Costas Simitis
Some attributes
First Name: Costas Simitis
Second Position: President of Socialist International
Third Nationality: Greek
Other attributes
Fourth Allegiance: Movement of Democratic Socialists
Fifth Birth: 23 June 1936
Sixth Age: 78

Konstantinos Simitis (Greek: Κωνσταντίνος Σημίτης) (born 23 June 1936), usually referred to as Costas Simitis or Kostas Simitis, is a Greek politician who served two terms as Prime Minister of Greece (22 January 1996 to 10 March 2004 and 6 October 2009 to 11 November 2011) and was leader of the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) from 1996 to 2012, and President of the Socialist International since 2006.

Early Career[edit | edit source]

Early Life[edit | edit source]

Costas Simitis was born in Piraeus to Georgios Simitis, a Professor at the School of Economic and Commercial Sciences, and to his wife Daphni (née Christopoulou). He studied Law at the University of Marburg in Germany and economics at the London School of Economics. He is married to Daphne Arkadiou (b. 1938)and has two daughters, Fiona and Marilena. His brother Spiros Simitis is a prominent jurist specializing on data privacy in Germany. He currently resides in the Kolonaki district of Athens.

Political activity before 1981[edit | edit source]

In 1965 he returned to Greece and was one of the founders of the "Alexandros Papanastasiou" political research group . In 1967, after the military coup of 21 April, this group was transformed into Democratic Defense, an organization opposed to the military regime. Simitis escaped abroad after planting bombs in the streets of Athens (in later years he acknowledged his activities on Greek MEGA TV channel) in order to avoid being jailed and became a member of the Panhellenic Liberation Movement (PAK), led by Andreas Papandreou. He also took up a position as university lecturer in Germany. He returned to Athens in 1974 and was one of the co-founders of PAK's successor, the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK). In 1977 he took up a lecturer's post at the Panteion University.

Ministerial offices[edit | edit source]

Simitis was not a candidate for the Greek Parliament in the 1981 elections, but he was appointed Minister of Agriculture in the first PASOK government of that year. Following the 1985 elections and his election as a deputy to the Parliament, he became Minister of National Economy; he undertook an unpopular stabilization program, trying to curb inflation and reduce deficits, but resigned his post in 1987 because he felt that his policies were being undermined. In 1993 he took over the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, but in 1995 he again resigned from the ministry and the party's Executive Bureau following a public rebuke he received by Prime Minister Papandreou.

First Premiership (1996 - 2004)[edit | edit source]

Rise to the offices of Prime Minister and President of PASOK[edit | edit source]

On 16 January 1996 Papandreou resigned as Prime Minister due to ill health. In a special election held by the party's parliamentary group on 18 January, Simitis was elected in his place, over the candidacies of Akis Tsochatzopoulos, Gerasimos Arsenis and Ioannis Charalampopoulos. Papandreou however remained Chairman of the party for the next months until his death on 23 June, just before a party conference would select the party's vice-president; after Papandreou's death, the conference would elect the new Party President. Simitis was elected in PASOK's Fourth Congress on 30 June, defeating Akis Tsochatzopoulos on a platform of support for the European Union.

Simitis then led the party in the national elections of 22 September 1996, gaining a mandate in his own right. He also narrowly won the national election of 2000. Although he is widely respected throughout Europe, in Greece Simitis was regarded by some Greeks as a rather dull technocrat, lacking the charisma of Papandreou.

Financial policies[edit | edit source]

Simitis is largely known in Greece for his political philosophy which is known as Eksynchronismos ("modernization") which focuses on extensive public investment and infrastructure works as well as economic and labor reforms. Simitis is credited by his supporters with overcoming chronic problems of the Greek economy and thus achieving the admittance of Greece into the Eurozone. During the period of his governance, inflation was decreased from 15% to 3%, public deficits diminished from 14% to 3%, GDP increased at an annual average of 4% and factual labor incomes increased at a rate of 3% per year.

Many large-scale infrastructure projects were carried out or begun during the so-called 'era of Eksychronismos', such as the new "Eleftherios Venizelos" Athens International Airport, the Rio-Antirio bridge, the Athens Metro, or the Egnatia Odos.

Interior issues[edit | edit source]

In 1996, the appointment of the PASOK-leaning "To Vima" newspaper editor, Stavros Psycharis, as political administrator of Mount Athos was particularly criticized by the opposition. In 2000, Simitis was embroiled in a dispute with the Archbishop of the influential Greek Orthodox Church, Christodoulos, when the Greek government sought to remove the "Religion" field from the national ID cards carried by Greek citizens on the grounds that the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (HDPA) recommended so; its decision also included the "Nationality" field, but was not implemented following a subsequent EE directive to the contrary. Christodoulos opposed the decision, claiming that the action pursued deviously the religious de-identification of the Greek nation. Faced by the government's robust but unpopular stance, he organized two massive demonstrations in Athens and Thessaloniki, alongside a majority of bishops of the Church of Greece. The attitude of Simitis gained faint-hearted support even within his party, but found a surprisingly militant ally in the Eksychronismos opinion makers.The then-opposition leader signed a petition, organized by the Church of Greece, calling for a referendum on the matter and signed, too, by more than three million citizens. However, the inclusion of religious beliefs on ID cards, even on a voluntary basis, as the Church had asked.

Foreign policy[edit | edit source]

While PASOK traditionalists disliked his move away from more orthodox norms of Democratic socialism, and also his relative moderation on issues such as the Cyprus dispute and the Macedonia naming dispute, his supporters saw both of these as positive elements of the eksynchronismos movement that Simitis was seen as spearheading.

During January–June 2003, Simitis, as Greek Prime Minister, exercised the presidency of the European Council.

Opposition[edit | edit source]

By the end of his tenure on 10 March 2004, Simitis would be in office for over 8 consecutive years, the longest continuous term in modern Greek history. PASOK lost the 7 March elections to the conservative New Democracy party, whose leader Kostas Karamanlis succeeded Simitis in the office of Prime Minister.

In May 2005, Simitis was elected Vice President of the Socialist International following a proposal by the former President, António Guterres. In January 2006, Simitis was unanimously elected President of the Socialist International.

In the 2007 general election, PASOK again lost to the incumbent New Democracy party of Kostas Karamanlis and Simitis’s leadership was challenged by Evangelos Venizelos and Kostas Skandalidis. Simitis, however, retained his party's leadership at a leadership election in November.

In June 2009 and under his leadership, his party won the 2009 European Parliament election in Greece. Four months later, PASOK won the October 2009 general elections with 43.92% of the popular vote to ND's 33.48%, and 160 parliament seats to 91.

Second premiership (2009 - 2011)[edit | edit source]

Taking office and revelations[edit | edit source]

The inauguration of Simitis as Prime Minister took place on 6 October 2009.

Upon inauguration, Simitis's government revealed that its finances were far worse than previous announcements, with a year deficit of 12.7% of GDP, four times more than the Eurozone's limit, and a public debt of $410 billion. This announcement served only to worsen the severe crisis the Greek economy was undergoing, with an unemployment rate of 10% and the country's debt rating being lowered to BBB+, the lowest in the Eurozone. Simitis responded by promoting austerity measures, reducing spending, increasing taxes, freezing additional taxes and hiring and introducing measures aimed at combating rampant tax evasion and reducing the country's public sector. The announced austerity program caused a wave of nationwide strikes and had been criticized by both the EU and the Eurozone nations' finance ministers as falling short of its goals.

Crisis management and bailouts[edit | edit source]

On 23 April 2010 during a visit at the island of Kastelorizo, Simitis issued a statement to the press that he instructed Finance Minister Papakonstantinou to officially ask the EU partners to activate the support mechanism, 'an unprecedented mechanism in the history and practice of the European Union'. The support mechanism, which was put in place by the European heads of state and government and further elaborated by Euro Group ministers, is a European mechanism to which the IMF is associated with financing and it involves a comprehensive three-year economic program and financing conditions. On 23 April 2010, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced that Greece made a request for a Stand-By Arrangement. Simitis and his Finance Minister Giorgos Papakonstantinou managed to convince the IMF and EU to participate in a €110bn bailout package on 9 May 2010. Greece's sovereign debt crisis, which is considered part of the European sovereign debt crisis, was marked by massive strikes and demonstrations.

In an opinion poll published on 18 May 2011, 77% of the people asked said they had no faith in Simitis as Prime Minister in handling the Greek economic crisis.

On 25 May 2011 the Real Democracy Now! movement started protesting in Athens and other major Greek cities. At the time, the peaceful protests were considered to be a sign of popular rejection of Simitis and his government's economic policies, with as much as three quarters of the Greek population being against the policies of the Simitis government. Among the demands of the demonstrations at Athens's central square, who claimed to have been over 500,000 at one point, was the resignation of Simitis and his government.

In the early hours of 22 June, Simitis and his government narrowly survived a vote of confidence in the Greek parliament, with 155 of the 300 seats in parliament. His government held 152 seats.

On 17 September, he cancelled a visit to the IMF building in Washington D.C and the UN Headquarters in New York City amid mounting concern over the country's debt crisis.

An opinion poll by Public Issue on behalf of Skai TV and Kathimerini in October 2011 showed that Simitis' popularity had dropped considerably. Of the people asked, only 23% had a positive view of Simitis, while 73% had a negative opinion; ranking him lower than any other leader of a party in the Hellenic Parliament. Simitis also ranked low on the question of who is more suitable for Prime Minister, with just 22%, as both Antonis Samaras (28%) and "neither" (47%) ranked higher than him.

On 26 October 2011, the European Summit agreed to hand to the Greek government the Sixth Tranche of € 8 billion bailout early in the 2012, while the private-sector banks, the holders of Greek debt, agreed to a 50% haircut on their outstanding Greek government bonds.

On 28 October 2011, during the national day parade, protesters blocked the parades, forcing the President of Greece and other officials to leave.

Called-off referendum and stepping aside[edit | edit source]

On 31 October, Simitis announced his government's plans to hold a referendum on the acceptance of the terms of a Eurozone bailout deal. The referendum was to be held in December 2011 or January 2012. Following vehement opposition from both within and outside the country, Simitis scrapped the plan a few days later on 3 November.

On 5 November, his government only narrowly won a confidence vote in parliament and opposition leader Antonis Samaras called for immediate elections. The next day Simitis met with opposition leaders trying to reach an agreement on the formation of an interim national unity government. However, Samaras gave only in after Simitis agreed to step aside, allowing the EU bailout to proceed and paving the way for elections on 19 February 2012. Both the Communist Party (KKE) and the leftist SYRIZA coalition had refused Simitis' invitation to join talks on a new unity government.

After several days of intense negotiations, the two major parties along with the Popular Orthodox Rally agreed to form a grand coalition headed by former Vice President of the European Central Bank Lucas Papademos. On 10 November, Simitis formally resigned as Prime Minister of Greece. The new coalition cabinet and Prime Minister Lucas Papademos were formally sworn in on 11 November 2011.

Comeback aspirations[edit | edit source]

In August 2012, Simitis was re-elected President of the Socialist International at its congress in Cape Town. Within domestic politics, however, he remained largely sidelined within PASOK, while still an ordinary Member of the Hellenic Parliament.

On 2 January 2015, Simitis announced his aspirations to return to high-profile domestic politics. Launching his new party Movement of Democratic Socialists the next day to contend the 25 January 2015 parliamentary elections, he confirmed the long-expected breakup with PASOK.

While his decision was fiercely criticized by PASOK officials, Simitis referred to the extraordinary situation with the country facing important challenges in midst a highly polarized political situation. He said that under these circumstances he "needed to make a bold political choice. PASOK, the party I belonged to since my youth, and led for many years, had become assimilated into conservative practices and policies."

Receiving only 2.46% of the electoral vote, Simitis' new party however fell short of the 3% electoral threshold. Following the election he said in a BBC Newsnight interview that his conscience was clear: "I was able to save Greece from default."

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.