Press conference by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the end of the EU Summit in Versailles

Good evening. Τhe Ιnformal Versailles Summit has just been completed, with the adoption of the “Versailles Declaration” as well as a text that outlines the views of the Heads of States and Governments, on issues that concern specifically the crisis in Ukraine.

Let me first express once again my revulsion, my anguish, at the images we witness from Ukraine, with civilian casualties. I had the opportunity to point out once again to the European Council the intense concern of our country for our expatriates in Mariupol, which is one of the cities currently being tested by the Russian bombing.

I pointed out once again the need to do everything in our power to achieve a ceasefire and to be able to launch, organize, humanitarian corridors that will allow those who wish to leave the war zone to do so safely.

Of course, in the context of this discussion at the European Council, special attention was paid to the fact that more than 2 million refugees from Ukraine, mainly women and children, have already arrived in Europe. This is the largest refugee crisis our continent has witnessed in many decades now. Indicatively, let me stress that it took us months to reach these numbers when we faced the Syrian crisis. While in this case, we reached these numbers just in two weeks and unfortunately the phenomenon seems to intensify even more.

Greece is ready to receive refugees from Ukraine. It is ready to host them temporarily within the framework of the general rules that apply within the European Union. In this context, we work with Member States, more specifically with first reception countries – in this case the countries of Eastern Europe, like Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania – to be able to receive in an organized manner refugees who will be willing to choose our country as a temporary place of residence as long as this horror of war lasts.

Of course, I must point out – as I already stressed to the Council – that this unconditional solidarity demonstrated by our country, which is also demonstrated by all European countries in this humanitarian crisis, unfortunately it was not demonstrated when our country faced similar challenges and insisted and pleaded for European solidarity and a fair distribution of burden, when we faced the refugee crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean and when our country could hardly manage the flows reaching Greece.

Let this European solidarity, which we show to the refugees from Ukraine, be the impetus for us to finally be able to agree and move forward with the common Pact on Immigration and Asylum, with a fair distribution of burden, on a problem which clearly transcends the capacity of any Member State to deal with it on its own.

I shall now briefly pass to the other two major issues which have been extensively discussed – I would say – at the European Council. The first one concerns the issue of energy.

There is a wording in the conclusions that the will of the member states of the European Union is to reduce their dependence on Russian gas, oil, Russian raw materials, as soon as possible. Let me stress the “as soon as possible” part, because I think it is common ground that the import of Russian gas, Russian oil, can not be cut down to zero overnight, as some countries may have demanded. But I am particularly focusing on gas in the European market.

In order to achieve this, on the one hand, we will need to be able to expand our gas suppliers. There, Greece has a very important role to play as a gateway for LNG, liquefied natural gas, but also as a host country of natural gas that has been discovered, while more reserves may be discovered in the Southeastern Mediterranean basin.

As I have told you in another European Council, there is a very strong interest in highlighting our country as an energy hub and I believe that in this effort that we will make -to diversify gas sources- we have a crucial role to play.

There is another important national dimension to the case of liquefied natural gas. And this has to do with the fact that Greek shipowners control more than 20% of the total fleet of LNG carriers worldwide. There are more than 150 LNG carriers which belong to Greek shipowners. I believe that this is also an important national dimension in this European effort to end the dependence from Russian gas.

At the same time, we have agreed that we must accelerate as much as possible, also in the context of “Fit for 55”, our efforts to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons in total. This, in the case of our country, means – first and foremost – even greater penetration of renewable energy sources. And the European Union has made, in its latest announcement, a series of very interesting proposals on how this can be materialized.

I stress, in particular, the European initiative with the aim to simplify at the European level, at least at the level of guidance to the Member States, the process of licensing Renewable Energy Sources. Unfortunately, we still need a lot of time to install a wind turbine, a PV park. This is not just a Greek peculiarity. It is a European problem that must be addressed. We need to run faster.

Renewable Energy Sources are the cheapest source of energy today. The more renewable energy sources integrate into the power generation system, the cheaper the energy that will eventually reach the consumer will be.

Now, as regards the short term proposals, there has been a lot of debate – and I must tell you that there has been a lot of interest from many Member States – concerning the proposal I have submitted to the President of the European Commission for a European intervention in the wholesale natural gas market.

That is why, in fact, in paragraph 12 of the Conclusions, upon my request, there is an explicit reference to the European Union’s announcement of 8 March, which in fact states very specifically that a cap on gas prices will be considered as an option, among the other proposals which the European Union will have to evaluate.

Our argument is simple but -as I believe- it is also convincing: this market has long ceased to function with market rules. What do the rules of the market mean? It means that price is determined by supply and demand. This is a market that is a victim of speculation. Indicatively, let me mention that in the last four days, that is, since my proposal was published and we had the announcement of the European Commission, the gas market has fallen by 50%. From about 220 – five days ago – it has gone down to 115 – as I saw an hour ago.

This is the best proof that this is not a market that functions smoothly, it is a victim of speculation and that this is a problem that we have to deal with at European level. This concerns the natural gas market.

In parallel, we have asked the President of the European Commission to submit proposals for the operation of the electricity market.

Why is this important? It is important because the final cost of electricity is determined by the so-called marginal cost of the system. That is the last unit of electricity that will enter the system (last MWh of electricity). And today the prices of gas are the ones that determine the prices of electricity.

When the electricity market was designed, it was designed in such a way to encourage Renewable Energy Sources. This made sense when the electricity market was designed. However, today, it is clear that there is a fundamental distortion in the pricing of electricity and this must be addressed.

So we have two fields, two paths on which we can move at European level to tackle this big European problem. And we, all countries, now acknowledge that the capacity of state budgets to absorb these rises is de facto finite and that an additional European intervention is required.

I cannot tell you with certainty that this will be materialized. But what I can tell you is that the vast majority of countries seem to be in favor of the need to intervene in both the natural gas market and the electricity pricing market.

At the same time, as far as national measures are concerned, next week, there will be specific announcements as regards the new framework to support households, businesses and farmers in order to reduce the effects of the significant price rises and the inflation that also affects the Greek economy.

The fact that this is a purely “imported” problem does not entitle us to remain passive. We must, within the limits of the budget, intervene in smart ways. Let me point this out. Not in horizontal ways that will ultimately benefit everyone, even the most privileged ones. But, in a smart way to primarily benefit the less privileged, the most vulnerable households. We want to support the vulnerable households. There will be announcements in this direction – on the new additional support measure – by the end of next week.

Finally, there has been a major debate on issues related to our defense cooperation. This has been an abrupt awakening call for Europe from its geopolitical funk, due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And some of us, who have been talking for a long time about strategic autonomy, about the need to strengthen our defense expenditures, about greater coordination at a European level, about the need for Europe on its own, in a complementary way to NATO, to be able to defend its national, supranational geopolitical interests.

There were only a few of us defending this stance some months ago, some years ago. We are now becoming more and more and many European countries are now committed to increasing their budgets.

Some countries say they will reach the 2% faster – the countries that are members of NATO – compared to their scheduled timetables. Germany is making a huge turn in its policy, effectively canceling a policy that is rooted in World War II, significantly strengthening its defense capacities.

And, of course, it has been a long time since our country launched an important program, but within our budget capacities, to rationalize our Armed Forces and invest in our deterrence.

It is important -as I believe- that again, following the Greek intervention in the defense section, there is a reference to Article 42, paragraph 7 of the Treaty on European Union. It is essentially the European mutual assistance clause.

It is significant to say that, apart from NATO’s Article 5, Europe itself is committed to supporting any European state in the event of threat or attack. Europe is committed to supporting any state that may confront a similar situation.

This is particularly important because there are non-NATO Member States in the European Union, such as Finland and Sweden, who cannot invoke NATO for their collective defense.

I have submitted my proposal again, my argument, on why defense spending, or at least exorbitant defense spending – that is, defense spending exceeding the European average of defense spending – should not be counted in the deficit and debt.

This proposal was also submitted in the context of the general debate which is ongoing and is now gaining momentum for the revision of the Stability Pact.

It will take some time before this conversation is completed. Currently, it takes place primarily at the level of Ministers of Finances. Yet, it is important that many other European countries now make the case that defense and defense expenditures are a whole other category from the rest of expenditures. Because defense is the ultimate be-all and end-all of any country and, therefore, defense expenditures should be listed among a different category. Especially, if we claim that we want, as Europe, to reinforce entirely our defense capacities.

Let me stop here, saying that we have one more European Council, which is exceptionally important, in two weeks from now in Brussels. A lot of work awaits us that must be completed by March 24th.

The countries of the South are in total alignment, especially on issues that concern the energy market. It is very likely that there will be a meeting, probably in Rome, between Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal before the Summit of March, so that we can coordinate our initiatives, especially in energy issues, that we place in absolute priority and on which we will demand – as I told you – European answers to this European problem.

Georgia Skitzi (ERT):  Mr President, I wanted to ask you. You mentioned the Six-Point Plan, which is a proposal of yours. You extensively argued that to some extent it has been adopted at the first level. I wanted to ask you, when do you expect these proposals to be formally submitted? And what kind of value do you think it will have for the citizens if they are finally adopted.

And if I may. A second part to this, concerning domestic affairs. Could you tell us something more about these extraordinary measures towards which the government is oriented as you said, in order to deal with the rises in energy prices?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: As far as the first part is concerned, the timetable is very tight. We have asked the European Commission to make specific proposals in the next European Council.

As you know, these proposals will have to be accepted by the Council. But these proposals will be made within the next two weeks. And I hope that they will include options in the direction that myself, and some of my colleagues, have already proposed. Once these proposals are adopted, we will see a fall, de facto, in the prices of natural gas.

We are already seeing this fall. I want to point this out. Even at the “threat” of intervention, markets adapt and speculation phenomena decrease.

Now, I have no more announcements to make over the national measures. You will have to be a bit more patient. They will be announced by the end of next week. In any case, these will be measures that will concern the entire spectrum of interventions that we are capable of making. We are launching the measures and I think I have described the philosophy of those measures in my introduction. I will repeat that the most vulnerable will benefit the most.

Spiros Mourelatos (ANT1 and ANA): Mr. President, I listened to you with great attention concerning the response of our partners to your proposal, but also in general to the proposals that have been submitted and I want to ask you: what impression did you get on the Eurobond debate? We know that France is promoting such a debate.

And a second question if you allow me: what impression do you get from your own proposal to exclude exorbitant – as you told us – defense spending from the new Stability Pact. Have your counterparts lend an ear to this proposal and if it can proceed so as to ensure more budget space in Greece for you to make more interventions.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: On the second question, I have already answered that the discussion is just starting. It is a discussion that takes place in the first phase at ECOFIN level, and at the level of Finance Ministers.

As a country, we have presented specific proposals in the context of this debate. But it is too early to say what the conclusion will be. It is – as you understand – very important because we are the first ones that don’t want to jeopardize fiscal stability. Because we are a country with a high debt. Our expectation is that as the crisis fades away, we will produce primary surpluses, the level of which remains to be determined. And we will need to reduce our debt as a percentage of GDP, which will be done primarily through growth.

Therefore, we want a policy that is so balanced that it does not endanger fiscal stability, but at the same time, it does not undermine growth.

We have seen in our country, in a very painful way, where the policies of extreme austerity have led and I believe that these conclusions will be taken into account by the Europeans when we design, with more flexibility, the rules of the new European Stability Pact.

On the Eurobond issue, this debate was reproduced by the media. I would like to remind you that Europe has already taken a very important step with regard to NextGenerationEU and the Recovery Fund.

A turning point in the history of the European Union has been our ability to borrow supranationally and to channel loans, but mainly grants, to Member States to launch significant investments.

We are still at the beginning of this effort. The money is now being disbursed.

On the other hand, there are many European countries, including Greece -I will not mention others but there are important European countries- which claim that currently there is a gap between the investment needs of the European Union and the capabilities of national budgets of all countries, not just Greece, to finance them. Whether we are talking about digital transition, or about the environment, or about defense.

I am not yet ready to tell you where this debate will lead. I think we still have a long way to go. If we think of a second version of NextGeneration, I believe it is something that we would clearly suggest and would wish for, but it is still too early to tell you that a consensus can be formed for such an initiative right now.

Giannis Kantelis (SKAI): Mr President, I would like to refer to your trip to Istanbul on Sunday and the meeting with Mr Erdoğan.

First of all, what do you expect, are you optimistic – if I can use this word – on what this meeting with the Turkish President can yield and what will be the reaction if we see Turkey again putting all these unacceptable -for our country- issues on the table of dialogue?

And if you allow me, we learn that you had a discussion with Mr. Scholz, because he will also visit Istanbul on Monday. Do we see Germany changing its attitude – which has not always been very positive in the past – as regards Greek-Turkish relations.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Regarding your second question, I don’t have anything to tell you. I briefly informed Mr Scholz on the sidelines of the Summit in relation to my forthcoming meeting with President Erdoğan and I expect that he will inform me as well on the content of his talks with him, on Monday.

I believe that this meeting is imperative. And it is imperative because currently we are facing, all the countries of the region, all the countries of the world, of Europe, of the eastern Mediterranean, a very big geopolitical challenge.

Greece and Turkey are two member countries of NATO. We are essentially the pillars of NATO’s southeastern wing. And when there are geopolitical challenges of this scale it makes sense to discuss and see how we will make sure that there will be no more hotbeds and sources of geopolitical uncertainty in an already tense European landscape.

I believe this will be a debate that will take place -as I hope- in a good atmosphere. Hence, Greece takes part in these discussions with the certainty that it has International Law on its side and we have a substantiated answer to any argument that can be raised from the other side.

However, I take it as a positive element the fact that on the occasion of my visit to the Patriarchate, which was scheduled for the Feast of Orthodoxy, and perhaps taking into account the statement I made in Parliament, that I would view a meeting with President Erdoğan positively, I was invited to this lunch. Sometimes these type of lunches can have – I will not say loose- but a less strict and formal protocol.

As I have repeated many times, Greece and Turkey must hold talks. Our window is always open to dialogue. Our door is closed to any challenge and to any questioning of sovereignty and sovereign rights.

Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Mr. President. After the Russian invasion, everyone agrees that the security architecture in Europe has changed. We see Member States engaging in new armaments. You said it yourself before. We also heard from Chancellor Scholz about the “mammoth” armaments program, worth 100 billion euros in Germany.

I wanted to ask whether Greece is expected to proceed in the coming years with further armaments than those already agreed. And if it was agreed at the Summit to increase defense spending, further defense spending of the Member States of the European Union in this context in which we live and in the shadow of this crisis, of course, the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

And if you allow me, one last thing: do you think that all this, the Russian invasion, could lead us, lead the member states to an arms race leaving the welfare state behind?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Greece had launched significant investments in the Armed Forces long before we were confronted with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. For reasons that I think are completely comprehensible and relate to our particular geopolitical conditions.

However, any investment in the Greek Armed Forces is an investment in the European Armed Forces and, of course, an investment in the overall capabilities of NATO.

I believe it is certain that the debate on European security architecture will change. NATO will continue to play a leading role as a pillar of security and as the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic Αlliance. But at the same time, the debate – as I told you – on European strategic autonomy will be revived and will certainly lead to additional resources.

Your question is whether these resources will be national or European. Αt first, they will be national. As I told you, we have a view on how these expenditures should be handled at European level in terms of our overall deficit calculations. But beyond that, I believe it would be very positive, in the context of this debate, to be able to launch some common European projects, in the field of defense, regarding challenges that are common to all European countries.

It would be a good idea to see significant European funding for cyber defense issues, for example, as these challenges are common to all European countries. And it would make a lot of sense to me if we could have access to European know-how, European resources, as all countries are more or less facing similar challenges.

The arms race is a highly-charged word and as I have said many times, in our country as well, we have to find a balance between the support of the welfare state and the need to ensure, in a way that no one can ever imagine that he has margin to question our sovereignty, our Armed Forces and our deterrent power.

Greece is a defense force. However, at the same time it promotes the power of its legal arguments but also the power of its arms, in the case and in the manner that it is needed and required. And the defense spending that we have launched, I want to emphasize this, has never been to the detriment of the implementation of our government program.

We were consistent in reducing taxes, we were consistent in reducing contributions. We have supported the welfare state. We have supported the health system and we have planned these costs – because these, as you know, are long-term costs – in such a way that they do not call into question key pillars of our economic and social policy.

Giannis Christakos (MEGA): Mr President, you said a while ago that Europe seemed to be waking up from its geopolitical funk. Arriving here yesterday, at the Summit, if I remember correctly, you said that it came of age within 15 days.

European citizens are watching their governments and leaders on the occasion of the first Summit you held here – after the first days of the war. They watch the results and they observe some kind of diffidence, if you will allow me, unlike the first days, towards a greater solidarity with Ukraine. And I am referring, of course, to the integration issue, or other issues of assistance, besides dealing with the refugee crisis. And they see disagreements, at least as we have seen them through the press from the Member States, and on the issues of financial management and short-term measures, your own proposals for the immediate relief of citizens and businesses.

Do you think that the European Union is getting its historic lessons? From what you have discussed here, these two days, or will we remain again having as our primary goal the euro and its preservation, as some countries have put it, not aspiring that money should now be invested, either through borrowing or through other resources, that the European Union has in abundance?

Try to recollect for a moment where we stood the last time we were in Brussels, when President Zelensky made this very moving speech in the Council. Then we had not even made decisions on the basic framework of sanctions. And within 15 days and even less, the European Union agreed and imposed the toughest sanctions package ever. Putting an unbearable pressure on the Russian economy, as it should have done.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Here we are talking about a breach of borders and a direct attack on a democracy in Europe. This is something that the European Union of principles and values ​​cannot tolerate.

Europe was built through the ashes of World War II. The main concern was ensuring peace and never having another war in Europe, limiting any imperial ambitions and securing the inviolability of borders. And all these were put into question.

It would be inconceivable for Europe to just sit around and do nothing. And Greece, as I have said many times, had one more reason to actively participate in this effort.

So I do not agree with you that there was no significant and well-organized European reaction. And if we consider that we need to escalate the sanctions further, we will have no difficulty in doing so.

But we are very clear, the same goes for NATO and our allies on the other side of the Atlantic: we will reinforce Ukraine but we will not fight in Ukraine. We are very clear on this, we are not committed, we are talking about a country that is a member of NATO in order for Article 5 to apply.

But we have an obligation to reinforce Ukraine with all the means at our disposal, so that it can defend itself against this invasion and that is what we are doing in Europe and that is what Greece did without suspensions and without reservations and I have no doubt that we did the right thing.

Ultimately, all European countries have in effect joined this line. With no exceptions substantially, they all supported Ukraine with defense equipment.

Therefore, with all these geopolitical peculiarities that we have, would we be the exception to the rule of Europe? I believe it would be a big mistake in our foreign policy.