What Mitsotakis, the contender for Greek prime ministry, thinks about Turkey
“We are prepared for the worst scenario. Our job is to always be prepared for the worst scenario. And we will be,” said the person who is likely to replace Alexis Tsipras as prime minister of Greece after the July 7 general election. Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the son of a former prime minister, Kostantinos Mitsotakis, and the brother of former foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis.
He was replying to a journalist’s question on what he would do if Turkey “makes a move” at the time when he is taking over the government.
After a highly polarized campaign for the European and local elections last May, which ended in a humiliating defeat for the governing Syriza party and a personal defeat for Tsipras, according to all opinion polls, the leftist Syriza is heading for a defeat again in this Sunday’s general elections. However, all indications are that it will manage to hold onto a considerable percentage of the vote and continue as the main opposition.
So, given that the liberal-conservative party of New Democracy (ND) is most likely to succeed the leftist Syriza, it may be interesting to see what we know so far about their attitude towards Turkey and generally about the future of Greek-Turkish relations under Mitsotakis.
Interestingly, New Democracy so far has not said much about its policy towards Turkey. Mitsotakis has chosen to keep the issue of “Turkey” rather in the background during his electoral campaign, choosing domestic issues instead. During the last few months, which were marked by heightened tensions in the Greek-Turkish affairs, especially on energy and drilling matters in the eastern Mediterranean, New Democracy has generally supported the Syriza government’s policies in attacking Turkey and trying to get EU and U.S. support against an increasing Turkish presence around Cyprus.
But we did not get a clear picture on whether they have a distinctive policy that they intend to follow when in power. Nor do we know, so far for sure, who is going to take over the foreign ministry portfolio. No clear name has come up as the new foreign minister, although the current holder of the position of shadow foreign minister is George Koumoutsakos, a former diplomat with a long experience serving in the European Parliament. He is one of the likely choices.
So as the clock is ticking towards a change of guard in Greece, it may be useful to look into some statements by Mitsotakis which may give us an indication of his intended attitude towards Turkey.
Referring to the likelihood that the EU Commission was asked to decide to impose sanctions on Turkey because of its drilling activities around Cyprus, Mitsotakis said in a recent interview to Greek media: “In diplomacy, there are many weapons on the table. Sanctions are already an important weapon in the EU’s arsenal,” he said, adding that “presently, the Turkish economy is in a fragile state, it cannot sustain more fluctuations and from a point onwards it will be clear to everybody that Turkish activities will cause reaction on a European level. There is no use of too much talking, nor making evaluations, nor feeling excessively uneasy; people should not be scared. Foreign policy needs consistency and, when needed, strictness and decisiveness. And this is going to be my personal fight in Europe. But it will also be an effort to have an honest discussion with Turkey and Mr. [President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan on the basis of international law and the unwritten law of good neighborly relations.”
And in another point, he says: “I believe that a change in government is a chance for an honest restart of Greek-Turkish relations. But this presupposes, at this point, and first of all, good will gestures on behalf of Turkey because the present escalation [of tension] is a product of Turkish aggression which cannot go on without causing reaction.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of the ideas that Mitsotakis has let us know regarding his policy towards Turkey is the refugee/migrant problem. He has criticized the Tsipras government bitterly for mismanagement of the migrant issue and the piling up of thousands of migrants on the Aegean islands in miserable condition. So, he says, he intends to bring the matter up with Turkey, urgently. “Whoever is not entitled to asylum will be returned to Turkey,” he has said, promising that he will accelerate the asylum-granting procedures.
The refugee/migrant issue is a complicated one which cannot be solved without the cooperation of Turkey. It seems that in solving this issue, Mitsotakis’s team counts on the frustration felt by regional powers with Turkey, like Israel, Egypt and Cyprus, and on the solidarity of the U.S. and the EU towards Greece. In another interview, Koumoutsakos did not mince his words. “Turkey, at this moment is diplomatically an isolated country. It used to say and proclaim the policy of zero problems with its neighbors. Now it has become a country with zero neighbors.”
Whether Mitsotakis will be able to “very quickly” solve the refugee issue and “send them back to Turkey” is debatable. And it is not always a reliable method to try to solve bilateral problems relying on the support of third parties. As defense minister and former chief of staff Evangelos Apostolakis said last week, “In case of a clash with Turkey, we are alone.”