‘There is a strategic threat, as by all indications Moscow is seeking through economic pressure to stir social unrest and political instability within countries that react to its plans,’ Mitsotakis told a cabinet meeting.
By Dimitris Chondros
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis wants to transcend the current heavy political climate caused by the surveiilance affair and shift the political agenda, ahead of what is likely to be a protracted pre-electoral period, in his major address at the Thessaloniki International Affair (TIF) next week.
Pressured by the problems of inflation, the uncertain political environment, and the EU’s handling of the energy crisis, the PM, the finance ministry, and his economic advisors are seeking a complex and effective policy mix in order for the country, and especially those in lower income brackets, to endure what is expected to be a financially very tough winter.
That objective is encumbered by the political pressures resulting from the dark affair of surveillance of a party leader by the National Intelligence Service (EYP), and its possibly asymmetrical ramifications.
Invoking scenarios of political instability, Karamanlis’ vitriolic criticism
Two weeks after the revelation that the telephone of centre-left PASOK leader Nikos Androulakis had been wiretapped by EYP, the case is being investigated in Parliament, but it still remains in the news, stirring restlessness, concerns, and some turbulence in the government.
The PM’s remarks at a 30 September cabinet about external threats was seen as revealing governmental jitters.
“There is a strategic threat, as by all indications Moscow is seeking through economic pressure to stir social unrest and political instability within countries that react to its plans,” he said.
The signals from the PM’s office indicate that at TIF next week a central focus of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech will be political stability, with a view to the next general election [which may make the formation of a coalition government difficult as ND will almost certainly not garner an absolute parliamentary majority] and the post-electoral environment.
In that sense, the fallout from the surveillance affair decisively affects the prospect of single-party rule or the creation of a coalition, and discussions within the ruling party have turned to the prospect of changing the electoral law or of holding three consecutive general elections.
‘Blast from Anogeia’
The most significant repercussion of the wiretapping case resulted from a speech by former ND PM Kostas Karamanlis in a speech in Anogeia, Crete.
Speaking at a political memorial for the late New Democracy MP and minister Yannis Kefalogiannis, who was a powerful figure in the party, Karamanlis offered sharp criticism of the handling of the affair, causing great consternation in the PM’s office.
“Clarity and transparency is a fundamental objective of legality in public life. That is all the more true when one is dealing with the surveillance of the telephone of a party leader, a journalist, but also of every citizen. In such situations, a cleanup is achieved only when the circumstances are fully clarified. The issue is so heavy and serious that it is impermissible and intolerable to leave shadows that are virulent for democratic stability. Hence, light must be shed! Plenty of light!” Karamanlis declared.
“For these events to have been provoked by a governmental initiative is both undemocratic and illegal, so far beyond any limit of sick imagination and political inanity that it is inconceivable. There is still a pressing need to clear up who and with what justification requested something like that and how they approved it,” he said.
Karamanlis clearly distanced himself from the central line of the government and the PM.
“Invoking confidentiality in such cases must be overridden by the need for the cleansing of public life. Therefore, everything must come to light, and afterwards, there must be inter-party cooperation on correcting the institutional framework regarding the lifting of the privacy of telephone communications, but also on [reforming] the operation of the intelligence services in general. These things are fundamental in order to prevent the further degradation of institutions,” he said.
Quest for a Karamanlis-Mitsotakis ‘truce’
Karamanlis’ intentions in lambasting the PM have been interpreted in various ways, from the idea that he simply wanted to send a message to Mitsotakis, to an effort to reconstitute the Karamanlis faction in the party, to the desire to declare that there are authentic and less authentic exponents of the party, at a particularly critical political juncture.
The internal crisis was papered over following contacts between the two politicians’ camps with a leak from the ex-PM’s office that supposedly clarified what Karamanlis meant to say.
It called on anyone “to carefully read the particular excerpt from the ex-prime minister’s speech in order to ascertain that it did not contain barbs against the government, but rather stated what is self-evident – that shadows and rumours must not poison public life”.
That was used by some of Mitsotakis’ closest associates – government spokesman Yannis Economou and State Minister Akis Skertsos – to maintain that there are no differences between the current and former conservative PMs.
Moreover, Karamanlis’ nephew and namesake, Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Kostas Karamanlis, welcomed Mitsotakis to the ancestral homeland of the Karamanlis political family [the ex-PM’s late uncle Konstantinos Karamanlis was the founder of New Democracy, the longest serving PM ever, and President of the Republic], declaring: “Welcome to the city of Serres, welcome to the birthplace of Konstantinos Karamanlis, and I want you to know that all members of New Democracy are with you like a clenched fist [in complete unison.”
No disputing of the party leadership for the time being
Nevertheless, there is unrest within the ruling party and some within or at the margins of ND are concerned that recent events might lead it to a climate of introversion.
Party cadres, MPs, and ministers insist that the ex-PM’s remarks and rampant concerns of deputies cannot be viewed at this time as an effort to dispute Mitsotakis’ leadership of the party. They are more concerned about the outcome of the next general election and their own re-election.
The crucial Port of Alexandroupolis privatisation tender, US interest
Given the PM’s recent references to perceived destabilisation designs by Moscow in the new geopolitical environment, the pending tender for the privatisation of the Port of Alexandroupolis is of critical importance.
The tender was postponed for a second time in July, and the new deadline for the acquisition of a share of at least 67 percent is at the end of September.
US interest in the port, and chiefly its military-geopolitical dimension, is well known, as it has repeatedly been stated publicly. Moreover, two US companies are participating in the tender.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told his Greek counterpart, Nikos Panagiotopoulos, at an 18 July meeting in Washington, that: “I would also like to stress the prioritised access that your government offered our forces at the Port of Alexandroupolis, which allows us to continue to provide military aid to Ukraine, to confront hostile elements, and to conduct exercises and operations in the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, and the Black Sea region.”