Since last March, I was one of the first heads of states and governments who touched upon the issue of the instrumentalisation of natural gas prices by Russia and I had, back then, requested a uniform European response, which will be able to set a framework, a cap on high natural gas prices, so that we are not forced, as European societies and European governments, to pay much more than we have to in order to cover our needs for natural gas.
You know that up until yesterday there were substantial reactions by a number of member states, but I believe that our arguments -and I am referring to the majority of states that supported this proposal- finally convinced even the most skeptical ones. And today we have in principle an agreement at the level of the European Council.
An agreement that essentially enables the European Commission to proceed with a set of interventions, in order to retain the prices of natural gas at a lower level. One of the interventions is the capacity to impose what we call a “cap in natural gas prices at the TTF level”. Now the responsibility passes on to the Ministers of Energy, who will have to specify their relevant proposals, so that they can get the obligatory character needed in order for them to materialize.
In any case, I want to reiterate that, regardless of the interventions that we can make at a European level, the Greek government supported, is supporting and will continue to support Greek consumers, Greek households, Greek companies against the explosion of energy prices.
As I said yesterday, it is an intervention acknowledged by every Greek citizen and every Greek company when they receive the electricity bills, where they can clearly see the level of the subsidy, the amount that they would have paid if it was not for the subsidy and the final amount payable.
But, it is completely different to have natural gas prices at 200, 250, 300 euros per megawatt hour and it is completely different to have natural gas prices that today are at 110, 112 euros per megawatt hour if I am not mistaken. And I believe that one of the main reasons why the price of natural gas has fallen this last month was exactly the fact that the markets noticed that we are serious about our threat to impose -given that this is required- a kind of cap on natural gas.
So, I believe that the markets took into account the European reaction, noticed that Europe -even with a delay- is willing to move in this direction and I believe that the final outcome is positive for everyone because we will be paying lower natural gas prices, without risking the security of supply. It is an issue that is obviously important for all European countries.
From that point forward, apart from energy, we had a detailed debate, today, in the morning about the strategic relationship between the European Union and China. And we completed our work with the approval of the relevant decisions of the European Council with regards to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
And I am seizing the opportunity to condemn -once more- with the most robust, with the most intense way, the unacceptable Russian attacks against Ukraine’s infrastructure. These attacks are essentially directed against civilians and essentially aim to terrorize the Ukrainian population. We reiterated once more our full support to Ukraine’s effort to defend its territorial integrity.
Yiannis Kantelis (ΣΚΑΙ): I keep in mind that you described the decision as very positive. However, those listening to us in Athens, the citizens, wonder how this will affect their daily lives. How will they benefit from these European decisions in the bills they have to pay every month?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Mr Kantelis, first of all, the citizens -as I have said- already saw the benefit from the moment the government decided, a year ago, to allocate significant resources to support this entire effort. And especially from July onwards -when we effectively abolished the readjustment clause- citizens have known that significant resources are being allocated in this direction.
However, as you can see, the lower the price of natural gas, the less painful this exercise is for the state budget, and the more citizens can aspire to ultimately see lower prices in terms of the expenses they have to make for their electricity consumption.
Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1): Mr President, I heard you earlier, in your opening statement, say that the government will continue to support households and businesses. And I’m wondering whether, after yesterday’s decisions, you feel that additional fiscal space is being created for you, as a government, to intervene in the price of diesel or petrol, which has gone up in recent weeks, or whether you think there is that space to intervene, in general, to support households and businesses between now and Christmas. Thank you very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We have not yet implemented the measures that we have announced -which are important- and you keep asking me about new measures that we might take.
Let us first implement the measures that I have announced in Thessaloniki. For example, this month we are launching the payment of the increased student allowance.
As I said, we are continuing the interventions on the energy front. We have the 250 euro allowance, which will be given to support the weakest households at the end of the year. We have the heating allowance, which is reinforced and reaches 300 million euros, and this will start being paid very soon.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. After all, I want to stress that the energy market is extremely volatile. We cannot necessarily draw conclusions about what will happen tomorrow, deriving from what is happening today. As I said, we are satisfied with the fact we are seeing declining gas prices, but we have seen a lot and this can easily be reversed.
That is why, after all, the threat of using the “cap” tool is needed, so that we can avoid the extreme prices that we have seen in recent months.
Therefore, I have nothing new to tell you on these issues. I will only say that we have demonstrated that we have the capacity to keep reserves, while remaining absolutely consistent in the implementation of the budget targets. And we are not going to deviate, for 2022, from the central objective of the economic team to have a primary deficit of 1.7%.
I want to reiterate that the international situation is difficult in terms of how markets evaluate governments. I will repeat what I said in Parliament: you saw what happened in the UK and how the government of a G7 country was punished for making unfunded announcements of its intention to reduce tax rates, but without specifying where it would get the money from.
Our country has in the past paid very dearly for populism and lavish promises. There is no way that this policy can be repeated. Every euro is counted for and we will constantly be assessing the fiscal situation. If and when we are ready to say more, you will know it when the time comes.
Maria Psara (STAR): Hello, Prime Minister. On another issue, and it’s none other than Turkey. Because it’s been about two weeks since the Prague summit where European leaders saw for themselves what Erdogan is all about. One week since the meeting, since the face-to-face meeting between Panagiotopoulos and Akar, and today, if I am not mistaken, you also discussed the countries that do not adopt sanctions against Russia, I think with clear aspersions regarding Turkey.
So my questions are as follows: Has anything changed, at the European level, towards Turkey? Do you expect sanctions on natural persons and entities in Turkey, as, after all, the 8th package of European sanctions against Russia foresees?
And, on a bilateral level, has the channel of communication with Turkey been reopened? And one last thing, if I may. Excuse me. There are many. I know. Are you concerned about Turkey’s ballistic missile test that Ankara is celebrating?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: You asked me three different questions. Firstly, on the European dimension of Turkey’s choices in relation to Ukraine and Russia, there is an understanding and, I dare say, an annoyance that a country which -at least on paper- aspires to become a member of the European family and is a member of NATO is not implementing sanctions against Russia. And not only does it not adopt them, it significantly benefits economically from bilateral trade with Russia and possibly even enables it to be an intermediary third party through which the sanctions imposed by Europe on Russia can be circumvented.
We now have the possibility -and when I say we do, I mean as the European Union, as the European Commission, as European institutions- of imposing sanctions if third parties in Turkey, natural or legal persons, are found to be in breach of sanctions imposed by the European Union on Russia. But this is not our decision to take, it is a decision of the European institutions.
But I think it is important that this issue is now the subject of discussion and reflection at the level of the European Council.
I do not have much more to say about bilateral relations. I do not want to go back over what happened in Prague. I will repeat once again that I think this exchange of views was extremely useful, as it took place in front of all the leaders who participated in the European Political Community. Our position has not changed: the windows of dialogue are open but the doors to provocations remain firmly closed.
I consider it positive that there was a first communication between the two Defense Ministers and under certain conditions this communication can continue. I would repeat, however, that it is not Greece that is sharpening the tone. It is not Greece that is questioning the status quo as it has been established in our wider region. It is not Greece that does not respect the basic principles and values of good neighbourly relations. It is up to Turkey to change its behaviour to bring us back to the dialogue table, but also to give us the opportunity for peaceful coexistence for the benefit of both our peoples.
I will say once again that our peoples do not harbour hostile feelings towards each other. And this is a very important legacy that I believe we must preserve. A few days ago, a commercial (shipping) line was launched from Thessaloniki to Izmir, and I hope it will be successful because this will further strengthen communication between the two peoples, as well as bilateral trade.
It would be much better to focus on this aspect of the positive agenda, than for Turkey to constantly use Greece as a target and as the object of rhetoric that is mainly directed to internal consumption.
I do not comment on the neighbouring country’s arms programmes and obviously I have the same demand from Turkey: that it should not comment on Greece’s arms programmes. Beyond that, you understand that all actions are consistently studied and evaluated by the competent authorities.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Mr. Prime Minister, good evening. On the 27th of October the official visit of the Chancellor, Mr Scholz, will take place in our country. Today, we have seen a condemnation of Turkey’s statements from Berlin by the Deputy Government Spokesman.
So I would like to ask, if you can tell us, what is on the agenda of the discussion you will have with the Chancellor. Whether there is any defense agreement on the table with Berlin -because that is rumoured in Athens- and whether you are expected to raise the issue of Turkey again with Mr Scholz. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I am delighted to have the opportunity to welcome Chancellor Scholz in Athens for a comprehensive bilateral visit that will allow us to assess the framework of our bilateral relations, but also to discuss the important European challenges we face together.
For example, it will be an opportunity to possibly further mature our positions on energy issues, as it was Germany that finally changed its position in yesterday’s debate and is now also feeling more comfortable with a gas cap. So we will obviously discuss energy issues, our bilateral relations as a whole, the framework of trade between us, Greek investments in Germany, German investments in Greece.
And I think that such visits are always an opportunity to highlight the great progress that Greece has made and to make it clear to the German audience that the Greece of the last decade, which was always a source of problems for Europe, and I would say the difficult relationship that we had with Germany is now, I believe, a thing of the past, as Greece itself has proven that it is a country that has left behind for good the past times of memoranda and economic surveillance.
Obviously, we will also discuss developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, but Chancellor Scholz’s visit will not be monothematic. We often have the opportunity to exchange views on issues regarding Turkey.
And I want to stress that Germany’s position is clear in the defense of Greek national interests. Just as all our European partners are clear in their stance towards Turkish provocativeness.
I have also been reading some reports on defense deals. I guess the people who write them seem to know more than I do.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA and ANA-MPA): Mr Prime Minister, how close is yesterday’s decision to the Greek proposal, to your “6-point plan”? And now that we have this decision, do you think that it will be more affordable to use petrol or natural gas in winter?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The decision made takes into account many Greek proposals. And I want to seize this opportunity in order to stress that, apart from the conversations taking place at my level, we have now established as a country an important, technocratic adequacy in the European institutions. The proposals we submit are generally very well processed and are accepted positively in terms of their validation. This does not mean that everybody agrees with what we say, but certainly our proposals are well documented and in this way, in our way we become bridge-builders and we try to deal with and respond to the justified concerns that other countries may have.
Because we must not forget that especially on issues of energy we face very different energy mixes and every country has its own political priority. And we can and need to agree on a European response, obviously this response cannot only resonate with our own positions. We need to be able to “step into the shoes” of other countries and realize their own sensitivities and their own concerns.
Let me stress that in this sector, apart from the interventions carried out at a technocratic level of policy making, Greece plays an exceptionally crucial role in our wider neighborhood, of the Balkans, as a natural gas import gateway, which can potentially supply not only for our neighboring Balkan countries but also countries in central Europe.
Greece is leading a series of major infrastructure projects that improve the connectivity of our energy systems. Let me indicatively mention the new IGB pipeline, which now connects Greece with Bulgaria and, in this way, enables Bulgaria not to be completely dependent on Russian natural gas.
We are discussing new infrastructure projects, new electricity cables that can even reach central Europe, so that we will be able to export the electricity surplus -which hopefully we will be able to have- that will be produced from Renewable Energy Sources.
Our ambition is that at a certain point our country will export and not import electricity. And for us to be able to do this, we need to be in constant discussions with our partners, detect European financing tools and we need to be able to think not only about today, which is all about dealing with the energy crisis, but also about tomorrow and the day after.
I would like to remind you that one week ago we witnessed an unprecedented fact in our country, for 6 consecutive hours during the day we produced all the amount of electric energy that we consumed at that moment, from the sun, wind and hydroelectric power. This is a very important achievement for the country. So, in this new energy edifice being constructed in Europe, we aspire to be leaders.
Now, as regards to the last question you posed, it is very difficult for me to answer. Because it is impossible to anticipate what the price of natural gas will be, what will be the price of petrol and what will be the price of electricity.
What I know is that we make interventions on all levels, so that regardless of the heating method that a household will choose, the cost it will be asked to pay will be acceptable.
And of course, let me stress once again that our policies focus on and have a social dimension. They take into account the geographic particularities. I would like to remind you that heating allowances are now given with criteria that are very strict and very detailed as to how much heating a house needs to consume, depending on where it is located.
Therefore, apart from horizontal policies we also have targeted policies, which always bear a social dimension to support our vulnerable fellow citizens.
Dimitris Gkatsios (ERT): Mr Prime Minister, after many hours of negotiations you defined the “roadmap” on how to deal with the energy crisis. We are now heading to the next major milestone which is the Energy Council, next week. I would like to ask you whether you think that European unity will be tested again until the context of the European strategy to shield itself will be materialized.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look. It is completely different for Ministers of Energy to be urged to decide without the opinion of the European Council and it is completely different for them to be urged to specify a decision made by the European Council.
Obviously, the devil is indeed in the details and Ministers must reach an agreement on their level. However, things are definitely easier now than they were last week. I cannot tell you that I am 100% certain that a technical deal will be reached, but we have many more possibilities that a deal is reached at the level of Ministers.
Under no circumstances do we want this issue to come back to us. Having given a clear direction, we look to the Ministers to resolve this issue at their level. If this issue comes back to us, this will mark a negative development, because this will mean that an unpredictable difficulty may have arisen that the Ministers themselves are not able to overcome.