Kyriakos Mitsotakis would never have expected to star in a Greek edition of the perfect storm. Yet fate and events have put the Greek prime minister in charge of the country at a very crucial moment. He has shown determination in dealing with the migration/refugee issue, which has also bolstered his political image. The public was craving for a strong leader – a notion that was largely eclipsed by a sense of humiliation over the past 10 years.
A “perfect storm” is exactly that because it combines many unpredictable threats all at the same time. Difficulties tend to bring out the best in Greeks: “philotimo,” patriotism, generosity and even a sense of community that is rarely seen under normal circumstances.
This has been evident from developments at the Evros border, and this is also the chord that the prime minister is trying to strike with the population. However, this wonderful mix is not enough to help us deal in practical terms with challenges like the coronavirus, immigration or the threat from Turkey. You need to rely on a system, a plan and people with nerves of steel who keep their eye on the ball and ignore the noise.
This is where we are lagging. The economic crisis, in combination with the sins of the past and a complete disregard for institutions and discipline that flourished during the SYRIZA years, have caused considerable damage. The state apparatus needs time and money to get back into shape.
How can you set up a sufficient number of intensive care units, how can you train medical staff to abide by the protocols when 5, 10 or even 15 percent of the population is expected to get infected with the virus? Who will be able to set up the closed migrant centers? And how quickly can the country be secured against a fresh asymmetric threat from cyberattacks? I personally believe that we will be tested as a society; but we will make it.
However, I fear that the economy will backtrack. The coronavirus has wrecked the world economy and frozen investor plans. At the same time, foreign investors are concerned about the outcome of the refugee-migrant crisis and the tension with Turkey. Tourism will be hurt. If these factors slow down growth, Greek society will suffer at a moment of high expectations.
Let us hope that our powerful partners realize that they need to back us. Greece cannot be constrained by ambitious primary surplus targets and also be on the front line against great threats at the same time. This is just common sense. Will they understand this? I sure hope so.