Humility wins in a Greek election

A new prime minister runs against Europe’s nationalist tide by reminding Greeks they are better off uniting and finding a stronger role in the EU.

Greece's newly-elected prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, background, looks on as outgoing prime minister Alexis Tsipras, leaves the Maximos Mansion in Athens, July 8.

With a humility rarely heard in Europe, the new Greek prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, told voters after his election victory on Sunday, “We are too few to stay divided.” In just a few words, he summed up what Greece has learned after years of possibly leaving the single-currency zone of the European Union.

The message: Instead of going it alone as a small country, Greece must unite to find a better role within the EU.

Greeks, Mr. Mitsotakis said, should now work across their political divides to not “be a beggar or a poor relative” within the EU. Indeed, Greece is only 2% of the EU population. By the end of this century, Europe itself will be 4% of the world population. At the start of the 20th century, it was 20%.

In a world drawing ever closer, humility about not making it on one’s own has become a virtue. This is a lesson for Europe’s populists of the left and right who assert the need for national self-reliance in both economics and identity.

As Europe learned the hard way from its 20th-century conflicts, the effort to go it alone leads to totalitarianism. Dictators flourish by claiming the need for a nation to be self-focused. The best example today: North Korea, whose official ideology is juche, or self-reliance.

Greece toyed with leaving the eurozone after its 2009 financial crash, which was caused by official lying about its debt. Yet after being rescued with three bailouts from creditors and enduring difficult reforms under the left-wing Syriza party, voters in Sunday’s election chose the center-right New Democracy party of Mr. Mitsotakis. Despite the swing toward conservatism, he told voters, “I’ll work to convince you that I’m everyone’s prime minister.”

In a visit to Greece earlier this year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said leaders of different political stripes have a “common foundation” within the EU. “That includes the deep conviction that cooperation with each other is in any case better than nationalism, which has so often led us in Europe to catastrophe,” she emphasized.

The EU has shown how to integrate sovereign and equal states yet allow each to keep much of its social identity. Out of hubris, Greeks came close to divorcing the EU. Now, in humility, they cannot imagine themselves outside it.

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