Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis interview on CNN, with journalist Isa Soares

Isa Soares:Thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us here on the show. My question is, we have seen, of course, a condemnation of Russia’s actions at the UN today, but we’ve also seen Putin doubling down. How should Europe respond here?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: By staying the course. We have been very forceful in terms of making the case for imposing draconian sanctions upon Russia. We know these sanctions work, but they need time to impose real hardship upon the Russian economy. And in the meantime, of course, what we need to do, Isa, is to make sure that we protect our populations, our businesses, our households, from the rising costs of energy, as Russia has made it a point to weaponize natural gas, the price of which has skyrocketed and has serious implications in terms of the cost of energy for the entire European continent.

Isa Soares: Yeah, and we’ll talk about that in just a moment. But we are expecting to hear of another round of sanctions. The 8th package, I think, of sanctions from the EU. Can you give us any details of what that will include? Will it include a plan to cap Russian oil, Prime Minister?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m not ready to comment on the 8th package of sanctions because we’re not there yet. Of course, it’s a topic that is being discussed currently at the technical level until it is actually presented to the European Council. But what I can tell you, Isa, is that the seven packages that we have already put in place constitute a very significant intervention in terms of imposing significant hardship upon Russia. But as I told you, we need to be certain that we stay the course. We need to maintain the cohesion of European societies ahead of a very difficult winter. And frankly, we need to also be more aggressive in containing the impact from the rising cost of gas. Greece has been at the forefront of lobbying for a cap on all the gas that is currently traded in Europe, not just the Russian gas. I think this proposal is gaining more traction, and we’re also looking forward to more specific recommendations by the Commission on how we can confront this weaponization of gas by Russia.

Isa Soares: I know you can’t tell me what is in the package. Can you tell me what you think ought to be in this next round of sanctions? And are all 27 nations here on board? I’m thinking of Hungary here.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I can’t speak for Hungary, but certainly we need all countries on board. It’s no secret that Hungary has voiced significant concerns about adding to the existing package. What I can tell you is we want to make sure that whatever sanctions, additional sanctions, we impose on Russia should hurt the Russian economy more than they hurt the European economy. So there is a menu of options on the table, but it’s not like we have tons of options that we have currently not explored. I think most of the sanctions that one can contemplate have already been imposed.

Isa Soares: Let’s talk about really the impact that this is having on Europe and the cost, obviously, of the energy prices that you were talking about. What impact has this had on Greece?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I think all European countries have been struggling with the fact that the cost of energy, primarily the cost of gas, has skyrocketed. And of course, as you know, there is a direct transmission of the cost of gas into the price of electricity. So we had essentially to deal with a double problem. What we’ve done in Greece, and I think we’ve been pioneers at the European level, is to put in place a rather sophisticated mechanism which essentially captures the windfall profits of the electricity producers at the source.

Then we direct those profits into a special solidarity fund in order to help us subsidize the prices of electricity and also natural gas. So we’ve told our people that they will be paying more for energy, but we are trying to absorb as much as we can in order to make sure that the increases in the cost of energy, in light of what is going to be a difficult winter, are not going to be exorbitant. This is the logic that the European Union is also adopting. So I think they’ve looked at what we’ve done in Greece. We have proven that this method actually works.

So every single day we’re actually capturing millions and millions of windfall profits and directing them towards this subsidy scheme. And I think that the European Union is going to recommend that all European countries use a similar arrangement. So this is a first line of defense to ensure that we make a market intervention, which in my mind is absolutely necessary when we deal with these extraordinary situations.

Isa Soares: And as you were talking, Prime Minister, we were seeing some of the images of the Greek parliament. I think it was, and different municipalities that have had their lights turned off. Is this something that you will continue doing?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I mean, at the same time, we all need to be sure that we need to conserve as much energy as possible. And that is why in our subsidies scheme, we actually reward people in case they reduce their electricity consumption by 15%. So it is important to send a signal that we all need to team up in this effort. The government is doing its part, but we also all need to see how we can reduce as much as we can the consumption of energy, the consumption of electricity, the consumption of gas. There will be interventions also when it comes to essentially paying businesses for not producing that is, not consuming gas. So we’re talking about a concerted effort to make sure that Putin’s effort to weaponize gas and to impose unnecessary pain upon European society actually fails.

Isa Soares: And we have seen unity within the EU vis-a-vis the war in Ukraine. We have also seen not just surging gas prices, but also a cost of living prices. So how much appetite, Prime Minister, is there at home to continue supporting the war financially, given, of course, the financial challenges here?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, it’s the cost of energy that has driven global inflation, Isa. So this is a real problem. And that is why in Greece, on top of what we do on the energy front, we’ve also announced a support package for more vulnerable households to help them with the cost of living crisis in general. We are in a position to do that because the Greek economy has performed extremely well over the past year. I expect growth in Greece to exceed 5%, and this is giving us the budgetary space to be able to support more vulnerable households. But, of course, we constantly need to make the case of why we need to support Ukraine and why we cannot essentially compromise with the Russian blackmail. Because we need to send a signal that this is not just about Ukraine. This is about any authoritarian leader who thinks that borders can be changed by force. So there is, I think, a broader message to be communicated by the international community when it comes to standing up with Ukraine against Russia in this unjust war.

Isa Soares: Prime Minister, I want to move away, if I can, from energy and focus really on accusations being made by Turkey, accusations of crimes against humanity on the question of migrants. Υour response here?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: This is a completely preposterous claim, Isa. Greece has saved tens of thousands of people at sea. Just today, we actually had two shipwrecks. We saved more than 100 people, amongst the many children. So to accuse Greece of crimes against humanity and this accusation actually coming from a country that has a track record of weaponizing migrants for political purposes is completely absurd. I should remind you and your viewers what happened one and a half years ago in March 2020, when President Erdoğan openly encouraged tens of thousands of desperate people to cross into Europe, into Greece and into Europe, in order to put pressure upon the European Union.

So it’s not us who have been weaponizing migrants for political purposes. We have an obligation to protect and defend our borders. But with full respect to fundamental rights. And every time there’s a single person who’s in need of being saved at sea, our Coast Guard has stepped up. And as I told you, even today, we rescued more than 100 people at sea. So it is a complete reversal of reality. And I’m really disappointed at this sort of constant war of fake news.

We should be able to sit down with Turkey and discuss as civilized neighbors and cooperate on migration. I’ve been the first who has said that Turkey has an important role to play when managing the migration crisis. But this is certainly no way to conduct international affairs on the part of Turkey.

Isa Soares: But, Prime Minister, why would, just help us understand, why would Turkey or President Erdoğan do this? What does Turkey get from these comments?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I’m not in a position to know what President Erdoğan thinks and whether this is simply a domestic play. But what I can tell you is that over the past months, we’ve seen a crescendo of Turkish rhetoric primarily directed against Greece with completely baseless, preposterous allegations challenging the sovereignty of Greek islands. We’ve said very clearly that this pattern of rhetoric is unacceptable. There’s only one playbook for solving differences among states, and that is a strict adherence to International Law, and in our case, adherence to the Law of the Sea. And we constantly encourage Turkey to sit down and discuss based on those principles. I mean, after all, we are neighbors, and we need to find a way to resolve our disputes in a civilized manner.

Isa Soares: Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, I appreciate you taking the time to speak to us. Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you very much, Isa.