Greek Prime Minister Aims to Make His Nation a Success Story of the Next Decade

Kyriakos Mitsotakis admits that “Sometimes I watch the footage from my speeches and I always look much taller than everyone else around,” the 6-ft. 1-in. Greek Prime Minister says with a wry smile, buckled up in the back seat of his car in a pressed blue shirt and black hoodie. “Just so you know, there’s a small platform that I climb up that you can’t see in the videos.”

Mitsotakis is addressing his followers on TikTok, where so successfully showcases his softer side that it has brought his team a national award. “We are very biased, but I honestly believe it’s the best TikTok of any politician in the world,” says Alex Patelis, his chief economic adviser.

“I loved it,” echoes Mitsotakis, 56, after the two of us sit down in March in his wood-paneled office at the in Athens, which has served as the neoclassical workplace of every Greek leader since 1982. He’d spent the past 20 years in politics trying to close the gap between what people thought of him—as someone who “wears a tie” and is “proper”—and his more lighthearted side. “TikTok bridged that, completely.”

That’s not the only way Mitsotakis is surprising people. He in February—making Greece the first Orthodox Christian country, and practically the in the eastern half of Europe, to do so. He took that step despite the and lack of support from a third of his own center-right New Democracy party, forcing him to reach across the aisle. “As a matter of principle, the time had come to do the right thing,” Mitsotakis says, fidgeting with his komboloi, or worry beads, as an oil painting of the Virgin Mary looms above.

The legislation has left many with the feeling that Mitsotakis is a different brand of conservative leader. He is socially liberal. Progrowth but fiscally responsible, he says. Tough on migration. Strongly pro-Western and pro-NATO. He thinks he’s found an “interesting sweet spot” and even has a name for it: the “.” At a time when incumbents are being hammered around the globe, Mitsotakis can boast that he with a higher share of the vote than the first time around. (The trophies on his desk with the margins of his 2019 and 2023 election victories are a daily reminder of this.) “That seems to be a formula that’s worked well for us politically,” he says.

It’s a vision, Mitsotakis seems to suggest, that sets him apart from world leaders on both the left and right. Yet he faces headwinds. He has come under fire for a recent spate of tragedies and missteps. And his main goal now is to bring Greece’s living standards in line with the rest of Europe. For a country that’s in the E.U., after postcommunist Bulgaria, that’s a tall order. “There’s a lot of catching up to do,” he concedes.

Mitsotakis was surrounded by politics from his earliest days. His father Konstantinos, a prominent lawmaker who would go on to be Prime Minister from 1990 to 1993, was arrested and the family following a military coup in 1967; he was born the next year. It was thanks to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, Greece’s historical nemesis, that they managed to escape, first to Istanbul then Paris. They returned to Greece in 1974 once democracy was restored. “My Greek was not very good at the time. I had to struggle in school and make sure I caught up,” says Mitsotakis, who also speaks French, English, and some German. “And so these are my first memories.”

Catch up he did. A graduate of the Athens College prep school, he set off to the U.S. in 1986, where he earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard and a master’s from Stanford, before going back to Harvard for his M.B.A. A stint at McKinsey in London followed before a turn to private equity in Greece, which he walked away from to become a Member of Parliament in 2004. Being from a prominent political family—he is also a great-great-nephew of former Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, credited as “”—opened him up to accusations of nepotism. “I have to work twice as hard to convince people that I’m not here because of my name,” Mitsotakis says.

Few today seem focused on his family. “There’s a respect for this McKinsey, Harvard-educated guy. A Greek done good. Competent, gets things done,” says Kevin Featherstone, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science who specializes in contemporary Greece. “But he looks awkward, slightly nervous when talking to ordinary people.” That may be why his TikToks have resonated—and why Mitsotakis’ aides are keen to highlight he’s not so different after all: a favorite band is Guns N’ Roses, and”Paradise City” was his cell ringtone when he first took office.

But it’s ultimately the aura of professionalism that leaves millions of Greeks feeling he is the best candidate for the job—particularly in the wake of , as the country refers to the 10 years from 2009 to 2018. Following the global recession of 2007–2009, a nation that had binged on debt saw its main creditors—the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund—push austerity measures that caused the economy to shrink by a staggering 25%. Incomes and pensions were hit harder, with unemployment climbing and reaching among youth. No other developed country has experienced a similar economic catastrophe in modern times.

When Mitsotakis first came into office in 2019, things were already looking up. His left-wing predecessor Alexis Tsipras is credited with steering Greece out of its bailout program a year earlier. But Mitsotakis’ approach has won praise since. GDP growth is above the euro-zone average. Unemployment is nearing single digits again. Debt to GDP levels are high but declining among the fastest in the world. The country has regained its investment-grade status. And the Greek stock market is outperforming. The Economist even ranked Greece as the best place for business for the past two years and named it “Comeback of the Year” in 2023.

Mitsotakis has also brought substantial investment to Greece. Early on in his first term, he appointed Sir Christopher Pissarides, a Nobel economics laureate, to chair a commission tasked with reforming the Greek economy. A painstaking 244-page report followed that would prove influential in shaping Greece’s Recovery and Resilience Plan that Mitsotakis presented to Brussels, securing €36 billion in grants and loans through 2026 from the E.U.’s mammoth €800 billion-plus COVID-19 recovery fund.

The amount is equivalent to more than 15% of the entire Greek economy and involves over 700 projects, with about 60% geared toward the green transition and digitization. Greece can now boast that over a third of its electricity comes from renewables. Everything from paying bills to renewing a driving license can also now be done online, rather than by lining up at notoriously bureaucratic government offices. “One of the biggest successes of his first term was what was done at the Digital Governance Ministry,” says Yannis Palaiologos, a journalist and author of The 13th Labour of Hercules, about the Greek economic crisis.

Foreign direct investment has also shot up, hitting an all-time high of €8 billion in 2022. Part of that is wooing investors with business-friendly regulation and lower taxes. Amazon, Google, and Microsoft are investing heavily in Greece, which will create thousands of jobs. But the Greek economy still lags on key metrics like productivity, and there are ongoing concerns about the business and regulatory environment. “They are providing incentives—money—for companies. They are encouraging foreign direct investment,” Featherstone says. “But when he leaves power, how far will the structure of the economy be different? … I think the jury at the moment is out on that.”