It is my great pleasure to welcome to Athens my friend, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte. He is one of the longest-tenured leaders in Europe -with more than 10 years in office- and I believe that his experience, as well as his clear vision, help the discussions that we just had, as well as the discussions that we will have later on, both concerning our bilateral and and our EU agenda.
Of course, we discussed the pandemic, the resurgence that is affecting all of Europe, including the Netherlands and Greece. We currently have approximately the same number of cases per capita. We discussed the measures that we are taking.
The same measures are more or less being implemented everywhere. And I think that we have all made the same four-pronged choice. First, we will not shut down our economies and our societies again. Second, we need to carry out a lot of tests and implement basic self-protection rules, such as wearing masks and social distancing. These measures will remain in force for the foreseeable future. Third, obviously, we are all boosting our national health systems as much as possible. Fourth, vaccination and the third dose essentially remain the only solution for us to overcome this health crisis.
Another topic on our agenda was the refugee and migration issue, where both sides agree that this essentially is a European challenge.
I had the opportunity to outline Greece’s position, which is anchored in the rules of humanism as well as security; in protecting the European and national borders on one hand and rescuing desperate people on the other. Because our common enemy are the despicable smugglers and those who allow them to operate, using the victims as levers to serve their own aims.
What happened in Evros one-and-a-half years ago is unfortunately being repeated today in Belarus, at the borders with the Baltic countries, with Poland. Europe now, at the level of the European Council, realizes that this instrumentalisation of the refugee issue by authoritarian regimes can hurt it to an extent that it had never imagined in the past.
In this context, we discussed with dear Mark the new EU asylum pact, a prospect that -on the basis of solidarity- needs to acknowledge first of all the intense pressure sustained by the states that are at the EU external borders; it needs to distribute the burden equitably among all member states; it needs to be flexible; but above all else it needs to be decisive in regards to third countries, so as to ensure the returns of those who do not fulfill the criteria for international protection.
We also briefly discussed developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the fact that Turkey, unfortunately often engages again in an aggressive rhetoric that not only contravenes international legality but often constitutes an insult to History, geography and common sense.
I reiterated that for Greece the pursuit of an honest dialogue with everyone of its neighbors is a matter of principle. The bilateral and multilateral agreements that it has signed with many member states are a testament to this. For example, we signed an agreement for the delimitation of our exclusive economic zone with Egypt. We did the same with Italy and along with neighboring Albania -which you will have the opportunity to visit tomorrow, dear Mark- we have pledged that in the event that we are not able to settle our differences, we will jointly go to the International Court.
So, through our deeds, we have established an acquis of cooperation, peace and stability in the region, and I think we have set an example of diplomacy for progress. However, defending our national rights is a matter of principle for Greece. This is why we always remain calm in the face of challenges, armed with the clout of international law as well as our decisive defensive readiness.
This is why we believe that the approach we have adopted at the European Council is the right one. It is a dual-track approach, which on the one hand offers positive incentives to Turkey if it deescalates tensions with its neighbors, Greece and Cyprus, and on the other hand leaves open the possibility of restrictive measures, so that our neighbours can finally choose whether they want to take the european path.
Lastly, we briefly discussed matters pertaining to Libya. It is absolutely vital, and we all agree on that, to respect the timeframes; that elections take place on December 24, as agreed, to respect the ceasefire, to respect the Resolutions of the Security Council. But above all to withdraw all foreign troops, all foreign mercenaries from Libya as soon as possible. So that the people of our friend and neighbor can take their country’s destiny in their own hands, without distractions.
We will have the chance to discuss all these issues during the summit on Libya that will take place in Paris, this Friday.
We will have the chance later to discuss, during dinner, more issues that are part of our very rich bilateral agenda. Because the evolution of our economic ties is admittedly impressive. The Netherlands is one of the major foreign investors in our country, the fourth largest supplier in terms of trade; it ranks 12th among destinations for Greek exports; it is the sixth largest customer for our tourist industry. Many friends from the Netherlands came to Greece this year and we are looking forward to welcoming even more next year. These facts are very important.
Moreover, we have a common agenda on climate change. Greece is a protagonist when it comes to green policies, in the framework of a model for the reorientation of the Greek economy.
Besides, you must remember dear Mark -as you are one of the most long-tenured at the European Council- the constant requests for reforms in Greece at the time of the economic crisis.
The difference is that Greece is now moving towards these bold breakthroughs that it designs and carries out itself, reorganizing its economy, attracting foreign investment, creating new jobs and finally increasing the national wealth.
Greece in 2021 has nothing to do with Greece in 2015, a time when it came, unfortunately, very close to being expelled from the eurozone.
Let me end my speech with an historical reference, as the ties between our two peoples stretch back to the depths of time. A good associate of mine, who is really keen on History, reminded me that Greeks still remember that Adamantios Korais lived and studied in Amsterdam for six years, starting his fight for the rebirth of Greek education there. It was in that same city that the first philhellenic committee in Europe was founded, a committee that strengthened the struggle for national independence.
Later on as well, the Netherlands, a society which is -I would say- a model of liberalism, always stood on Greece’s side. We do not forget the stance your governments took at the time the military junta ruled Greece, when the Netherlands willingly welcomed Greeks who opposed the dictatorship, and played a leading role in the expulsion of Greece’s military regime from the Council of Europe.
It is by following in these old and solid footsteps, that we will keep going as partners, allies and friends.
Dear Mark, once again, welcome to Athens.
Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): Good evening. My question is addressed to both Prime Ministers and concerns the pandemic. Europe faces a new harsh Covid wave. Both the Netherlands and Greece have announced and implemented measures in order to check the pandemic. I would like to ask you whether you think that these interventions can prevent the resurgence of the virus or whether additional measures will be required. I would also like to ask you whether you discussed ways to coordinate at the European level, in order to limit the number of cases, now reaching record highs. Thank you very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me answer first. We have discussed the pandemic many times at the level of the European Council. Obviously there is regular contact among all heads of state and government, and we always try to learn from each other and adjust our strategies to the resurgence of the virus.
We are indeed facing a fourth wave. This concerns both Greece and the Netherlands, Europe in its entirety, above all the unvaccinated. They are more vulnerable and it is much more likely that they will end up in ICUs and unfortunately lose their lives.
Therefore, both our countries focus -and I think that all European countries agree on that- on the need to raise vaccination rates and take basic protective measures, without the need to resort to a lockdown and the restrictions that we employed when we did not have available vaccines.
Greece and the Netherlands, each country has its own particularities. We have our own systems and I would say that they are rather strict by European standards. We do not allow -and I say this for our Dutch friends who are visiting us- entry to indoor spaces without a proof of recovery from Covid or proof of vaccination. We gradually imposed stricter measures for outdoor spaces as well, requiring a negative test there too. We call this 3G, as opposed to 2G, which is the strictest framework.
So, I think that every country adapts, but we must focus on vaccinations.
And, lastly, at the level of European cooperation, I think that Europe will move forward in a speedy way as regards the purchase of new medicines, which seem to be very promising. But I want to point out that this will not be a medicine -especially the one developed by Pfizer- that we will have in our disposal tomorrow. What will be available to us very soon -and we hope that it will be approved by the EMA- are monoclonal antibodies. That would be an additional line of defence but for specific cases, which will be indicated by our medical professionals.
So right now, vaccines, tests and basic personal protection measures: that is the recipe which, I believe, all European countries are following to tackle this fourth wave.
Ingeborg Beugel: Prime Minister Mitsotakis, when – at last – will you stop lying? Lying about the pushbacks, lying about what is happening with the refugees in Greece? Please don’t insult mine and neither the intelligence of all the journalists in the world, there has been overwhelming evidence and you keep denying and lying. This is like narcissistic abuse.
Why are you not honest? Why don’t you say: “Brussels left us alone, we waited for 6 years, nobody did anything, we need to relocate, they don’t do it, now I have my say and yes I do cruel barbarian pushbacks.” Why did you stop knocking on Brussels’ door for relocation?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I understand that in the Netherlands you have a culture of asking direct questions to politicians, which I very much respect. What I will not accept is that in this office you will insult me or the Greek people with accusations and expressions that are not supported by material facts, when this country has been dealing with the migration crisis of unpresented intensity, has been saving hundreds if not thousands of people at sea.
We just rescued 250 people in danger of drowning south of Crete. W e are doing this every single day, rescuing people at sea, while at the same time,yes, we are intercepting boats that come from Turkey, as we have the right to do in accordance with the European regulation; and waiting for the Turkish coast guard to come and pick them up to return them to Turkey.
So rather than putting the blame on Greece, you should put the blame on those who have been instrumentalizing migration systematically, pushing people in a desperate situation from a safe country. Because I need to remind you the people who are in Turkey are not in danger, their life is not in danger, and you should put the blame on others and not us.
We have a tough but fair policy on migration, we have processed and given the right to protection to 50,000 people in Greece, including tens of thousands of Afghans, who have been receiving…
Allow me, have you visited the new camps on our islands? Have you been to Samos?
Ingeborg Beugel: Yes I have. I was one of the first.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No, you have not been to Samos. Please, you have not been. Look, you will not come into this building and insult me. Am I very clear on this?
I am answering now, and you will not interrupt me. In the same way that I listened to you very carefully. If you go to Samos you will find an impeccable camp, with impeccable conditions, funded by EU money, with clean facilities, with playgrounds for the children to play, no comparison to what we had in the past.
This is our policy, we will stand by it and I will not accept anyone pointing the finger at this government and accusing it of inhuman behavior.
Sofia Fassoulaki (OPEN): Good evening. A question for both. Are you concerned with recent developments in Libya? What do you expect from the conference that will take place in Paris this Friday, which will be attended by both Greece and the Netherlands?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Our friend Mark is right to describe the situation in Libya as especially complicated.
Let me remind you that this is essentially the first time that Greece takes part -at the level of heads of state and government- in an international conference on Libya. I think it was a misstep that we did not have a seat in the previous meetings, considering that we are the nearest neighbor to Libya; we are the country that -along with Malta and Italy- shares sea borders with Libya.
Therefore, we have a vital interest in the stabilisation of Libya on all levels. We have reopened our embassy in Tripoli and our consulate in Benghazi.
As I told you earlier, we want Libya to be able to address its future on its own, without interventions by third parties, without the presence of foreign troops, without the presence of foreign mercenaries. And, of course, without Libya having to conclude manifestly illegal deals with other countries, solely in exchange for the military presence of other countries in Libya. I am referring specifically to the memorandum between Libya and Turkey which, as we have also agreed at the European Council, is blatantly illegal, violates the Law of the Sea and has no actual legal value.
This is not an easy situation. I agree with Mark that we should not have particularly high expectations. It is very important nonetheless, at least as regards the European Union, to have a common voice and avoid differing approaches. Something that, I think, vexed the relationship between Europe and Libya in the past.