Constantine Mitsotakis, Who Forged Greek-EU Ties, Dies at 98

  • Mitsotakis served as Greece’s prime minister from 1990 to 1993
  • As foreign minister, he oversaw the nation’s entry into EU

Constantine Mitsotakis in 1989.

Photographer: Aris Saris/AP Photo

Constantine Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister who strengthened ties with the European Union and attempted unpopular cuts to state spending in the 1990s, has died. He was 98.

He died in the early hours of Monday morning, according to a statement from his family.

Mitsotakis became prime minister in April 1990 when his New Democracy party won the right to govern on its own after nine years in opposition or as a coalition partner. During his three-year tenure, he consolidated Greece’s membership in the EU, known as the European Communities at that time, by securing his country’s accession to the union during the Maastricht Summit in December 1991. As foreign minister, he oversaw Greece’s entry into the EU a decade earlier.

As the Cold War was coming to an end, the pro-American Greek leader improved relations with the U.S. in 1990 by becoming his country’s first prime minister in 27 years to visit the White House, during George H.W. Bush’s administration.

Economic Policy

Mitsotakis’s economic policies, which included spending cuts for the public sector and state-asset sales, made him unpopular, allowing socialist Andreas Papandreou, who promised to increase salaries and pensions, to return to office in 1993.

Mitsotakis’s attempts to overhaul the public sector were a harbinger of similar efforts two decades later by New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras, who took over as prime minister in June 2012 as Greeks opposed cuts to salaries and state benefits.

“Greece’s last opportunity to step back from the edge of the abyss was squandered when my uncle’s warnings were ignored and his reforms defeated -- both by militant foes and weak-kneed allies alike,” Spyridon Mitsotakis, a Cold War scholar and the former prime minister’s nephew, wrote in a 2011 article.

Mitsotakis’s son, Kyriakos, resurrected his father’s legacy by overseeing the downsizing of the state sector when he became Greece’s minister for administrative reform in June 2013, reducing the number of government workers by thousands. In 2015 he became leader of New Democracy, by now the main opposition party.

Born on Oct. 18, 1918, in Chania, on the Greek island of Crete, Constantine Mitsotakis studied law, politics and economics at the University of Athens, graduating in 1940.

Joins Parliament

While fighting the German occupation of Crete in 1942, he was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the occupation forces twice. After World War II, Mitsotakis was elected as a lawmaker at age 28, in March 1946, becoming the youngest member of parliament. He was re-elected in every election until the military coup of April 1967.

Mitsotakis served as finance minister in the government of George Papandreou -- the grandfather of former Prime Minister George A. Papandreou -- in 1963 and 1964. Mitsotakis, who was arrested in April 1967 by Greece’s military rulers and left the country in 1968, remained in exile in Paris for six years and returned to Greece in 1973.

He was re-elected as a lawmaker in 1977 and joined Konstantinos Karamanlis’s New Democracy party the following year. Karamanlis appointed him coordination minister and put him in charge of negotiations for Greece to join the EU. Mitsotakis became foreign minister in 1980 in George Rallis’s government, remaining in the post until 1981.

Mitsotakis was the parliamentary spokesman of New Democracy from October 1981 to August 1984 and was elected its head in September 1984.

With his wife, Marika Giannoukou, he had four children, including daughter Dora Bakoyannis, who is a former Greek foreign minister and a former mayor of Athens. Giannoukou died in 2012.

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