- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2016

As Britons headed to the polls Thursday to vote on whether to leave the European Union — they’re probably not thinking about Greece. But a Brexit decreases the likelihood of Greece following suit, according to a prominent Greek businessman who heads a new political party in Athens.

“A Brexit may put us in such a situation that we would avoid the Grexit after that, because it would be too heavy for the European economy,” Yanos Gramatidis, founder and president of the fledgling New Course New Greece party told The Washington Times on a recent Washington visit.

If the British vote to stay in, Mr. Gramatidis said the so-called Troika— the heads of the EU’s European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund — would less likely to offer more accommodating terms in Greece’s ongoing debt crisis.

A Brexit could give Athens badly needed leverage, Mr. Gramatidis said, arguing that Greece is in even worse shape than it was three years ago, due to the missteps of the ruling Syriza party, which ironically came to power in early 2015 claiming it would secure easier terms and relief from the crippling austerity policies being demanded by the country’s creditors.

But just in the past month, Syriza has pushed austerity measures of its own through parliament, including tax increases, pension cuts and privatizations to appease foreign creditors. Mr. Gramatidis compared the Greek economy to a cow with no milk: “If you don’t feed the cow, you can’t get the taxes.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other Syriza leaders say they were forced to compromise in the face of demands of creditor nations led by Germany, who demanded cuts after years of overspending and high debt levels by previous Greek governments after the country adopted the euro.

“They were ignorant. They didn’t know the name of the game,” Mr. Gramatidis said of Syriza’s failed negotiation efforts. “They went there with some wrong perceptions about how to do the negotiations.”

He added, “Greece is not in a recession— it’s worse than that— it’s in a structural collapse.”

In less than 12 months, the New Course New Government party has registered 7,900 members who also oppose Syriza government.

Mostly concerned with the increasing “geopolitical chaos” in Greece’s neighborhood, Mr. Gramatidis said a closer partnership with the United States would be beneficial for the unstable region.

“Someone needs to take initiative, and I don’t really know who is going to take that initiative because we have an American administration with all kinds of anxieties, problems, and other priorities,” Mr. Gramatidis said. “Sometimes we are anxious to face internal problems, so we forget that we have a role to play in keeping the balance of powers in other parts of the world.”

New Course New Greece party leaders are hoping to win parliament seats in the next three years, if not sooner. Mr. Gramatidis, an attorney, served as the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Greece and is currently the chamber’s honorary president.

“We don’t aim to be politicians, we like what we do in our private lives,” he said. “But we saw that there’s no other way to change the situation in the country than to get into the parliament and push the other political parties in the right direction.”

Though he says he’s not a politician, Mr. Gramatidis said his name could appear on the presidential ballot in just couple of years.

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