PM Mitsotakis on CNN: The Greek people turned their backs on populism

The Greek people grew tired of policies that encouraged anger and nationalism and realized these led nowhere, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview aired on Sunday afternoon (Greek time), explaining both the failure of SYRIZA to win elections and of extreme-right Golden Dawn to enter parliament again.

Mitsotakis was asked by Zakaria to briefly outline his strategy for defeating ruling SYRIZA in the July 7 elections. “My strategy was very, very clear,” the Greek premier responded. “I was convinced that you can never beat the populists by playing their own game. And so my bet was that at some point the Greek people would crave for serious result-oriented policies, and this is what we delivered to the Greek people.”

Commenting on how extreme-right Golden Dawn lost all its seats, falling below the 3 pct threshold to enter parliament, he said that “after ten years of crisis the Greek people have had enough of the politics of anger, of rage, of pointless nationalism.” He added that “in a sense, after experimenting with populism I think that the pendulum is clearly swinging in the opposite direction.”

His party’s platform, he said, focused “on an agenda that was patriotic but certainly not nationalistic” and “on the problems that people really care about: issues that have to do with taxation, overtaxation, issues that have to do with lack of investment, how do we create new jobs, issues that have to do with improving the efficiency of the public sector.”

The response was a wider support of his party, New Democracy, which he described as more rational than emotional. “It was the expected backlash after four years of a very incompetent government being in power,” he added.

Zakaria also asked the premier to comment on the migration issue, which has fuelled public debate on both sides of the Atlantic. Mitsotakis recognized that some of the complaints pandered to by populism were valid. “A lot of the grievances upon which the populists feed are very real grievances, and they have to be recognized,” he said, underlining however that populist solutions are oversimplified and don’t address the issue correctly.

He noted that Greece had experienced an extraordinary number of migrants arrive at its shores. “In 2015, more than a million people came through Greece and most of them ended up in western Europe,” he noted, “so of course immigration is an issue for us and we have the solutions that we have proposed – very reasonable ones.” He added that his government’s policy would be to monitor Greek borders better, change Greek asylum rules and ensure that European funding is used in a more efficient manner.