THESSALONIKI, Greece (AP) – The European Union should have a coordinated response to the challenge posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “blackmail” over natural gas supplies, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Saturday.
He said Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is intended to “legitimize a despotic authoritarianism and enable any local troublemaker” to do the same, a barely veiled reference to Greece’s neighbor Turkey and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s increasingly aggressive rhetoric.
“In the Ukraine war, we stand with those who defend 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 address at the Thessaloniki International Fair, where Greece’s heads of government are announcing next year’s economic policies.
The Greek Prime Minister reminded his audience that months ago Greece had proposed a cap on natural gas prices and a decoupling of electricity prices from natural gas prices, and expressed his satisfaction that the EU reached such solutions.
“Better late than never,” he told reporters earlier Saturday as he toured the fair’s exhibits.
Mitsotakis said his government will continue to subsidize electricity bills “no matter what the cost.” But Greek officials have also said subsidies will now include incentives to reduce consumption and, when possible, replace natural gas with other heating fuel sources.
The Prime Minister announced a number of additional measures, such as a cost of living check of 250 euros paid to around 2.3 million beneficiaries, increases in pensions and the minimum wage, tax cuts, a 150 million euro subsidy for farmers to compensate for higher fuel and animal feed costs, better pay for National Health Service and armed forces personnel and others. Together, he said, these handouts, excluding the electricity bill subsidy, would cost 5.5 billion euros.
Since the beginning of 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, which ran at an annual clip of 11.4% in August, is slightly off its peak of 12.1% in June, but still at levels not seen since 1994.
The strong economy, expected to grow by more than 5% in 2022, gives the government a margin to spend extra. But starting in 2023, the heavily indebted Greek government must also show primary budget surpluses, as agreed with the EU.
Next year there will also be new elections, most likely more than one. The first vote is not expected to result in a single party winning 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 would give the winning party a bonus of 30 seats.
Demetris Nellas reported from Athens, Greece.