Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attended a lunch organised, in his honor, by Diaspora communities in New York.
The Prime Minister’s complete speech follows:
Your Eminence, Ambassador, Ladies and gentlemen, dear George (Marcus),
First of all, thank you so much. Thank you for your kind introduction. Thank you everyone for making this event a reality. I am truly honored by your presence, by your warm greeting, and by your very kind words.
Indeed, my visit to New York comes only a few months after what has proven to be an extremely successful visit to Washington, DC.
And I would just like to take the time to thank all of you, especially some of you who worked extremely hard to make this visit and this speech a reality. It was not obvious when we started planning it and discussing it with our excellent ambassador, Alexandra Papadopoulou. Please give her a round of applause. She truly deserves it.
But we finally made it happen. And it was indeed a tremendous honor for me to address the joint session of Congress and to speak about the profound ties that connect our two countries. This parallel story of democracy, of a democracy that was founded here in the US inspired by classical Greece. A Greek revolution which in turn was inspired by what happened here four decades before the revolution broke out in Greece.
And ever since, the United States and Greece have been on a parallel path, always on the right side of history, fighting for the same values that are challenged in today’s extremely turbulent world.
Of course, it was also an opportunity for me to highlight the tremendous story of the Greek-American community in this great country. And indeed, I think your story, George, the story of your father you shared with me coming over from Evia. A self-made man, like so many of those who made this perilous journey across the Atlantic to establish a new home here in the United States, resonates.
And I’m so happy to see the Greek-American community engaged in affairs back in the country. And I think one of the reasons why this is happening is because Greece indeed is doing quite well over the past years. And it is also always easier for Greek-Americans to engage with the home country when Greece is doing well rather than struggling.
But I think the speech in the US Congress was important because it came at a time when, again, we face a challenge to those values we all hold so dear to our heart. And I’m again here at the United Nations General Assembly. I’ll be able to address the Assembly on Friday at a time when, again, Europe is plunged into war.
What was unthinkable a year ago has actually happened. And we are again faced with a situation where we have to fight to defend the very values that constitute our democratic states. And I think that the American President, President Biden is right to frame today’s division of the world as a fight between democracies on the one hand and autocracies on the other hand. Αnd it didn’t take us much time to make up our decision to support Ukraine materially and to side with all those countries who understood that what is at stake in Ukraine goes beyond the sovereignty of a country which is invaded by a larger aggressive power. What’s at stake is the preservation of a rules-based international order.
And of course this is something that should be of great concern to us. It should be a concern to us Greeks, it should be a concern to our brothers in Cyprus. I would like to welcome Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Ioannis Kasoulides, because we shouldn’t forget that the wound of Cyprus is still open and that an invasion did take place in Cyprus 48 years ago and that the problem of the unification of the island unfortunately has not yet been resolved.
And of course it is so important for President Putin to be defeated in Ukraine not only for the sake of Ukraine, but in order to send a signal to all authoritarian leaders that borders cannot be redrawn through force, that historical revisionism will not be rewarded and that there is only one way to solve disputes in today’s world and that is adherence to International Law and the ability of civilized states to sit down, discuss and resolve their differences peacefully.
I know you probably expect me to speak at length about our current state of relationship with Turkey. I will refrain from doing that. I will spend some time on this issue when I address the United Nations General Assembly. I would only say one word on this topic: Greece is not going to be bullied by our aggressive neighbors and challenges to the sovereignty of Greece are simply unacceptable. And we will do whatever it takes to strengthen our alliances.
Our alliance with the United States is at an all-time high, to communicate the message of what is really happening today in the eastern Mediterranean and to make the case that at a time when the West is fighting essentially a war in Ukraine against an aggressive Russia, the last thing that we need is another source of geopolitical instability at the southeastern flank of NATO.
As I’ve said many times, we are faced with a very very challenging period ahead of us. Russia has weaponized natural gas, has driven up the prices tenfold and has put a lot of pressure on all European economies in its attempt to break the European resolve in our support for Ukraine. Russia will not succeed in its efforts and it will not succeed because we will do whatever it takes to make sure that we support our citizens and our businesses during this difficult winter. We will support them financially. We will put in place schemes through which we recycle the windfall profits of the large energy producers, place them in special funds in order to support businesses and households, and reduce the exorbitant price of electricity and gas.
And it is important that we do so and that we do so at the European level because we need to keep the cohesion of our democracies and of our societies intact. We need this in order to make sure that the resolve of our effort will not waver. And as Greek Prime Minister, I can assure you, as I’ve assured also the Greek people, that we will do whatever we can within the constraints of our budget to make sure that we support businesses and households during this very difficult winter. And we will continue to push the European Union to do more, to come up with a more constructive European response to what is essentially a European geopolitical crisis. But what I can tell you is that every crisis also presents new opportunities.
When we came into power in July 2019, we did not envision at the time that we would have to deal with a very aggressive neighbor, with a weaponization of migration, with a pandemic, with a war in Ukraine, with a spike in prices the likes of which we have not seen in more than 40 years. I think we’ve managed to steer the ship safely through these very choppy waters. And Greece today is in a better position than it was three years ago.
Our economy is doing much better. We expect a GDP growth for 2022 of 5.3%, which will be way above the average for the European Union. We expect to avoid a recession next year. We attract records foreign direct investment into the country. For those of you who have visited Greece during the summer, you know we’ve had an excellent tourism season, which is continuing, thank God, as we try to extend our tourism season.
And we have driven through, in spite of the difficulties and the focus on day to day crisis management, very important reforms on numerous important public policy files. Just let me give you one example, what we’re doing with education. I’m so happy that we’ve passed a very important milestone bill, liberalizing essentially a higher public education, allowing our universities to form more collaborations with foreign institutions, pushing through the sorts of innovations that you would expect to find in all top American universities. And in November, we’ll be welcoming 30 top American universities to Greece in order to forge more partnerships with our big public universities. And similar reforms have taken place in many different fields.
Three years ago, if you had to deal with the state, you were forced to stand in a queue and battle daily Greek bureaucracy. Now, for those of you who have been in Greece, you know that many of the things that you needed a physical presence in the past, you can do through your mobile phone, through the gov.gr application. And at a time when in the US, you still have a little handwritten vaccination card, in Greece we pioneered the digital certificate and we were ahead of Europe in terms of driving through these types of digital reforms. And of course, the big investors have taken notice.
They’ve taken notice of the fact that things are indeed changing in Greece. That this is a great place to invest, and not just in traditional sectors such as tourism, but also in new innovative sectors such as tech. And it’s a great place to invest not only because I think it has a qualified, good government that is reducing the regulatory burden on taxation. It’s a great place to invest because it has tremendous human capital. The main reason why investors come to Greece and set up shop in Greece is the incredibly talented pool of young, highly-educated Greeks who deserve a better future and who are looking for these types of jobs to convince them not to leave the country and stay and build their professional future and raise their families in Greece.
And probably the most encouraging thing that has happened in Greece over the past years, the one thing that makes me happy and proud is when I talk to young Greeks who left the country during the very difficult years of the crisis. I’m referring to what we call in Greece the brain drain generation. And they’re actually beginning to come back. They’re beginning to come back because they know they can get better jobs. But they’re beginning to come back also because I think they believe in the long-term prospect of the country.
And this is incredibly encouraging. It makes us work every day even harder to complete this project which, in spite of all the big changes that we’ve made, is half finished. And that is why the next elections are also particularly important from a political point of view because there the choices are also very clear. It’s a choice between staying the course, continuing the important changes that we have implemented, drive through reforms, continue on the path of foreign policy that builds upon our strong regional alliances. Let me welcome David Harris, who is an excellent friend of Greece on behalf of the AJC and congratulate you on the terrific job you’ve done and on the important contribution in further strengthening the relationship between the US, Greece and Israel.
So, I mean, the one path is very clear, but there’s always a risk. There’s always a risk that we could revert back to our bad habits and undo all the progress that we have made. I don’t want to make this a political discourse or a political debate, but we will be having elections in 2023. And I think that the dilemma that the Greek people will face is going to be very clear.
I have confidence that we will be able to continue the work that we have started. Again, as I told you, the project of reforming Greece bottom-up, not just top down, has only started and it will need time to be fully completed. But at the end of this path, because we have a very clear vision about what Greece should look like in 2030, is a completely different country, a prosperous country. A country that has reduced income inequality, that is able to punch above its weight in Europe and in the region. A country that is able to leverage its tremendous comparative advantages, not just its talented people, but also its natural beauty, its cultural heritage.
It prospers and is just a country that will bear no resemblance to the country of the financial crisis of the second decade of the 21st century. So allow me to conclude by allowing us to think big. I think the sky’s the limit when we think in terms of the potential that this country really has. And, of course, in order to fully materialize this potential, we need your help. We need the support of the incredibly talented, prosperous, and dynamic Greek-American community.
And I know that you care a lot about what’s happening back home, and it gives me a tremendous joy when you feel proud about what Greece is able to achieve during these difficult times. Thank you very much for your attention. And thank you, thank you for the support you’re offering to our homeland. Thank you so much.