Two young women hit the campaign trail

Domna Michailidou and Efi Achtsioglou, candidates at the forefront of Greece’s political scene seek votes for the first time – Kathimerini shadows them around Athens and Piraeus

Two young women hit the campaign trail

In July 2019, a few days after the electoral victory of New Democracy, one photo in the press was discussed more than others. During the handover ceremony at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the outgoing minister, Efi Achtsioglou exchanged a warm handshake with the new deputy minister, Domna Michailidou. The next day, the headlines of online publications had titles such as “All eyes on them,” “Two beauties in the Ministry of Labor,” and “A showdown between Efi and Domna.”

The two women already had enough in common. Achtsioglou became labor minister with the SYRIZA administration at the age of 31. Michailidou became deputy labor minister with the ruling conservatives at 32. Before they were actively involved in politics, both had aspirations for academic careers. In addition to her work at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Michailidou also taught at Cambridge University, where she received her PhD, before becoming Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ reform adviser in 2017.

Before becoming one of the scientific advisers of main opposition SYRIZA’s team at the European Parliament in Brussels in 2014, Achtsioglou had just completed her PhD in labor law.

Their rise has been impressive and not only because they were both appointed to top positions at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, but also within their respective parties.

Last June, when New Democracy announced it would add more women to its party ticket, Michailidou’s name was at the top of the list. In the 2022 election to choose the new members of SYRIZA’s Central Committee, Achtsioglou – who some see as a possible successor to leader Alexis Tsipras – came first.

Despite the milestones that the two women have already achieved, neither had actually sought the people’s vote. Michailidou was one of New Democracy’s 18 non-parliamentary technocrat deputy ministers in 2019, while Achtsioglou became a lawmaker for SYRIZA after the end of her ministerial term, having placed second on the party’s country-wide ticket. Until now. The 35-year-old Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Domna Michailidou and SYRIZA’s 38-year-old shadow economy minister are entering the electoral battle for the first time seeking the votes of citizens in the 1st Electoral District of Piraeus and in West Athens, respectively. Kathimerini shadowed them for a day to see how the new generation of politicians campaigns.

Domna Michailidou sits with members of the local municipal day center for the elderly in Piraeus. The 35-year-old social affairs minister is running in the 1st Electoral District of Piraeus, the city where she was born.

Domna Michailidou

Farmers’ market, ministry,office – and some yoga

Domna Michailidou is late. She should have been at the Sofia Befon Municipal Indoor Sports Center in Palaio Faliro for the 3rd Disabled Sports Tournament since 9.15 a.m. The time is 9.11 and she still hasn’t left her house in Kolonaki, central Athens. When she appears at the door, she looks simple, with little makeup. She gets on a motorcycle and arrives at the sports center just before the opening address at 10 a.m.

She speaks with all the teams that participated in the tournament and greets the children one by one – she already knows many of them – takes pictures with them, asks about their news, gives them hugs. When it is time for the dignitaries to hand out the awards to the athletes in attendance, it’s clear she’d rather be talking to the kids than standing on the makeshift stage. Soon, she has to go, the day is long and it has just begun.

Next stop is the farmers’ market in the district of Ypapanti. This time she’s commuting by car. She wants to read her speech for the conference she’s attending right after. She highlights important points with a yellow marker, while her assistant asks her which photos to upload on her social media and marks some of them for Michailidou to approve before getting out of the car.

The farmers’ market is huge and Michailidou starts greeting people the moment she steps out of the car until she gets back in, an hour and a half later. She greets vendors of clothes, fruit and vegetables and Piraeus locals who came here to shop. She also hands out cards. At times she worries that she and her team are blocking shoppers. “Don’t mind us,” she tells those who seem not to care about her presence. She engages in conversation with some shoppers, always using the polite form of address. When someone wishes her “Good luck” in the elections, she responds, “Thank you – I need it.” Another person tells her she’s “very active” and encourages her to “keep it up.” “We still have a lot to do, but we’re trying,” she replies. Preparing to leave the market, she buys apples and lettuces.

Next stop is the Athens Marriott Hotel, for a conference on “Artificial Intelligence and Autism.” At the end, several people approach her to speak to her. “I’m terribly late!” she says after chatting with them and rushes off to the Labor Ministry, where she has a meeting with her colleagues. In the car we talk about deinstitutionalization.

Back in her office, on her desk, there are open newspapers and magazines with her interviews, black-and-white photos and two cartoons by Kathimerini’s Andreas Petroulakis. After the meeting she has a Zoom interview. “I haven’t seen myself in the mirror,” she says a few minutes before she goes live. She hasn’t had time to see the questions but it turns out she didn’t need to. She is ready to talk about everything she is asked, about the ministry and about the honor she received, as she says, when “the prime minister asked me to run for Parliament for the first time, to represent my city… I was born in Piraeus,” she says, and it is something she never tires of pointing out.

The next stop is her personal office, which is housed in the apartment that belonged to her father in Piraeus. On the way, she mentions that every Tuesday and Thursday mornings she does yoga at home and that every evening she goes out. She may be a deputy minister but she is also a 35-year-old woman.


A couple from Piraeus comes into the office. “How can we help?” the woman asks. Michailidou says that the priority is to get incumbent Premier Kyriakos Mitsotakis re-elected. But the purpose of this appointment is for the couple to spread her own candidacy as well, to as many people as possible. “We can also go to a fish restaurant,” they answer. She thanks them and notes how much she appreciates their help. After they leave, Michailidou and her team draw up the schedule for the next few days.

The time is 8.23 p.m. She quickly tops up her makeup in the car and we arrive at the last meeting of the day, at a house in Piraeus. Around 20 people are already waiting for there. Ten more arrive soon after and Michailidou introduces herself to each guest. “Why are boys and girls sitting separately?” she asks later on. They pour her a glass of wine and wish her good luck. “It’s up to you,” she replies. Some of the attendees work at the local health center, another is an economist, most are middle-class people. Michailidou doesn’t make a speech but opts for individual conversations with each of the people standing around and then moves on to the seated ones.

She talks politics with the men in the room. Most of them tell her that they have traditionally voted for socialist PASOK and the Communist Party (KKE), some that this is the first time they are participating in a political gathering at a home, that they came to meet her, or they explain why they voted for New Democracy in the previous elections or why they are thinking of doing so now.

“Managed to escape?” a few women ask Michailidou when she approaches them on the other side of the living room. “It felt like I was with my parents’ friends,” she replies. They talk about the UK as many of those present had lived there while studying. “You are very beautiful up close,” another tells her. It’s almost 9.30 p.m. and she’s still smiling, after 12 hours in heels.

Former labor minister Efi Achtsioglou has an ease about her when she talks about SYRIZA’s program, whether she’s in a television studio, in the street, or a home in the district of Agia Varvara, as seen in the picture. [Nikolas Georgiou/Intime News]

Efi Achtsioglou

Everything happens in the car: makeup, calls, food

The gathering organized for Efi Achtsioglou at a home in the suburb of Agia Varvara, western Athens, is no more than 30 people. Those who have come have filled the seats on the sofas on the two opposite sides of the living room and in the rest of the room all the available chairs in the house have been set up in half circles. In the center there is a table – Achtsioglou is sitting there.

Her day would have started with a TV interview, but it was postponed. We arrive outside her house in the northern suburb of Halandri at around 10 a.m. – and she is late. She apologizes: “Pre-election time with a child,” she tells us, explaining that the hectic hours of the campaign do not easily combine with a toddler’s schedule. She makes sure her days are not too busy in the morning and the evening and she tries to get home at noon to see her toddler son. She’s not wearing any makeup. “Usually everything happens in the car,” she tells us. “Makeup, calls, food.” On the radio she listens to Sto Kokkino (a left-leaning radio station). It’s in the favorites list. Before making any calls, she explains that in SYRIZA they have a regulatory framework that prohibits candidates from having their own political office. The campaign schedules – where each candidate will go – are drawn up by the party, with the exception of home gatherings.

Haidari Town Hall

While we are driving toward Haidari Town Hall, in West Attica, she is discussing the campaign leaflets – who will get them, where they will be distributed – and arranging an interview. “You’re a star!” some people shout at her when she arrives. “Hello comrades! How are you? Good morning,” she replies. Like Michailidou, these are the words that Achtsioglou will use today more than any other. She hands out SYRIZA leaflets that read “Justice everywhere,” SYRIZA’s official party slogan in these elections, and some smaller ones of her own. She greets everyone when she enters the town hall and chats with people. “How are things? What kind of labor contracts are you under?” she asks them. She already knows some of the people who have gathered. “I saw you at the farmer’s market,” a woman tells her and Achtsioglou appears to recognize her: “It’s you!” she replies happily, hugging her. But amid the desk-to-desk handshakes, where people’s reactions range from slight indifference to a warm welcome, there’s one woman who argues with her. Achtsioglou remains calm, serious, approachable, friendly, and explains her and her party’s positions on the issue discussed. “Do we have some water?” she asks her assistant as she leaves.

Next stop is a meeting of all the candidates running in the constituency with the mayor of Haidari, Vangelis Diniakos. Achtsioglou then visits the 2nd Police Station of Peristeri. The purpose of the visit is to speak with the domestic violence unit. She greets all the officers with: “Efi Achtsioglou from SYRIZA. I am very glad to meet you.” When she walks into the office, the first thing she notices is children’s drawings taped to a wall. She asks the policemen present about the current situation and then talks to the police lieutenant, who informs her of incidents of domestic violence in the district.

After the meeting, she commutes to the law office she keeps in central Athens. She takes hazelnuts out of her bag for a quick snack (she’s vegan) while she discusses pending issues of her daily schedule – interviews, phone calls for pre-election drinks etc – with her assistant. At 2.30 p.m. she goes to the gym for an hour, which she explains she tries to do twice a week, and then back home.

House gathering

The last order of the day is a gathering in a house in the district of Agia Varvara, at 6.30 p.m. She hugs the women who welcome her. “The candidate has come, let the candidate sit,” the hosts note happily. Achtsioglou quickly greets the attendees and soon takes her place at the center table. “The little one has a fever,” she tells Kathimerini with a concerned look. It is obvious that greeting is not her forte. Where she feels natural is when she explains SYRIZA’s program. As soon as she begins talking, she transforms. She doesn’t look at her notes, she’s more dynamic than at any other time of the day.

While the hosts silently run up and down, filling coffee pots, asking the guests in hushed tones if they want sugar in their coffee, if there is enough cutlery, Achtsioglou discusses the price of gasoline, VAT, pension cuts and foreclosures. The audience listens to her in silence, most of them attentively. Someone is playing with his komboloi, a woman is taking pictures. After about 50 minutes the floor opens to the public, which consists of teachers, private sector employees and pensioners. Some start eating sweets, others go out on the balcony for a cigarette. Achtsioglou remains in her seat, answering numerous questions about the retirement age, the minimum wage.

“I wish you personal success,” one of the guests tells her at the end of the event, “And enjoy your baby!” She smiles. “Thank you very much,” she replies.

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