THESSALONIKI, Greece — The European Union should have a coordinated response to the challenge posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “blackmail” with the supply of natural gas, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Saturday.
He said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is meant to “legitimize a despotic authoritarianism and enable any local troublemaker” to do the same, a hardly veiled reference to Greece‘s neighbor Turkey and the increasingly aggressive rhetoric of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“In the Ukraine war, we stand with those defending themselves, we stand with democracy and freedom … we know what it means to have an (aggressive) neighbor,” Mitsotakis said.
Putin wants to turn European anxiety about energy into political destabilization, Mitsotakis added in the keynote speech at the Thessaloniki International Fair, in which Greece’s heads of government announce the coming year’s economic policies.
The Greek premier reminded his audience that Greece had proposed months ago a cap on natural gas prices and a decoupling of electricity prices from those of natural gas and expressed his satisfaction that the European Union was coming round to such solutions.
“Better late than never,” he told reporters earlier Saturday, as he was touring the trade fair’s exhibits.
Mitsotakis said his government will continue to subsidize electricity bills “whatever the cost.” But Greek officials also have said that subsidies will now include incentives to reduce consumption and, when possible, replace natural gas with other fuel sources for heating.
The prime minister announced a number of additional measures, such as a cost-of-living check of 250 euros paid to some 2.3 million beneficiaries, raises in pensions and the minimum wage, tax cuts, a 150 million euro subsidy to farmers to compensate for higher fuel and animal feed costs, better wages for national health service and armed forces personnel and others. Taken together, he said, these handouts, excluding the electricity bill subsidy, would cost 5.5 billion euros.
Since early 2020, Greece has spent over 50 billion euros to support households and businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and now by the energy crisis and rising inflation.
Inflation in Greece, running at an annual 11.4% clip in August, is slightly off its 12.1% peak in June, but still at levels not seen since 1994.
The strong economy, expected to grow more than 5% in 2022, provides the government with the margin to spend extra. But, starting in 2023, heavily indebted Greece’s government must also post primary budget surpluses, as agreed with the EU.
Next year is also going to see new elections, most likely more than one. The first ballot is not expected to result in any single party gaining a majority of seats in Parliament and a coalition government looks highly unlikely. That would result in a second round of elections, which would be fought under a different electoral law that will give the winning party a 30-seat bonus.
Demetris Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.