When I moved to the UK in search of employment, I was asked ‘What job would you like to do?’ Prior to that, the last person to ask me that question was my dear granny. I was seven years old, walking along the beach with an ice cream in my hand, telling her about my aspiration to own a supermarket. I was sure it was a great plan; I could eat as many sweets as I possibly wanted!
Born and raised in the beautiful Greek island of Crete, I speak with absolute passion when I say that it’s the best place on earth. I love my country. Yet I now call Edinburgh home.
The second most common question I’m asked – the first being my height (6ft 2) – is why, as someone so passionate about Greece (especially its cuisine), did I leave my country? The answer is very simple. In search of a job that I enjoy, one that offers better prospects. No longer is an abundance of sweets my top priority – although an important subject sparking much office debate is chocolate versus candy.
I’m not alone in my search for better opportunities. Unfortunately, migration has become all too common amongst us younger Greeks. Following the financial crisis in 2011, more than 400,000 people left Greece. But unlike in the past, most leavers weren’t unskilled; instead they were highly educated.
It simply isn’t sustainable. Something needs to change.
Perhaps that’s why 58% of Greece’s citizens took to the polls this week. The liberal leader of the centre-right New Democracy party, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, was sworn in as Greece’s prime minister on Monday after snap elections in which he won almost 40% of the vote, while the previously ruling populist Syriza party secured a 31.5% share. The electoral system, which confers a 50-seat bonus to the party gaining the most votes, ensures that Mitsotakis has a clear majority of 158 members in the 300-seat Hellenic parliament.
I feel fortunate to be amongst the 72,000 Greeks living in the UK. I live a good life, I have a job that I enjoy and I pay my bills without having to worry constantly about money. It’s my hope that the future generation of Greeks who join me in the UK do it because it’s their choice, and not due to a lack of opportunities at home.
Mitsotakis boasts of putting an end to the need for economic migration. He promises a return to “normality” after four and half years with Syriza in power. How can he deliver on these pledges?
An immediate goal is to promote a much friendlier business environment. Attracting foreign direct investment is essential, but fraught with complexity. For the past decade, Greece has hugely underinvested in its economy—the ratio of investments to GDP is just 11%, the worst score by far among EU members. Subsequently, productivity has suffered for too long and incomes are stuck at such low levels that it’s difficult for new families to afford to have kids and a decent standard of life.
Economic growth was projected to be only 1.9% last year, and the brain drain has increased. The exodus of skilled workers has worsened the problem of an ageing population which, in turn, is having a negative impact on the social security system. The new government urgently needs to tackle these interconnected problems.
Sure, it’s not an easy task but Mitsotakis has a reputation for being a workaholic and a doer. We can only hope. Meantime, let’s view the glass of Ouzo as half full.