Thursday, 11 July 2019

How family and politics shaped Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis



This article was published by Al Jazeera International

The election of Greece’s reformist prime minister could mark a change in political culture after decades of overspending and a decade of austerity




When Kyriakos Mitsotakis assumed his first cabinet post in 2012, Greeks broadly agreed that he’d been seated before the poisoned chalice. Under the terms of a freshly signed, €130bn emergency loan from the Eurozone, the conservatives had to dismiss up to 25,000 state workers over two years and bring down the cost of government. It was Mitsotakis’ job to get it done.



Over two years, he dismissed more than 5,000 people, including the entire municipal police force and two thirds of the state television payroll – something no Greek government had done in living memory.



He also introduced evaluation. “Impunity in the state is over,” he told parliament in March 2014. “We will pull skeletons out of closets and we will send people home who’ve provably engaged in illegal practices.”



Asked about it on state television during his 2016 election campaign for the party leadership, Mitsotakis said, “The dismissals were a difficult political decision and I shouldered it myself without much support, but it was a government commitment. I don’t appreciate ex post facto criticism.”


Sunday, 7 July 2019

Conservative New Democracy poised for victory in Greece election


This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Athens, Greece - Greece’s conservative New Democracy party is poised to take power in a general election on Sunday, after nearly five years of leftwing rule. The latest polls show the centre-right opposition party of Kyriakos Mitsotakis leading the ruling Syriza by 9-11 percentage points and taking as many as 165 legislators in the 300-member parliament.

A jubilant Mitsotakis, the son of a former prime minister, promised hundreds of supporters in the Greek capital, Athens, prosperity after a decade-long financial crisis.  

“The warmth of your reception is a sign that tomorrow Greece is lifting its head high, but it's also pulling up its sleeves to build a new future,” the 51-year-old former banker said beneath the Acropolis.

The snap election on Sunday comes three months before the end of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ term runs out. The embattled leader called the poll hours after New Democracy trounced his party in May’s European elections.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

In Greece, an organic rebel farm goes against the grain

 A Greek family’s quest for seeds, sustainability and independence

This article was published by Al Jazeera International 
 
Yiorgos (L) and Antonis Antonopoulos on a hill overlooking Dilofo.

DILOFO, Thessaly - On the Greek government’s list of certified organic farmers, Antonis Antonopoulos has the serial number one.

What really makes Antonis and his brother, Yiorgos, a singular phenomenon, though, is not that their model farm pioneered organic methods in Greece; it’s that they were among the first to realise that organically grown, local varieties of wheat and barley other farmers had cast aside could be a commercial hit.

The Antonopouloi have branded and shipped their organic flours made from indigenous grains to specialty shops and bakeries for years. Two years ago, their branded Zea flour, derived from a double-kerneled wheat bred in their town of Dilofo, became the key ingredient in an eponymous sliced bread that is distributed nationwide. Although sales figures are a closely guarded secret, it is clear that Zea’s commercial success has brought an ancient grain back from the brink of extinction.

“Demand is growing,” says Yiorgos Antonopoulos, who won’t divulge his annual turnover or how many hectares he cultivates. “Suffice it to say that I’m better off than anyone else in the area.”

This success is important because Greece is a natural gene bank. Its archipelago, varied terrain and microclimates favoured so many divergent evolutionary paths that today it has the highest plant biodiversity in Europe, with approximately 6,000 wild plant species or subspecies, and thousands of cultivated plants. Should this vast genetic vocabulary be lost, scientists and farmers could lose a vital resource in the fight to keep feeding the planet in a rapidly-changing climate.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Kyriakos Velopoulos: From TV salesman to European Parliament

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.
 
Kyriakow Velopoulos denies he sold "letters written by Christ" in a television appearance on 15 May 2018.
Athens, Greece - Famous in Greece for selling "letters written by Jesus" on television, Kyriakos Velopoulos, a ranting far-right populist and telepersona, managed to pull off one of the biggest surprises of last week's European Parliament elections.



His party, Greek Solution, was an unheard-of party to most Greek voters until May 27. Its capture of 4.2 percent of the national vote in European Parliament elections that day caught the country off-guard.



It also puts the party in place to take more than a dozen seats in the 300-seat national parliament when Greece holds a national election  on July 7.  



Kyriakos Velopoulos, its rags-to-riches founder, a former journalist, attributed the party's popularity to the fact that he met many of his voters personally.



"I crossed the country three times, door to door," he said in a television interview the day after the election. "Politicians today are too far from the people. If everyone had done their jobs, we might not be here today."


Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Greek conservative party well placed ahead of snap election

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis greets supporters in Thessaloniki, on his final campaign speech for the European party election on May 24.


ATHENS - Greek voters punished the ruling Syriza for broken promises in Sunday’s European Parliament election. Conservative New Democracy’s nine-point lead over Syriza was so devastating, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras announced that he will call a snap general election at the end of June, four months early. “The result… is not up to par with our expectations,” Tsipras said.

Tsipras was referring to more than a billion dollars’ worth of handouts he had announced three weeks before, in the form of a halving of sales tax in supermarkets and restaurants, and a bonus pension. Voters were not taken in.

“Tsipras’ handouts acted as a boomerang,” says Nikolaos Nikolaidis, a lawyer with good connections inside the conservative party. “If you look at how pensioners voted, the bonus pension was more of an annoyance. It reminded them of all that had been taken away in previous years. It was also announced just before the election and was clearly connected to it.”

Iran tension highlights EU’s subordinate role

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.


US-Iranian tensions have revived concern over the European Union’s difficulty in speaking with authority on the world stage.



“I don’t see that there’s greater unity in Europe than there was in 2003,” says Thanos Dokos, Director of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, referring to European divisions over the Second Gulf War. “If anything, there is less.”



In the runup to European Parliament elections this month, Iran threatened to depart from a deal struck in 2015 with US President Obama, that lifted trade sanctions against Tehran in return for a vastly scaled down nuclear programme.


Friday, 17 May 2019

Syriza unnerves creditors as it reaches for voters

This article was published by Al Jazeera International.

Greece’s Syriza government on Wednesday approved a slate of tax sweeteners and handouts worth well over a billion euros, as it tried to boost its popularity days ahead of European Parliament elections.

Opposition parties joined Syriza in voting for a measure that allows tax debtors to schedule their arrears in 120 instalments.

They also supported the government in lowering sales tax on food and restaurants from 24 percent to 13 percent.

More controversial was the government’s handout of a 13th monthly pension to 2.5 million retirees.

Syriza has promised further fiscal relaxation ahead of a general election due by October.

“We have a brand and we have recognition value in Europe. It is a left wing brand and we shall contest the next election as the left and win it as the left,” finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos told parliament.