Tirana Appeals Court decides on the continued detention of Himare's ethnic Greek mayor Fredi Beleri
Himare's recently-elected ethnic Greek mayor, Fredi Beleri, must remain in custody until trial.
The Greek party leaders' debate on national broadcaster ERT opened on Wednesday night with responses related to the theme of the economy, development, and employment, with short answers mostly on the clock.
The issue of inflation is a global one, New Democracy leader and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. "It has started dropping in Greece, although prices remain high in foods." He said that families tried by the high cost of living were supported through the market pass program, but that the policy for a second four-year term would be to increase wages. "Inflation will drop, but wage increases will be permanent," he asserted. Decreases in VAT would not be effective for consumers, he added.
Civil servants' wages have not increased in 14 years, and there is fiscal space to do this, SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras said, adding there is fiscal space to do this from taxing the excess profits of large businesses. "While the average household is left without money three weeks into the month, 15 large businesses in the Stock Exchange have 20-year records of 1 billion euros in profits each," he underlined. He criticized the government for 10 billion euros in subsidies "so that energy companies can keep prices high," and added that "if we do not decide to make radical changes, in a few years from now there will be no middle class left."
PASOK-Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Nikos Androulakis said he supported stability for economic prospects, and not a standstill or new fiscal adventures. The party's program aimed at improving the lives of Greeks and included measures for private debt, focusing mostly on protecting the primary home, as PASOK did in 2010. In addition, he said, tax inequities should be fixed and tax incentives provided to new couples to buy homes.
Its plan aimed at serving the interests of the Greek people, said Communist Party of Greece (KKE) Secretary General Dimitris Koutsoubas, while all other parties spoke of painful primary surpluses and 350 directly antipopular measures to bring the Greek people to its knees again. None of the parties that supported 50% of New Democracy's draft bills voted to increase minimum wage or to protect people from taxes and pass laws on collective agreements, he added, saying that 95% of all taxes came from the common people and only 5% came from the few and wealthy.
Every serious country should have a Plan B to overcome difficulties, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said. Having a parallel currency does not help, but there must be an alternative in case something serious happens in the eurozone, particularly if it ends up collapsing, Velopoulos noted, adding that he is speaking as a businessman. He also criticized the other party leaders for their promises when the source of funding their plans was not obvious. Instead, he said, the productive and the tax models should change, including a flat 15% tax on individuals and companies. PASOK, ND and SYRIZA are responsible for defaulted loans, and cannot therefore provide solutions.
"We believe that joining the euro was a mistake, but we also recognize the great cost of leaving [the eurozone]," MeRA25 Secretary Yanis Varoufakis said, adding that his party's plan 'Dimitra' does not relate to a currency, but to a payment system. Greece is heading to a minefield of international economy, without any defenses for what is coming, he warned.
Party leaders stress the obligation to defend Greece's borders
In the fast-paced live event involving the six Greek party leaders, six journalists with a moderating colleague sought responses to questions of foreign policy and defense.
The armaments programs were very well planned and did not diverge from fiscal rules, New Democracy leader and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said. "That is why we achieved primary surpluses in 2022 and will do so this year as well." He added that Greece "built very powerful alliances, and the balance between Greece and Türkiye in the US Congress is leaning toward Greece." Mitsotakis also welcomed main opposition leader Alexis Tsipras' comments that he would continue the defense programs because "they are non-negotiable."
The ND leader also commented on Turkish elections, saying that "we will respect the choice of the Turkish people, and I am willing to talk with whomever it chooses." He said that Turkish revisionism is systemic and has been incorporated into all Turkish parties, but he would be willing to discuss the only outstanding issue with Türkiye, which is the delimitation of maritime zones. "The policy of strong deterrence and strong alliances must continue," he underlined.
SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance will "obviously honor the defense contracts Greece has signed, but will fight to bring projects to the Greek defense industry as well," party leader Alexis Tsipras responded, adding that "it is unacceptable that a program of 14-15 billion euros has not brought a single euro to the Greek defense industry." Türkiye, for example, had linked 60% of its defense to its national industry.
"Following very many years of [loan] memoranda difficulties, we were the first government to move ahead and upgrade the F-16s and improve the country's defense," he noted. He also pointed out that as main opposition party, he voted for most of the programs introduced in Parliament by New Democracy, like the frigates and Rafale. Tsipras added however that his party would not give a carte blanche to programs not supported by the Greek Armed Forces general staffs; the example he used was the government's announcement of purchasing the extra Rafale jets instead of having the Armed Forces do so.
The main opposition leader also said "defending the borders is self-evident" and his government did not tear down the border wall. "We will not oppose the proposals of people in the know," but "we will not fool citizens," either, he noted. The migration and refugee issue cannot be resolved through walls but through negotiations on a European level, with a new migration and asylum plan that distributes the burden fairly between European countries.
In terms of relations with Türkiye, PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis said that his party's policy followed three main paths, whoever wins the elections in the neighboring country: a) Lifting the veto in the EU so that a European policy for Türkiye can be formulated, b) guarding the borders and using European funding to strengthen the border wall, since Greek borders are also European borders, and c) strengthening armaments programs and the Greek defense industry. Greece, he underlined, must play a leading role in the EU, pushing for a European policy on Türkiye that will not be obscured by references to a Prespes-like Agreement on the Aegean, and that there is nothing to discuss.
All armaments agreements signed with France, the United States, and other countries serve NATO's interests and lead to participation in aggressive acts that will make Greece a target of retaliation, Communist Party of Greece (KKE) leader Dimitris Koutsoubas said. "Sending armaments to Ukraine, having Hellenic Air Force jets flying over the Balkans and warships sailing the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea does not serve the need to protect Greece's airspace, borders, and sovereign rights," he underlined.
Asked what he would do if his party won the elections, Koutsoubas replied, "We have nothing to argue about with, for example, the Turkish people. We can have relations with all countries of the world, including the United States, Germany, Russia, China, and others." He also expressed disagreement with the embargo against Russia, "which results in the Greek farmer and Greek worker paying for these sanctions, preventing us from developing relations on an equal standing with other countries."
In a multi-polar world, you cannot simply choose your fate, you must choose who to align with, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said. "Under the West, we lost the name 'Macedonia' and North Epirus, while international treaties said different things. We lost half of Cyprus, we are losing the Aegean, and we may lose Thrace. For Greek Solution, the national interest establishes whose side we will join," he said. International law serves as an alibi of a failure, he insisted; "there is no international law. You cannot say that the Greek-Turkish issue is a European problem, when the billions our partners have invested in Türkiye serve to obstruct that."
"The defense of our national space is an obligation we all have," MeRA25 Secretary Yanis Varoufakis said, in response to a question on what he would do if Turkish commandos landed on a Greek islet. He also underlined clarifying that Greece does not need the permission of its allies to use its defense systems, contrary to what former prime minister Kostas Simitis did in 1996, Varoufakis pointed out. The same happened on Cyprus in 1974, he added.
"Deterrence is utmost," he noted, however, and said that MeRA25 is leading efforts for a regional international conference on delimiting maritime zones, since it rejects bilateral contacts with Türkiye. If an invasion did occur, he would listen carefully to the general staffs' opinions and hold several meetings with allies as well.
Varoufakis also expressed support for the abolition of mandatory military service, insisting that it is a necessary step to increasing the readiness of the Armed Forces, very much like what happens in the United States and Great Britain.
Party leaders speak of surveillance fallout and possibilities of collaboration after elections
The theme of "State, institutions, transparency" during the live debate broadcast on ERT included the issue of phone surveillance. The issue broke with revelations in August 2022 that the government of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had tapped the phone of PASOK-KINAL leader Nikos Androulakis, followed by more. The furore led to the resignation of the National Intelligence Service (EYP) chief and his government liaison (the premier's nephew), investigations, and the PM's apology.
Asked by journalists whether he had had any thoughts of resigning, the New Democracy leader responded that he did not, "but courageously assumed my responsibility and two specific commitments": to have the issue examined and to amend legislative missteps. His government reintroduced the mandatory sign-off of two, instead of one, judge on a planned surveillance and included the Parliament speaker also "to avoid a repeat of a surveillance that I had from the very start said must not take place." He added, "I would like to believe that EYP may be able to consistently provide each prime minister with the information he needs."
The explanations for tapping the head of the Greek Armed Forces, a political leader, and an active minister "were not adequate," the PM said, adding that "Mr. Androulakis does not comprise any kind of danger for the security of Greece, and should not be under surveillance." The New Democracy leader said that the case created "a shadow over our government, I have no doubt about it, and it should not have occurred."
He also cited The Economist as saying that "democracy in Greece has improved despite the wiretapping scandal - even in the case of Mykonos we proved we will not tolerate pockets of illegality," referring to the rampant violation of building codes on the popular island.
"Well, if the prime minister is asked and he replies, 'The explanations I gave were not adequate,' let him give us some today," SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader Alexis Tsipras said, questioning how he could "collaborate with Androulakis tomorrow if he is truly an 'agent' and 'a national threat'." In terms of forming a coalition government in the upcoming elections on May 21, the main opposition leader said he has called on all progressive parties to join his, as there is a future based on a program that will increase wages, reduce prices, and manage debts. "I see there are approaches, but we shall see them better after elections, I think," he noted.
Tsipras said it was natural that all parties are antagonistic ahead of elections, even those that tend to approach each other in policy programs, but he was listening carefully to both Koutsoubas (KKE) and Androulakis (PASOK-KINAL).
The wiretapping issue "has haunted the domestic political system, Greece has come under the cross-hairs for issues related to institutions, violations of human rights and of the division of powers," PASOK-KINAL's Androulakis said. "I trust Greek justice, but not its political system," he added.
Androulakis expressed disbelief that there would be "such a dark state with so many involved, and the crisis of trust is also related to the behavior of other parties." He said that "respect and justice mean that we politicians should show that there is a separation of powers." He cited the report of the European Parliament's PEGA (Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware) for saying that the rule of law was violated in Greece, and he criticized the government again for trying to shield the PM's nephew from parliamentary procedures.
Asked what could be done for a more independent judicial branch, the PASOK-KINAL leader said, "We need modernisation and great institutional changes for a new European reality. We have not become Hungary, Mr. Mitsotakis, but we are on the path to becoming one."
On the question of why KKE declines Tsipras' invitation to join a coalition government, KKE party leader Koutsoubas explained, "We never said that Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Mitsotakis were the same, or Syriza and ND, and all the rest of the parties. What we are saying is that they have common programs, the same goals, and these relate to the Recovery Fund and its requirements, the country's energy policy and the so-called green transition, the choices of international allies, of NATO and the EU, who in our opinion obstruct Greece's development and the Greek people's interests. In this direction and on that basis of these programs, we have said that we will not tolerate or support such a government."
Koutsoubas said the people should be warned not to believe campaign pronouncements, while he rejected as baseless questions about KKE funding. "The party is subject to constant audits from the tax services, the Parliament committee, and certified accountants," he asserted.
Asked if he expected far-right voters to cast their ballot for his party, after the blocking of a neo-Nazi party by the Supreme Court, Greek Solution leader Kyriakos Velopoulos said that according to the Constitution, that party leader (jailed former MP Ilias Kasidiaris) has a right to vote. "Political leaders cannot block the path for anyone who wants to go to elections and then allow him, while governing, to make statements from within jail. Only the Greek people can decide who will be elected."
Velopoulos also said it was unlikely he would join ND in a coalition government, if the election results were such. "Collaboration with a party that directly hands out contracts, one which betrayed Macedonia, discussed maritime zones - I will never do that. Our difference with Türkiye is a single one, we don't unfold several others," he insisted.
MeRA25 leader Yanis Varoufakis described Greece following the loan memoranda as "Swiss cheese": the state does not check the tax service, while the digital minister does not even have access to the software of the tax service. "Do you know any other country in which a Superfund is controlled by foreign lenders?," he said, referring to Greece's national investment fund. He proposed instead consultation councils, which would include citizens chosen both by vote and by lottery, to serve as supervisors of civil services.
He proposed that an FBI-like agency be set up to pursue large business and political crime, and asked the prime minister why he did not draw up an investigative committee on the 2015 negotiations in the EU that he conducted. "Why did you balk [at doing that], Mr. Mitsotakis?"
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