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Greece’s New Groove

Why Athens Is No Longer Europe’s Black Sheep

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his cabinet in Athens, July 2019 Costas Baltas / Reuters

The past decade has been rough for Greece. After the global financial crisis of 2008–9, the country lost a quarter of its GDP and became the bête noire of Europe for nearly catalyzing the implosion of the eurozone. Roughly four years ago, however, Greece began a quiet recovery. Under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza party, the economy inched back to positive growth, populist movements lost their momentum, and Greece’s relations with its allies and many of its neighbors improved. But Tsipras’s successes, particularly in foreign policy, didn’t translate into popularity. So on July 8, Greeks woke up to news that opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his center-right New Democracy party had defeated Tsipras in a landslide.

Yet far from a setback for the country, Mitsotakis’ victory gives Greeks more reason to be optimistic about the future. Although Tsipras helped catalyze Greece’s recovery, Mitsotakis’s sweeping electoral mandate and impressive technocratic cabinet suggest that he is in a better position than his predecessor to build on the country’s positive momentum. Much remains to be done to reform the economy and bring back foreign investors, but Greece’s new leadership is poised to turn the page on a decade that most Greeks would prefer to forget.

GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME

Greece’s economic crisis reached its nadir in 2015. That year, the poverty rate among pensioners surged to 45 percent (and the government nearly ran out of money to pay them) while youth unemployment reached 50 percent. Tsipras, then freshly elected, threatened to reject the austerity measures that, since 2010, heavily indebted Greek governments had accepted in exchange for emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank. But he ultimately relented, accepting his creditors’ conditions in the summer of 2015 and paving the way for Greece to get back on its feet. Greece’s new leadership is poised to turn the page on a decade that most Greeks would prefer to forget.

Today, the cuts to government wages and other public spending have

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