ATHENS — Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is promising a fresh start for his administration after severe criticism over the handling of deadly fires and floods this summer.
His annual policy speech at the Thessaloniki Trade Fair in northern Greece this weekend was overshadowed by a savage storm that killed 17 people last week and catastrophic wildfires earlier that resulted in 26 deaths.
Mitsotakis promised a revamp of the country’s civil protection systems in order to fight the “climate war.” And he pledged a greater involvement of the armed forces to deal with natural disasters.
At a press conference on Sunday, the prime minister underlined the need to strengthen EU-wide programs to fight the effects of the climate crisis. “I will not rest until I manage to convince my counterparts” across the EU “of the need to strengthen the EU Solidarity Fund,” he said.
Greece’s state coffers for natural disasters would be doubled to €600 million next year, funded by a tax on luxury accommodation, the premier said.
Mitsotakis also said he intends to transfer the National Weather Service and the Observatory to the ministry of civil protection. Government officials have criticized data and surveys published during natural disasters, arguing that they support the opposition’s agenda.
His announcement to transfer the agencies was criticized by the main opposition Syriza party.
“It is obvious that Mitsotakis has no intention of cooperating with scientists in dealing with extreme weather phenomena, but his only goal is to silence them so that they do not expose his government with their warnings,” said Stergios Kalpakis, spokesman for Syriza.
Mitsotakis noted that the responses to natural disasters were plagued by confusion about who is responsible for what and a tendency by public authorities to blame others for the poor handling.
“Greece is facing a war in a time of peace,” Mitsotakis said in his policy speech on Saturday.
The conservative government achieved a landslide victory securing a second term less than three months ago, but it now finds itself on the defensive over its performance during a number of crises. Two of its ministers have resigned and been replaced.
But Mitsotakis refuted widespread rumors about an imminent reshuffle.
“No, I won’t move ahead with a reshuffle,” he said, though he later noted that “there are unmovable policies, no unmovable ministers. If I judge that some behavior justifies the removal of a minister, I will not hesitate to do so,” he said.