Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you. Thank you, Manfred. Thank you for welcoming me to the group. I felt it was my obligation to pay tribute to David, and I very fondly remember his presence in Athens last May when he was with us to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Greece’s accession into the European Economic Community. This is a very sort of bittersweet moment. On the one hand, we pay tribute to a great European, on the other hand, we will have the privilege of electing Roberta as the new President of the Parliament, and I wish her best of luck in her new endeavors.
A few quick words to basically build up on what was previously said by Andre. Let me start with the economy and COVID. I also expect the Greek economy to post a very robust recovery in 2021. I expect our growth to probably exceed 8%. We also had an excellent tourism season. I think the potential is there for a long-term sustained recovery for the Greek economy.
I think we now see the benefits of the structural reforms which we implemented over the past 30 months. We never really stopped during the pandemic to reform the economy, make it more competitive. And we now also have the additional funds of the RRF, which we intend to put to good use, both the grants, but also the loans. There’s been great interest by Greek banks to channel the RRF loans into the Greek economy. So I’m quite optimistic about the prospects for a sustained recovery so that we leave behind us, for good, what was essentially a very painful decade.
On Covid, it may be of interest to point out that today is actually the first day when we are implementing, in practice, mandatory vaccinations for those above 60. And this is the first day we’re actually imposing fines for those who have refused to get vaccinated. What I can tell you is that the strategy so far has proven rather successful. We’ve increased our percentage of vaccination by more than 15 points since we announced the strategy, so a lot of people actually went and got vaccinated. One of the reasons was, I think, the fact that we actually decided to make vaccines mandatory for those above 60. I know this is a very complicated debate in many European countries, but I just wanted to share our experience with you.
Now, on the important issues for 2022. Andre also touched upon inflation, which is a concern to all of us, but of course this is very much connected to energy prices. We are heavily subsidizing both businesses and households to make sure that the increases in the electricity bills are manageable and we are essentially recycling funds from the ETS scheme to support this very, very complicated and very rapid increase in the prices of natural gas.
This is an area of concern to us, and of course, we will continue to encourage the Commission to explore the toolbox for supporting member states.
And let’s hope that things won’t turn bad on the Ukrainian front because that will pose a very sustained challenge in terms of fighting the increase in gas prices.
Now on two files, which I know are of interest to you. Andre touched upon migration. I think, yes, we have proven that you can have a tough and fair migration policy. You can effectively protect the external borders, the land borders and the sea borders, while at the same time fully respecting fundamental rights. This is what we have done. We have brought down migrant and refugee flows into Greece by 90% since we took over. And we’ve also worked with the Commission to create new state-of-the-art reception centers. The first is already operational on the island of Samos, and we expect another four to be fully operational on the other islands that are currently bordering Turkey. At the same time, obviously we know, and Margaritis knows that this is a very complicated file.
But I do want to highlight the fact that we have demonstrated that effectively protecting your external borders with full respect for fundamental rights is a strategy that can actually pay dividends, but it is only one aspect of the problem, as you know, and one of the areas we need to work much more systematically on is the area of a European-wide returns. It’s a big problem for all of the countries that are especially on the external borders. But overall, I think that we have proven that the strategy that we have implemented actually works in practice.
Of course, a lot is left to be done in terms of ensuring that we will have more support by Turkey when it comes to building a constructive relationship on the migration file. You know, sometimes Turkey is cooperating, sometimes it is not cooperating. But what Turkey currently understands is that it also needs to protect its eastern border because the idea that it could just be a conveyor belt to essentially feed migrants and refugees into Europe, that strategy is no longer applicable. And I would like again to thank all of you for the support you have provided us, especially when we stand accused of allegedly violating human rights. And these accusations come from a country which does not have exactly a stellar record when it comes to the respect of human rights. And of course, I’m referring to Turkey.
Last point, we will be following with great interest the whole discussion regarding the Strategic Compass. We are supporting France in its ambition to have a substantive discussion on this topic. As you know, we have signed the strategic partnership with France, which we consider to be fully complementary to the transatlantic relationship and to the NATO assets that we are currently developing. But for us, it was an important statement that we decided to purchase European weapons, in this case it was frigates, rather than look across the Atlantic for important defense procurement. And one last point on the Eastern Mediterranean neighborhood; Turkey is trying to sort of build bridges with lots of countries in the regions with which it had a very difficult relationship. At the same time, there is still a lot of aggressive rhetoric emanating from Turkey in terms of threatening Greece’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.
I don’t want you to believe that because the tonality has partially changed, that we are still not the recipients of a very sort of aggressive claims by Turkey, which of course, we do not take particularly seriously. But we need to be aware of the fact that there hasn’t been a fundamental shift in the Turkish policy towards Greece. That is why this two-tier approach that we have taken extending a hand of friendship while at the same time making sure that we have, you know, a package of possible restrictive measures that could be used should Turkey revert to an aggressive behavior vis-a vis Greece and Cyprus continues in my mind, Manfred, be the right approach. And of course, Eastern Mediterranean is becoming much more important also in terms of exploring alternative sources of energy be it gas to the form primarily of LNG that could be exported from Egypt. But we’re also aggressively promoting electricity interconnections with Africa, in our case with Egypt, which I think will be particularly important if we look to import really cheap renewable energy from northern Africa and to Europe.
And I think these projects are of great importance for the overall stability of the European energy system. So let me stop here and thank you again for the invitation. And again, let me wish Roberta best of luck in her new role. Thank you very much.