I had the great joy of meeting today the new Prime Minister of Bulgaria, my new friend, Kiril Petkov. And I wanted to be the first counterpart to visit him following his recent election, supporting in this way the political stability in the country, cooperating – as I mentioned – with a new friend of mine and also declaring my intention to strengthen Greek – Bulgarian relationships.
In this context, I will have, in a while, talks with President Rumen Radev, whom I have known for years. We had the chance to cooperate in the recent sessions of the EU Summit.
I congratulated Kiril on prevailing at the ballot box and on forming a government, because normality in domestic affairs always boosts the effectiveness in the foreign affairs.
As far as the international stance of our two countries and our bilateral relations are concerned, I discovered that we share common views on many topics. Therefore, we can say that henceforward, together with Sofia, we inaugurate a new, hopeful stage in our cooperation.
After all, Greece and Bulgaria are not just neighbors. We are allies, we are partners, we are economic partners, we are two states that respect European values and International Law. This is why our talks over partnerships on trade, infrastructure, transport, energy have been truly fruitful.
More specifically, we talked about the progress on the construction of the Greek – Bulgarian pipeline, IGB, where difficulties have been overcome. The construction of the pipeline is now entering its last stage. And we agreed, so that both sides can help in order for the pipeline – which is so important both for Greece and Bulgaria, to be completed as soon as possible. This is a common challenge.
We also discussed the pandemic, the developments concerning the Omicron variant. I have to say that I am very satisfied with the fact that the new Prime Minister attributes great importance to the acceleration of vaccinations in his country. I expressed my will and the will of the Hellenic Government to be at his disposal, in case there is any way in which we can help in this sector, through convincing communication strategies, because this is a common challenge. We will never be safe in the Balkans, unless all countries reach high vaccination levels, so that we can finally reach the expected wall of immunity.
As far as the situation in our peninsula is concerned, I had the chance to reiterate to the Prime Minister where Greece stands on this issue, meaning that in a period of rising challenges and divisions, a reliable and fair path of Western Balkans towards the EU is, in the end, beneficial to everyone. It is beneficial in terms of politics, economy and safety.
After all, this perspective -as both our countries know- always becomes a driving force of progress for the acceding countries and, at the same time, a factor of stability in the wider neighborhood. This is why Greece supports the European future of candidate countries, but without forgetting that they need to fulfill the criteria that have been set for their integration into the European Union. The first one is always good neighborly relations.
Within this context, we are looking forward to the imminent and simultaneous convening of the first intergovernmental conferences with the Republic of North Macedonia and Albania, always based on the recognized criteria. We count on your support towards this common target.
Finally, we talked about issues in relation to the refugee and migration issue, where we face common challenges.
I had the opportunity to brief the Prime Minister on our relationships with neighboring Turkey and we, finally, discussed the prospect for the organization of the 5th Supreme Cooperation Council between Greece and Bulgaria. It is a very important forum that will give the chance to the executives of the new government to get to know their Greek counterparts, so that we can rapidly promote all common fields of cooperation between the two countries.
With these few words, I would like to thank my friend, the Prime Minister, for the warm hospitality in Sofia, during the last few hours that I have been here. I wish him success in his new position. I will be expecting him in Athens and I want him to know that the Hellenic government is willing to support the new government of Bulgaria with all its forces in this new beginning, which is – as I believe – to the benefit of the people of Bulgaria and Greece, and eventually to the benefit of the overall stability in the Balkans, which is our common home.
Journalist: Mr Mitsotakis, could you mention other common energy plans you talked about and is there a date for the beginning of the operation of the IGB pipeline?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: As the Prime Minister said, Greece and Bulgaria are likely to develop further partnerships as regards their energy systems. The European Union invests in a comprehensive way in systems’ interconnectivity.
And of course, especially in the issues of export and import of electricity, as the Prime Minister said – fortunately the highest demand of electricity in Greece is reported in summer, when there are intense waves of heat in the country, which is the period when there can be a surplus of electricity in Bulgaria. And, vice-versa, there is high demand for energy in Bulgaria in winter, when temperatures may not be as low in Greece as they are in Bulgaria.
Concerning the IGB issue, as I told you some difficulties have been overcome, which were due exclusively to delays in the import of materials, because of Covid. We want IGB to start operating as soon as possible. I have made a commitment to the Prime Minister that we will reach a precise timeline. In any case, the completion of this project is only a matter of a few months.
Let me also state how much importance I attribute to the Natural Gas Regasification Unit (FSRU), which is being launched in Alexandroupolis. It will enable us to import liquefied natural gas from several providers, one of which could be, for example, Egypt, with which we have developed a very close energy cooperation.
This will help us broaden our access to different sources of natural gas, lower the average price of natural gas and limit our dependency on a single and unique provider of natural gas, which obviously matters for Greece, and it matters for Bulgaria too.
Dimitris Gkatsios (ERT): Good morning. My question is addressed to both Prime Ministers. During the election period, Bulgaria accused Turkey of intervening in its domestic affairs. Last year, the neighboring country launched a hybrid attack against Greece, mainly, but also partially against Bulgaria, instrumentalising refugees and migrants. The European Council has taken several decisions that anticipate even taking measures against the neighboring country. I would like to ask you which is the stance that the European Union must adopt against Turkey. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: As you pointed out, the European Council has determined the context of relations between the EU and Turkey very precisely, essentially giving Turkey two options: the choice to gradually normalize its relations with its neighboring countries – including of course Greece – with a de-escalation of the tension, abstention from provocative acts, including the inconceivable casus belli with which Turkey still threatens Greece.
In this case, we will be the first ones to fight for the full harmonization of relations between Europe and Turkey, because we will be the first ones to benefit from regional stability.
And of course, on the issue of migration, I believe that both Greece and Bulgaria, we have every motive to protect our borders, besides this is what we do everyday. Our borders are the borders of Europe. They are not just the frontiers between Bulgaria and Turkey, Greece and Turkey. I think that both countries manage this in an effective way, with full respect to fundamental human rights.
Certainly, there is room for even closer cooperation in the issue of guarding our borders. Because, as I told you, we are countries situated in the external borders of the European Union and we bear the first role and the first word on issues concerning the external aspect of migration. Besides, this is an issue we discussed a lot during the recent European Council.