A resolution adopted by the European Parliament on February 7 accuses the Greek government of violating the rule of law, controlling the media, spying on its opponents and disrespecting the rights of its own citizens. It has been backed by 330 MEPs from diverse groups including the liberals of Renew Europe, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), the Greens, the Left – and even some from the EPP.
Besides damning Greece, the resolution is a personal blow to the Greek Prime Minister and a defeat for the EPP. New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis has long been eying a high European office and was counting not just on his own EPP but also on socialists and liberals for votes. The EPP alone does not have enough MEPs to get him over the line and it now seems unlikely that the other groups will back him.
Once the EPP ruled in Germany, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. Now the EPP heads of government come mainly from smaller countries or from the former Eastern Europe. So EPP president and failed spitzenkandidat Manfred Weber put his money on Mitsotakis, believing the ND leader would naturally appeal to this constituency.
The Greek leader thus became highly influential in the centre-Right coalition. Since 2019 he has been Webber’s wingman, after the latter was sidelined by his party in favour of Ursula von der Leyen. Thanasis Bakolas, senior aide to the Greek PM, was appointed EPP Secretary General in 2022, placing him in charge of its multi-million budget. Greece has become the new EPP hotspot for events and gatherings.
En route to the ND leader’s candidacy, obstacles had to be cleared. In tune with Weber, the Greek MP was among the first to call for Orban’s Fidesz to be expelled from the largely German-controlled EPP. The group also set up a task force under its former President, Donald Tusk, in order to remove Polish conservatives from power.
Importantly, it has been all tactics, not ideology. The coalition, which is now more of a legacy organisation than a party based on principles and values, is reported to be flirting with Giorgia Meloni in a desperate effort to shore up its future clout.
Mitsotakis was eager to become the EPP’s choice for the European top job, but turned out to be no Tusk. Free of any substantial opposition in Greece, he felt all-mighty, bent and bypassed even the most basic rules of democracy. Ironically, he now finds himself accused of the exact same thing he blamed Orban for: Undermining the rule of law.
At least as far as the European Commission President position is concerned, the Greek leader is no longer a viable candidate. Von der Leyen was elected in 2019 with 383 votes, mainly from the EPP, S&D and Renew. But the socialists and liberals were instrumental in passing the resolution against Mitsotakis.
It is an irony that since 2019, Mitsotakis has done everything to appear liberal: He has embraced mass migration and the LGBTQ agenda, ousted conservatives from his party, taken in socialists, and gone soft on Turkey. Yet now it is European progressives who call him out as autocratic.
A fan of multiculturalism and an anti-nativist, the Greek PM cannot rely on support from the right either. Evidently, there is no love lost between him and the ECR, or the ID. Since he took office, and despite ND having a traditionally Right-wing base, Mitsotakis has been openly bashing all things conservative.
“In Greece, conservatives are not just underrepresented in public discourse. They are all but ousted from it,” Panagiotis Doumas, Director of International Relations at the Hellenic Conservative Network, tells Brussels Signal.
“The Greek government controls all mainstream media through state financing, has turned the public broadcasting company ERT into its propaganda machine, while it appoints, fires and harasses journalists,” he adds.
“A handful of families in bed with the government rule the country. Shipping magnates and constructors who also own the media form an elite which only answers to Mitsotakis”, notes Sofia Mandilara, journalist and former employee of the state controlled Athens News Agency.
Greece is currently last in the EU in the World Press Freedom Index, last in economic liberty according to the Heritage Foundation, second from last on the IMF PPP index and third from last in terms of corruption, according to Transparency International.
Greek government spinners have dismissed the Parliament’s resolution as coming from a group of fringe MEPs, while the mainstream domestic media, that has received a new multi million batch of state funding, downplay its gravity. But this is no conspiracy theory.
The cat has been let out of the bag in Brussels. Much to the EPP’s regret, the emperor in Athens has no clothes.
Konstantinos Bogdanos served as a member of the Greek parliament from 2019 to 2023