New government’s international image a work in progress
International coverage of the July 7 snap election highlighted certain interesting things about how the world sees us. It is clear that a significant percentage of correspondents and columnists from major global media organizations, influenced by the pragmatic turnaround of Alexis Tsipras and above all by the Prespes Accord, have lost touch with the situation on the ground in Greece as it evolved over the last four years.
They see fiscal targets that are met, a drop in unemployment, strengthened Greek-American ties, progressive talk about immigration and the resolution of the Macedonian name dispute. They ignore over-taxation, paltry growth, the clientelism that ran rampant in the civil service, interventions in the judicial system and the media, and the hell-hole migrant camps of Moria and Samos. We were even told that Mr Tsipras saved the country from financial collapse – without mention of the fact that it was he who brought us closer than ever to it, with the unforgivable acrobatics of 2015.
At the same time, there appears to be a lot of skepticism about Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Much is being written about political dynasties and not enough about the ways in which the new prime minister has distanced himself from the worst of his party’s time-worn practices. Even those commentators who recognize that he stands apart tend to overstate the influence of nationalist and statist populism in New Democracy, ignoring its big-tent nature and its traditionally pro-European stance. We are already seeing Mr Mitsotakis coming under severe criticism on issues over which Mr Tsipras was given a pass.
It would be advisable, nevertheless, for the new government’s supporters to recall that this skepticism from international media did not come out of thin air. The last time ND ruled with an absolute majority, it led the country to bankruptcy. Many of the key players from that era are still in frontline politics; almost all of its more promising new candidates failed to get elected; the party’s nationalist wing is stronger than in 2009; and the break from the sinful practices of the past has been hesitant.
Mr Mitsotakis, in other words, cannot expect the automatic support of the international press – and of Greece’s partners. He must earn it – and it won’t be easy.