Professor C. L. Max Nikias, as the newly appointed President of the International Advisory Board of the Council for International Relations-Greece (CFIR-GR), introduced Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the keynote speaker at an international teleconference on “Greek High Strategy.” The conference, in which scholars and journalists queried the Greek leader about his country’s future, was organized by CFIR-GR.
“Prime Minister Mitsotakis is one of Europe’s most dynamic new leaders and is widely viewed as a rising star,” Nikias said. “Born in Crete, he comes from a storied political family. He’s the son of former Prime Minister Konstantinos Mitsotakis, who is related to Greece’s legendary statesman Eleftherios Kyriakos Venizelos.”
Mitsotakis took the reins of the Greek government in July 2019. Under his leadership “Greece turned around an economy that had been stagnant for a decade. The country began experiencing strong economic growth,” Nikias said. “Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and along with the rest of the world, Greece’s economy foundered. Because the country is so dependent on tourism, Greece was hit harder than most.”
“As if the pandemic weren’t enough, the long-running dispute between Greece and Turkey over territorial waters and natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean began heating up,” Nikias said. “Turkey provoked Greece. There was a military buildup. And the two countries very nearly went to war.”
Mitsotakis began with some historical reflection, noting that 2021 was the 200th anniversary of Greece’s declaration of independence from the Ottoman rule. He said the stake of the next 100 years would be “a Greece with confidence.” Widely praised for his country’s response to the pandemic, Mitsotakis said that “it changes the image that others have of our country, and pleasantly surprises them that Greece can manage this crisis much better than richer and more organized countries.”
The past decade’s economic turmoil caused many Greeks to leave the country. But Mitsotakis views this group as an asset and predicts many will return when the pandemic ebbs. He described the Greek Diaspora as “an important pillar of soft power … The Diaspora is a huge asset for our country, as well as for the Greek language … The fact that all students can participate in lessons through distance learning, is an expression of soft power … People who have left the country can bring back different ideas and experiences. There is a great added value they can bring to our homeland.”
Regarding Turkey, Mitsotakis said, “It is not our intention to enter an arms race. That would be wrong. But we want to talk to Turkey in a friendly way without anyone disputing that our deterrent power is very strong.” He said Greece’s deterrent power stemmed not only from its investments in defense, but from its alliances with NATO and the EU. “Our differences with Turkey also concern Europe. We have expanded the grid of our alliances with other countries that see the world in the same light.”
Asked how Greece was positioned in the competition between the USA and China, Mitsotakis said, “Greece is, geopolitically and in terms of values, located in the Western sphere. The fact that we are a bourgeois liberal democracy built on Western standards of governance proves that our orientation is non-negotiable.” But he added, “As a third pole, Europe should have its own strategy that can bring us closer to the US without ignoring that there are also very strong economic relations with China.”
In closing the conference, Nikias said he was very optimistic about the future of Greece and about the prospects for success for Prime Minister Mitsotakis. “I thank you for generously taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this most worthwhile discussion,” he said. “And I wish you strength as you deal with the challenges of the nation.”
The international conference, conducted entirely in Greek, took place on February 12 and was attended by more than 2,000 people.