In Greece, local elections are seen as the ideal stepping stone to higher office. In the 2000s in particular, voters are on the lookout for fresh faces. In Athens, a certain Alexis Tsipras made headlines when he ran for mayor in 2006 and immediately got over 10 percent of the vote for the Left Party. In 2015 he became prime minister and governed the country for four years.
In Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, a young woman is making a name for herself at this time: Eva Kaili, architecture student and from 2002 city councilor for the social democratic faction of the later security minister Spiros Vougias, who teaches at the university and became aware of Kaili there . The young socialist is the youngest city councilor in the history of Thessaloniki – and “also the most beautiful city councilor”, according to the Greek newspaper Proto Thema.
Can a politician look good? Is Eva Kaili reduced to her appearance? The young Greek will never let go of these questions. In a later interview with the Athens weekly Parapolitika, she explains: “It was difficult to deal with that mentality. But it also taught me to set higher standards for myself. Maybe I wouldn’t try so hard if I had nothing to prove.”
Her first mentor, Spiros Vougias, is considered an esthete and bon vivant who is rather unfamiliar with the lowliness of politics. But he has a good connection to the new head of the socialist PASOK party, Giorgos Papandreou. The newly elected city councilor benefits from this.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Eva Kaili wins a seat for the Socialists – as one of the youngest MPs in Greek history. It’s a big surprise. But she has to give up the mandate.
Because according to the election law, party leader Papandreou can run in several constituencies and only commit to one constituency after the election results have been announced. Contrary to expectations, Papandreou opted for the constituency of Thessaloniki. And Kaili gets nothing.
As a result, the prevented parliamentarian considers a career as a TV presenter and completes a six-month course at the Athens “Ergastiri (laboratory) for journalism”. Whole generations of journalists were taught at this private school. It’s tough training: the graduates often have to start from scratch and accept several underpaid jobs before they can assert themselves in the highly competitive Athens media market.
Kaili is spared this ordeal. Before she graduates, she will host the lunchtime program of the leading Greek TV channel MEGA. The odds are quite impressive.
In a later MEGA interview, the aspiring politician says she was “sad” when Papandreou claimed the parliamentary seat in Thessaloniki. He probably would have made this decision because the young deputy would cause him fewer problems than the long-established socialists. A dig at the boss? At any rate, she felt “motivated and defiant at the time,” Kaili says.
Your chance should indeed come. In 2007, Eva Kaili made it back into parliament and was allowed to keep her seat this time. Many party members meet her with skepticism. The tone became very harsh in the wake of the Greek debt crisis. After Prime Minister Papandreou announced a referendum on the austerity requirements of creditors in 2011 and was called back by the EU partners, there was a break with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
Surprisingly, Kaili sides with Venizelos, drawing the wrath of all the old socialists. In a crisis meeting of the parliamentary group, the then PASOK Secretary General Sokrates Xinidis insulted the young parliamentarian as a “slut”.
Prime Minister Papandreou sees no need for action. Although Kaili calls for internal party disciplinary proceedings, this attack has gone unpunished to this day.
After all, Xinidis has now left the political stage. In a later interview with To Vima newspaper, Kaili remarked that he should have apologized primarily to his own female constituents.
In the 2014 European elections, the socialist makes a fresh start and moves to Brussels for the PASOK party. MEPs from Hellas often seek membership of the prestigious Foreign Affairs Committee, but Kaili prefers to focus on industrial and trade policy. Whether it’s digitization, e-mobility or geo-blocking, Kaili is there, not least as Chair of the influential Steering Group on the Future of Science and Technology (STOA). In January 2022, the Greek will be elected Vice-President of the European Parliament with a large majority.
Nikos Androulakis, a young engineer from Crete, will be present for the PASOK in Brussels. The two couldn’t be more different: Androulakis comes from a humble background, seems rather reserved at first glance and advocates a return to socialist values. The fact that he also has a special political talent will become apparent in December 2021 at the latest, when Androulakis is elected the new leader of the Greek Socialists and even prevails over ex-Prime Minister Papandreou.
This shifts the balance in Brussels. Kaili used to be allowed to call herself “chair of the PASOK parliamentary group in the European Parliament” – but she is the head of a group that consists of only two MPs. Now Androulakis is the boss. The Greek press repeatedly reports disputes between the two. In the summer things break up when Androulakis declares himself a victim of the wiretapping scandal in Greece and Kaili then distances himself from him.
After the latest allegations of corruption were announced, the Socialist leader quickly pulled the ripcord, expelled Kaili from the party and described her as the “Trojan horse of the conservatives (currently in power in Greece)”. Androulakis told the Athens TV channel Alpha that the allegations of corruption were the last straw, without giving any details. The Socialist leader does not want to judge whether the allegations are justified. His conclusion: “I’m not a judge, I don’t know, but I had to make a decision to protect our party.”
Author: Jannis Papadimitriou
The original to this post “The Rapid Rise of Eva Kaili” comes from Deutsche Welle.