12 May 2023

Greek premier ‘hopes for better relations with Turkey’ if re-elected

12 May 2023

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he will extend “a hand of friendship” to the winner of the upcoming Turkish election and try to build on the momentum of recently reduced tensions.

But Mr Mitsotakis added that he hopes the next Turkish government will reconsider its approach to the West.

Mr Mitsoakis said that if he is re-elected in Greece’s own poll on May 21 he will maintain what he has called Greece’s strict but fair migration policy.

That includes robust border patrols on land and at sea and the building of a fence along Greece’s land border with Turkey.

“But I’m not naive,” he told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview while on the campaign trail in central Greece on Thursday evening. “I know that foreign policies of countries don’t change from one day to the next.”

Turkey’s increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has led his country as prime minister and president since 2003, faces his most challenging election.

Amid a faltering economy, Mr Erdogan has lost some ground to his main rival, the secular, centre-left Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Although not to the same level as with Greece, a fellow Nato member, Turkey’s relations with the United States and several European countries have seen strain.

Turkey is blocking Sweden’s request to join Nato, pressing the country to crack down on Kurdish militants and other groups that Turkey regards as terrorist threats.

“I would hope that the next Turkish government would overall reconsider its approach towards the West – not just towards Greece, towards Europe, towards Nato, and towards the United States,” Mr Mitsotakis said.

“But again, I have to be a realist and not be too naive, and that is why we will continue with … our firm foreign policy. That means we will continue to strengthen our deterrence capabilities and our defence capabilities.”

Greece and Turkey have been at odds for decades over issues including their maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean.

But bilateral relations in recent years plummeted to new lows that saw the two countries’ warships shadowing each other and Turkish officials suggesting they could invade Greek islands.

In response, Greece has embarked on an extensive military procurement programme to modernise its armed forces, including purchasing advanced French-built fighter jets.

“I wish I did not have to spend much more than 2% of my GDP on defence. But unfortunately, we live in a precarious neighbourhood with … a much larger country than us that’s also been behaving aggressively,” Mr Mitsotakis said.

The Prime Minister said that he hopes to build on a reduction of rhetoric following devastating earthquakes in Turkey in February that killed tens of thousands.

Similarly improved ties after earthquakes struck both Turkey and Greece in 1999 lasted for several years.

“It is a pity. We don’t have to wait for a catastrophe to strike, nor are we destined to live in a state of permanent tension,” Mr Mitsotakis said. But, he stressed, better ties require an end to bellicose rhetoric from Turkey.

“If the Turkish government every other day talks about coming at night to invade our islands, obviously that is not very conducive towards building a climate of trust and goodwill,” he said.

Mitsotakis, a Harvard-educated 55-year-old, has headed the centre-right New Democracy party since 2016 and became prime minister in 2019. He has been leading his main opposition rival, left-wing former prime minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, in opinion polls as he seeks a second four-year term in office in the May 21 election.

Because of a change in Greece’s electoral law, the winner of the ballot is unlikely to garner enough votes to be able to form a government without seeking coalition partners. If no party can form a government, a second election will be held roughly a month later, when the electoral law will give the winning party bonus parliamentary seats.

“I’ve made it very clear I don’t believe in this electoral system. What we need is … a stable government, and preferably we need a single-party government,” Mr Mitsotakis said.

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