Q: You were born in a political family. Your father, Konstantinos Mitsotakis, was prime minister.
A: Although I come from a political family, I consider myself a slightly atypical politician.
A: First of all, I have spent a lot of time in the private sector. I think coming from a political family was not necessarily an advantage.
A: It was a big plus at the beginning, but after the political system collapsed in Greece [in 2009], all legacy political families were faced with tremendous problems.
Q: The public blamed them?
A: Yes, there was a general anti-elite sentiment. I had to work very hard to overcome this stereotype. I’m very happy that people call me by my first name now. They seem to believe that I’m not just doing this job because my father did. I also hope I will be more successful than my father.
Q: Do you see yourself as a non-populist, pro-West, pro-NATO prime minister?
A: That’s a pretty reasonable description. I’ve fought very hard against populism throughout my political career. I’m very happy that Greece now has a moderate, results-oriented, non-populist government.
Q: President Trump had a pretty good relationship with former prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Greek-U.S. relations improved greatly under the former government.
A: Yes, Greek-U.S. relations are exceptionally good. It’s interesting that [Tsipras], who started as a radical leftist always protesting outside the U.S. Embassy, ended up being a very close friend of the U.S. But I think it’s good.
Q: What is your opinion of the U.S. president, whom you’ll meet this week?
A: I’m a big believer in the transatlantic relationship. I have to work with whoever is in the White House.
Q: What are your aims as prime minister?
A: My No. 1 focus is the economy. We need to create jobs. We need to make Greece an attractive investment destination. We need to bring back young Greeks who left the country during the crisis. My aim is to make Greece the success story of the euro zone.
Q: That’s quite a challenging agenda.
A: Yes, but that’s the mandate I asked for and the one I received. I’ve put together a government that includes lots of technocrats, and we managed to recruit lots of people from outside politics.
Q: Greece’s growth rate last year was 1.9 percent.
A: When everyone was doing extremely well, we were struggling. There is a clear responsibility for that. Now we have to face a more challenging macroeconomic environment.
Q: Your banks’ balance sheets are the worst in Europe — loaded down with nonperforming loans. There has also been a lot of corruption in that sector. You can’t run an effective economy without functioning banks. How do you plan to fix them?
A: We are currently in discussions with the European authorities and with the European Central Bank to . . . massively offload nonperforming loans through a relatively complicated securitization scheme. . . . Hopefully, we’ll be able to offload 30 billion euros. We need credit in Greece.
Q: You mentioned that you are also cutting taxes.
A: We’ve started by lowering real estate taxes, and in 2020, we will lower corporate taxes from 29 to 24 percent. Taxes on dividends will come down from 10 to 5 percent. We will also lower personal income taxes, especially for low-income earners.
Q: But at the same time you need revenue to run your government. Don’t you have to broaden the base of tax collection?
A: The way you broaden the base is you go after tax evasion. You use electronic transactions to encourage people to comply with the law. You go after small-scale tax evasion, which usually takes place in tavernas and cafes, by encouraging people to pay by credit card or other electronic means rather than by cash.
Q: Aren’t there many rich Greeks who don’t pay taxes?
A: I’m sure there are. So we are actually going after both. We now have an independent revenue authority, the equivalent of your IRS, and it’s becoming quite effective in going after the big and small tax evaders.
Q: You mentioned the brain drain. How do you reverse that?
A: People left for two reasons. The first is that there were no jobs in Greece during the crisis. Others left because they were looking for a better job or they were paying too much in taxes, and disposable income ended up being too low. You need to make sure that at the end of the day, you don’t feel that you work for the government.
Q: Instead of lowering taxes, why wouldn’t you spend money on infrastructure or other programs?
A: You could do that, and we’ll probably do both, but the question is: What is the biggest multiplier in terms of creating growth? Our hope is that our growth is going to be 3 percent in 2020 and that we can sustain this type of growth for the foreseeable future.
Q: Are you going to work to change the Dublin Regulation, which requires that the E.U. member state that serves as a migrant’s first port of entry be responsible for processing him?
A: Yes. We have a big refugee problem again. We’ve had 3,000 refugees over the past week.
Q: Are they coming from Syria?
A: Most of them are Afghans or sub-Saharan Africans.
Q: Were they sent by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?
A: If [he] wants to have an honest discussion with Europe, the best way is not to threaten that he will send them hundreds of thousands of refugees. That’s not the way to deal with Europe or for that matter with Greece. We can have an honest discussion with President Erdogan. He needs financial support. He does have a very large number of refugees in Turkey. But this shouldn’t be a game of threats and of using innocent people as a wedge to drive a better deal.
Q: That’s what he’s doing?
Q: What do you think of President Erdogan’s plan to create a so-called “safe zone” in Syria where he would send millions of Syrian refugees who have settled in Turkey?
A: Erdogan wants a buffer between Turkey’s Kurds and Syria’s Kurds — a safe zone populated by Sunnis. That’s his goal. It’s highly unlikely that the U.S. or Europe will agree to this proposition.
Q: In Idlib, 3 million Syrians may soon be forced to flee President Bashar al-Assad’s guns. What’s the solution?
A: The solution is to give Turkey more money to accommodate refugees in its own territory. Hopefully, at some point the war will come to an end and these people will return. At the European level, there needs to be some burden sharing. I cannot accept that Greece will bear the weight of managing this problem on its own and that other European countries will not accept a single refugee. That’s just not fair.
Q: How many refugees do you have?
Q: Migrants used to be able to go north, but . . .
A: Now the northern border is closed.
Q: Turkey keeps flying F-16 fighter jets over the Greek islands.
A: The overflights of course are an issue. They’re a violation of Greek sovereignty, of Greek airspace. It’s a dangerous game that has been played for a long time. It would be in everyone’s interest to start diffusing the situation.
Q: Turkey is also drilling offshore in the waters around Cyprus.
A: They’re essentially drilling within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus, in clear violation of the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus. They are sending support ships, and there are Turkish warships in the area. [The French oil company] Total and Exxon have exploration rights within the Cypriot economic zone. It will eventually become a game of brinkmanship at sea. Turkey has been behaving in a very aggressive manner over the past year. It doesn’t recognize international law nor the law of the sea.
Q: What do you think President Erdogan wants?
A: He wants access to the energy sources of the eastern Mediterranean. The Cypriot president [Nicos Anastasiades] has said very clearly that whatever resources we find need to be distributed in a just way and that all Cypriots should benefit — Greek and Turkish. Erdogan wants to make sure that whatever gas is found will eventually flow through Turkey.
Q: Four years from now, at the end of your term, what do you want people to say?
A: That Greece is a different country from the country I inherited.