reform agenda and our plan is a long-term

Reform plan we really want to transform the greek economy into an economy that is going to focus on the green transition on the digital transition my challenge is to make sure that we do crisis management and at the same time we don’t forget about long-term long-term planning and long-term reforms we still have three years in our mandate we will be i’ll be

Celebrating you know my first year uh in uh in office uh on july 7th you know it feels like it has been i don’t know a century uh in terms of you know how much has happened really since i became uh prime minister but i’m very much uh aware of the fact that there are long-term reform projects that will actually change the the fabric of the economy make it more

Open make it more extrovert make it more competitive these are reforms that essentially were never done in greece during the programs we had the troika you know asking us forcing us to do reforms and there was never really any domestic buying uh i think this has changed i think greeks have matured a lot and we want to do our own reforms and do you think that

The the management of the covet crisis gives your government more credibility more legitimacy to take even tougher decisions i think yes i i think certainly what emerged out of the coveted crisis was a renewed sense of trust in politics and institutions in technocrats as you know greece has gone through various waves of populism and the first who are always

Attacked when populists come into power are the technocrats i view myself both as a politician and as a technocrat i think you can actually combine both roles so we certainly are much stronger today let’s talk about the eu recovery fund what are you expecting for greece and you go into the summit in a couple of weeks with optimism we need to make sure that by

July 20th we have a deal and the deal needs to look very similar in my mind to what the commission has proposed what has the permission proposed a bold next generation fund 750 billion two-thirds grants one-third loans financed through the commission which is going to be able to raise money on the on the public markets on behalf of member states a clear focus

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On on reforms and on addressing the covet crisis in my mind we need a longer term horizon we need at least four years for this fund to actually do the job are you prepared to accept some quite tough conditionality um in return for this money or is there a way that it can be organized that will be politically acceptable to to greece as well as to the frugal fall

No i’m not prepared to accept any you know additional tough conditionality uh beyond what i consider to be perfectly natural which is the framework um of the european semester we we have a framework in place to monitor the performance of national economies and to the extent that this will apply to to everyone i don’t think any additional strict conditionality is

Actually necessary you know ben at some point we need to trust each other here and this is this is also even at the level of the uh of the council uh again the reason why we want to do these reforms are because in the long term or even in the median term they’re going to be good for our economy uh if we just go out and spend the money you know the easiest the

Easiest thing is to go and spend money today the question is what is going to be the impact of of these of these policies we did spend a lot of money to make sure that we support uh jobs during the covet crisis but we don’t want to use the recovery fund in the same way that we occasionally in the past used eu structural funds because if i look at the overall

You know footprint of eu structural funds for greece i’d say we’ve done an average job in in taking advantage of what was offered if the fund is not agreed what’s at stake for the eurozone and for greece’s place inside it it’s not just i don’t think it’s this is not just relevant just for greece i think literally the future of the eurozone of europe of the

Integrity of um of the european uh union as a whole is at stake i think market reaction in case of a disagreement um is going to be you know rather negative and of course the victims are going to be possibly the you know the weaker the countries that are perceived to be the weaker links i don’t think greece is if you look at it structurally is is a weak link

Today but it certainly has a lot of debt you can’t argue with that you mentioned the debt and the recovery fund won’t make an enormous difference to greece’s debt burden which according to the commission should climb up to nearly 200 percent of gdp at some stage potentially relatively soon the whole question of debt sustainability comes right back into play

Doesn’t it i’m not necessarily why am i saying that if you look at our debt repayment profile as you know until 2032 it’s extremely benign um greece is able to to tap the capital markets regularly with you know interest rates that would have been inconceivable a year ago so our debt profile has very very specific characteristics obviously we’re hit because our

Gdp has dropped but if if we return to um a a robust growth path as was the plan before uh before covet i don’t consider you know that sustainability to be a a real issue for uh for greece uh and up to until 2032 uh in terms of our debt repayment uh schedule we are we’re absolutely fine greece enjoyed a certain amount of chinese investment which helped it to

Propel it uh to recovery um but the geopolitic political context is changing quite a lot and and attitudes are hardening towards chinese investment um uh do you think that greece will still open its arms to chinese investors in the near future we are open to all credible investors the big challenge for greece is to attract foreign investment be it through assets

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That are being privatized and we continue we intend to continue with our privatization program despite the covet uh hiccup or in terms of you know greenfield uh in investment in the in the country we know we need to attract we need to increase investment as a percentage of gdp we are not overly dependent on chinese investment they’ve made one big investment

In the port of periods which has been a very successful investment and we have an agreed plan with costco in terms of how they will proceed and of course we will honor our agreement and i’m sure they will honor their agreement now of course the situation regarding how the european union deals with china and i think we need to to speak with you know with one

Voice with more confidence uh is has suddenly emerged as an important geopolitical um challenge um for um for the european union but i don’t see you know other european countries stop doing business with china or in principle putting a direct ban on on chinese investment so china is obviously important for us it’s also an important market for chinese tourists

It’s probably china is probably the biggest up-and-coming tourist market for the next decade let’s talk about turkey you had a recent call with president erdogan how did that go and what can you do and what are you doing to ease tensions let me point out that when i first met president erdogan as new elected prime minister back in september of 2019 at the

United nations general assembly i told him very openly that i’m looking forward to opening you know a new chapter in greek turkish relations but this would mean that we need to stop you know the sort of aggressive behavior and make sure we follow you know good neighborly basic good neighborly relations and uh and rely on you know on international law to solve

Whatever differences we may have unfortunately you know turkey’s response on the ground hasn’t been the one that i was uh you know i was hoping for turkey is increasingly behaving aggressively in the eastern mediterranean it signed what we consider a totally illegal memorandum of understanding um regarding the delimitation of maritime zones between turkey and

Libya it is very very active in libya in complete violation of what it agreed to do at the at the berlin process it is illegally drilling within the exclusive economic zone of cyprus and essentially what we’ve said is that this behavior can no longer continue so we need on the other hand we need to make sure that channels of communication with turkey are being

Kept open the trend that’s been observed in the last few months is that more mainstream parties like like yours have done much better than governments led by by populist leaders does that suggest to you that we’ve reached a turning point or is this more of a passing phenomenon and that the rise of the populists will will continue we were the first country that

Elected a populist government to power and we paid a very heavy price five years ago to the day was the the dramatic week when the greek banks closed when we held the referendum when we came very close to the precipice and thank god we made sure that we avoided the worst because the government realized that it had to perform a u-turn but it cost us three years

Of growth but i think of it did a lot to to discredit those who believe that there are easy and simplified solutions to complicated problems and and those who always want to hold somebody else accountable for their own shortcomings this doesn’t work when you have to save lives on a daily basis well prime minister thank you so much

Transcribed from video
Greek PM: coronavirus crisis has discredited populists | FT By Financial Times

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