Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Dear Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, my friend Olaf.
Athens welcomes you in an atmosphere that seems nothing like the cloudy Greece of the era of the Memoranda. I would say that the atmosphere is even better than last year, when your predecessor, Mrs. Merkel visited Greece. This was her last visit in her former capacity, which took place a year ago, around the same time.
Because thanks to the efforts primarily of the Greek citizens but also of the State, almost everything is very different. In the economy, in society, the country’s international position. Today, the European (enhanced economic) surveillance of Greece has finally ended, after 11 positive assessments in the last three years. The country reports one of the most dynamic growth rates in Europe. Curbing unemployment and aiming for a primary surplus in 2023.
At the same time, there has been an explosion in investments and exports have skyrocketed. And this has all been achieved, while reducing public debt, which this year will fall to 170% of GDP. This proves that economic progress can go hand in hand with fiscal balance.
Let me point out, finally, that this overall upgrade is taking place at a time when my homeland is defending itself. Both against the high energy prices from the war in Ukraine, and against the national provocations generated by the aggressive behavior of its neighbors.
On the first front, with a wide program of support for households and businesses, against international fluctuations. On the second front, shielding its defense and widening its alliances.
All Greeks are proud of the reliability achieved by our country. This reliability proves that Greece respects and productively capitalizes on European assistance, such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) programme. And the more effectively it taps into this Fund, the more convincingly it can claim new funds down the line.
Mr Chancellor, it is a pleasure for me that we have the opportunity to cooperate, from our new positions, for the sake of the common objectives of our continent. Away from the roles of the powerful and the weak, the roles of the creditor and the debtor- these roles belong to the past.
My homeland no longer asks for, in a passive way, as it had been doing for many years. Now it discusses equally, in a creative way. Thus contributing, during the pandemic, (in projects like) the European Digital Certificate, and also the establishment of the Recovery Fund.
Greece now plays a leading role in the single community policy on Energy, on the European Strategic Autonomy. But also the further deepening of Democracy in the member states that are once again besieged by populism and demagogy.
Indeed, we live in a new era, with new challenges. But we are armed with valuable experiences. Europe – with Germany having assumed a crucial role – is coordinating its first steps, so that it can respond to the negative consequences from the Russian policy on natural gas.
I don’t think that there could be a better answer than the one given by Willy Brandt when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Panteion University, in 1975. His words resonate, more relevant than ever.
Willy Brandt said back then, after the 1973 oil crisis: “Some people think that they could solve problems on their own. The entire project of European integration clearly teaches us that European solidarity needs to be able to survive, even in the midst of a storm”.
And he concluded that “the development of a common European energy policy is the ultimate priority”.
I endorse every word of the precious legacy of this great German and European leader. And nobody – I believe – will question the relevance of these words.
As for our bilateral relations, dear friend, Olaf, our increasing trade transactions speak louder than words. Germany is among the leading investors in my homeland. It is one of the main markets for Greek agricultural products. It is one of the most important markets for Greek tourism.
In the field of Defense, we have recently inaugurated a new form of circular exchange, which modernizes the equipment of the Greek Armed Forces, while at the same time supporting Ukraine.
And of course, let me stress the participation of German companies in major projects. Greece and Germany play leading roles in the green transition. Astypalaia, for example, is becoming, along with an important German company, Volkswagen, a model island of the new era. This is just one example of the wide scope of cooperation that can be initiated in the field of renewable energy sources.
As for the gaps between us, they are there so that they can be bridged. This is why I will not hide that the issue of war reparations is an open issue for Athens. Especially the issue of the forced war loan (that Greece was forced to grant to the German central bank). Its settlement would be mutually beneficial. In a conjoncture when the Greek-German alignment against the challenges of our times is unshakeable.
Of course, the number one challenge is the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this matter, we have concluded that our views are once again identical. We have discussed this many times in the European Council. Europe cannot tolerate, after 80 years, a new war in its core. Neither can it allow the repetition of a precedent of invasion and occupation, like the one that unfortunately is still bleeding in Cyprus.
International Law and the inviolability of borders, therefore, need to be restored. The case of Ukraine should emerge as a new national case of all states of the civilized world. But also as a collective duty before our values.
For all these to happen, the European reaction must be dual. On one hand, we need to reinforce our support towards the defender and on the other hand – and we have discussed this extensively with the Chancellor – we must revoke Moscow’s plans that seek instability in Western societies with the leverage of high energy prices and more specifically the price of natural gas.
How will this happen? By setting limits on the markets when they become independent. And by protecting citizens from unfair burdens. And I believe that we have reported significant progress in our discussions on a common European response to something that is a common European challenge.
Finally, we also discussed the issues concerning our neighbourhood, the Eastern Mediterranean. And I reiterated to the Chancellor what I have said many times: that it is really a pity Mr Erdogan does not see that he is heading towards a dead end when he is poisoning his people with lies against Greece.
Because our neighbours and all our partners know that the Greek islands do not threaten anyone. Everyone knows that international treaties cannot be changed with arbitrary interpretations. Neither history with illusions, nor geography with counterfeit maps.
Our positions are clear. On migration, Greece is and will continue to guard the national and European borders. Fending off the incursions of people traffickers, saving lives in the Aegean every day, protecting the persecuted.
And of course, our position towards threats is also very clear: We oppose provocation with international legitimacy. International Law, the Law of the Sea. The only tool we have at our disposal to resolve our dispute with Turkey, which is none other than the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the eastern Mediterranean.
And these are issues that we also discussed, in connection with the so-called “Turkish-Libyan Pact”. And of course, I informed the Chancellor of Greece’s readiness to always participate in the “Berlin Process”. We want to have an opinion and a say on developments in Libya.
I want to close with a wish. The wish that, albeit belatedly, our neighbours will choose the path of de-escalation. Of legitimacy, of peaceful coexistence. Without rhetorical outbursts, but with creative actions.
For my part, they will always find me ready to extend a hand of friendship. There is no room for any further unnecessary sources of tension. We have an obligation to resolve our differences peacefully. That is what our people want. That is what the Greek people want, that is what the Turkish people want, that is what all of Europe wants. It is certainly what Athens wants.
Honourable Chancellor, concluding our talks I honestly feel much more optimistic. I think all Greeks and all Germans can also feel the same.
We are doing a lot together. We can do much more. With understanding, with respect, with solidarity, with bold moves of cooperation, because as a German proverb says: “a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved. Shared joy is double joy”.
“Geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid. Geteilte Freude ist doppelte Freude”.
Once again, welcome to Athens, Chancellor.
Olaf Scholz: It is a great pleasure for me to be in Athens and thank you warmly for the hospitality. Greece and Germany are linked through a long and tumultuous history, like tomorrow’s celebration of “Ochi” reminds us.
Today we are close partners in the EU and NATO allies. The citizens of our two countries have friendly relations, which is always shown in an impressive way after every tourist period.
We both started the day with a visit at the Acropolis. This visit impressed me and it was an exceptionally important moment. Besides, it is part of our common European history that Democracy was first applied here to such an extent, it affected our languages and our world theory. This is why it is one of the most important monuments of Europe. And I am very satisfied that we are together, in our common Union.
My delegation and I came to a new Greece. Despite the fact that everybody in Europe has been hurt by the current crises, it is clear that the economic reforms here have paid off, and the dynamic of the country’s economy is obvious.
In today’s deliberations, we focused on the major challenges that Europe is urged to deal with. Exactly because of this challenge, I am satisfied with the fact that the cooperation between our governments is so close and is governed with trust. Out of the issues that we discussed today, I would like to point out three specifically.
Firstly, the Russian aggression in Ukraine. This is the cause of many difficulties, with which we are forced to fight at the moment. Germany and Greece completely agree that it is up to Russia to immediately end the unjustified aggressive war against Ukraine and to withdraw its troops. I am grateful for the fact that we are jointly in the position to equip the Ukrainian Armed Forces with military material that is absolutely essential, including armored vehicles, and in fact in a way that this material can be used directly on the spot with no further delay.
The energy crisis in Europe was the second major issue that we discussed. And this is, of course, a direct consequence of the Russian invasion against Ukraine. And this is something that we must not forget, when we protest for the high prices in natural gas and electricity. Our target should be absolutely clear: prices must fall. And we agree that this crisis can be dealt with, only if we demonstrate solidarity.
Last week, we discussed this issue extensively in the European Council and I believe that we made very smart, good decisions. We are planning to tap into our common force in order to create consortia that will be able to jointly purchase natural gas. This will lead to a decrease in prices. We want to create capacities, for example in relation to the storage capacities, so that we can jointly acquire a part. And we want to contribute, so that with the decisions made in regards to dealing with very high prices, we can remove speculative forces from the market. This is exceptionally important.
Once we do this and once we support our citizens, it will be important not to forget and to accelerate the development of Renewable Energy Sources. This will be the foundation for the safe energy future of Europe. We are building infrastructures. And Greece is performing exceptionally well in this issue. What we need today is, for example, the import of natural gas but we also develop Renewable Energy Sources.
In the context of the European Council, we also examined the major financial tools that we have at our disposal with the Recovery Fund, but also the REPowerEU programme. These are very helpful programmes, which are very useful especially during this period and offer major funds for investments in the future. The objective must be to become independent from Russia’s energy imports, in order to be able to guarantee low prices in the long-term.
Of course we also discussed the situation in Eastern Mediterranean. I have already expressed my opinion on this matter in the interview I had today and I said what I needed to. The Mediterranean is a region full of potential, especially in the economic sector, and it should be to the interest of all neighboring countries in the region to make the best use of all these capacities, to the benefit of their peoples. During our talks, I got the impression that Greece is absolutely willing to do this, and as for this matter it can and should be trusted.
For example, good neighborly relations between Greece and Turkey are not just important for the two countries, but also for all of Europe and the Transatlantic Alliance.
This is why I am certain that all matters that arise can and must be resolved always with dialogue and on the basis of International Law.
And finally – and we also discussed this and it is important for me – we talked about the events during the last weeks and months on the further development of the EU. I am referring to Ukraine and the perspective we have opened, aslo for Moldova and long-term for Georgia. But first the prospect for the six Balkan states, which twenty years ago, during a Summit in Thessaloniki, received the promise that it is possible for them to become members of the EU. And something needs to come out of this promise. We both feel very obligated to promote this process. In my opinion, this is the right path.
The deliberations that we have had so far have been very good. Our relations are good, and upon these relations we can and wish to develop further. I am happy for the positive evolution of Greece. And in regards to the challenges associated with the aggressive war of Russia, we will jointly deal with them to the benefit of our citizens and our economies.
Giannis Oikonomou: The Chancellor and the Prime Minister will answer four questions – two from Greek and two from German journalists. We will start with Mr. Nikos Meletis from ERT and then with Mr. Michael Fischer from DPA.
Nikos Meletis: My question is for the Chancellor. Mr Scholz, Europe has enthusiastically welcomed the determination with which Germany condemned the questioning of Ukraine’s integrity which of course resulted in the Russian invasion a few months ago. I wanted to ask you (which is) your position on the daily questioning of the sovereignty of European territory, the questioning of the Greek sovereignty of the Aegean islands by Turkey, under the pretext of the request for their disarmament.
Olaf Scholz: I said in my interview today and I would like to repeat that it is in everyone’s interest to have/maintain good neighborly relations. And the Prime Minister took a position on this issue.
Giannis Oikonomou: Mr. Fischer and then Mr. Eugenides from STAR TV.
Marc Fischer: Mr. Chancellor, my question is on Turkey. Foreign Minister Baerbock in July took a clear position in favor of Greece regarding the dispute over the islands. Do you also see the role of Germany clearly on the side of Greece in this conflict between two NATO partners, or do you see a neutral role for Germany, even a mediating role? And related to that, would it be a problem for you if Greece installs on the border with Turkey the Marders that were just delivered, as part of the circular exchange? Mr. Prime Minister, a question on the issue of reparations: you just said that it is an open issue and that a solution must be found that is positive for both sides. Do we understand correctly from this that you, like Poland, expect negotiations with Germany on reparations?
Olaf Scholz: If I may first say, the Marders were delivered to Greece and there is no daily report on their location. And we don’t demand this. We have not done this with the other weapons systems we have delivered in recent years, and we will not do so in the future.
Greece is a respected NATO partner with whom we cooperate in all fields and this would be a strange stance. So I can’t answer that question and I don’t want to need to reply.
Regarding cooperation, I will repeat what I stated in the newspaper, that NATO partners should not challenge each other’s sovereignty and all issues should be resolved through dialogue and on the basis of International Law and we agree on that. Was there a third question? That’s what it’s all about, providing assistance in all that needs to be done.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, I would like to express my satisfaction regarding the very clear stance of Chancellor Scholz, that the national sovereignty of a European country, which is a member of NATO, cannot be disputed, let alone by another NATO country.
Things are very clear. And I think that Germany has taken a position on this issue with absolute clarity. I have had the opportunity to inform the European Council many times about what is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean and how we perceive this Turkish escalation. But also what are the paths that can lead to a de-escalation and an improvement in relations between Greece and Turkey, which I believe will ultimately be to the benefit of both peoples, but also to the benefit of the relations of Turkey with the European Union.
I can answer on behalf of the Chancellor, on the question of the armored combat vehicles Marders. The Chancellor is absolutely right to say that the disposition of our forces is our own business. However, what I can tell you is that the Marders will head to Evros. Because that’s where the Armed Forces believe they’ll be most useful.
Beyond that, on the issue of reparations: it’s an open issue, I mentioned it in my prologue. Especially the (forced) War Loan issue has particularities.
We always look forward to a discussion and a resolution of this issue, (while) obviously recognizing the difficulty and outstanding legal issues (that come) from the past. As I said, this is a debate which, for us, remains relevant. But the fact – let me also say this – that we have not been able to find a solution to this issue, does not overshadow the overall level of Greek-German relations and the great prospects we have to cooperate in a number of areas, which I think we have mentioned both in our introductory statements.
Giannis Oikonomou: Mr. George Evgenidis from STAR TV and then Mr. Daniel Brössler from Süddeutsche Zeitung.
George Evgenidis: Good morning, Mr. Chancellor. Your visit to Greece comes at a time when the cost of fiscal stabilization programs has passed, but now in Europe we are all facing the same energy crisis. Mr. Mitsotakis submitted, some months ago, specific proposals on this issue, among them a cap on the price of natural gas. You, on the other hand, are concerned about energy efficiency. But isn’t it time to find a European solution on gas prices to deal with this high volatility of energy markets?
As the devil in Europe is often in the details, do you expect that the Energy Ministers on November 24th will finally agree based on the political mandate they got from the leaders, or will the ball go back to the leaders, with the risk of perpetually kicking the can down the road?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me first answer the question that concerns me. As the Chancellor said, we made significant progress and I think the directions we gave our Ministers were very clear. And we all recognize that in order to have a European solution, the concerns of all member states must be taken into account.
We are obviously concerned about the question of prices. We are also concerned about the issue of security of supply. Not only as Greece or as Germany. But as Europe as a whole. And I think we have already arrived at a framework, to be able to deal with what is the biggest (concern): the sharp fluctuations and especially the sharp increases, what we call “spikes”, in natural gas prices.
And I think the fact that we’re having this conversation about imposing a regulatory intervention has helped to bring down prices a lot over the last month. And I hope, I won’t say I’m sure, but it would be our failure – and we discussed this in the (European) Council – if this matter comes back to us. We do not want this issue to return once again to the heads of state and government at the level of the European Council. We want it to be resolved at the Ministerial level. And there is a possibility to resolve it at the Ministerial level.
Olaf Scholz: I could limit myself to saying I completely agree, but I want to make a few supplementary comments.
In practice, there is still work to be done by the Energy Ministers, particularly in terms of preventing speculative price hikes for the gas being stored. Technically this is not easy. There are complaints that prices are incredibly high for 3 or 4 hours and we know that traders hold back gas. If we can avoid that, it would lead to calm markets and further price reductions.
In that sense, if we want to reduce prices together, it is not something abstract but very specific to this issue of speculation and this is something that many experts need to deal with.
Secondly, we must indeed ensure the security of our energy supply; I already referred to this in my opening remarks.
I think what Greece is doing with the creation of new LNG import opportunities is exemplary, as are the efforts to connect this to pipelines that can supply other countries.
We need to do that everywhere in Europe. We need to develop our mutual connections and infrastructure so that we don’t get into a crisis when problems arise in one place. Germany is doing the same. We have decided to build large-scale terminals on the North German coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, through which LNG can then also be imported. There are four locations in particular, and five to six such regasification plants will be built there and will be pumping gas on a large scale to Germany as well as to the Western European and Eastern European markets as early as next year; after all, Germany is a country that is crisscrossed by infrastructures that are not only there for itself, but also to supply many others.
At the same time, we have made a great many decisions that dramatically reduce our need to use gas to produce electricity. We’ve also been successful in doing that by bringing coal-fired power plants back online – not forever, but temporarily during this situation for the next two years. These power plants were all still there, and we took advantage of that to ensure that the energy security of all of Europe is guaranteed. As a result, we are now also in a position, for example, to produce electricity when nuclear power plants in France cannot produce electricity or when hydroelectric power plants in Switzerland and Austria cannot supply as much electricity as they normally do because of the drought. So we also help each other out. This also applies, by the way, to the storage facilities that we have all filled together; because these storage facilities also contain gas that is intended for neighboring countries and is also purchased by them.
Giannis Oikonomou: We conclude with Mr. Brössler from the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Daniel Brössler: Prime Minister, there is a debate in Germany about the risks of Chinese investment in critical infrastructure. In Greece, the port of Piraeus has long been under Chinese ownership. What is your experience of this? Do you regret, in terms of the current global political situation, that this port was sold to China or to a Chinese company?
Chancellor, are you satisfied with the current decision to sell 24.9% of the Hamburg port terminal to Cosco, or would you prefer that 35% could be sold? Are you afraid that Cosco will not go for it at all and will withdraw from this investment?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, I would like to remind you that we had a very interesting discussion at European Council level about the relationship that the European Union should have with China. A difficult, complex relationship as China is at the same time an adversary, a competitor but also a partner in issues, for example, such as climate change.
I think that no one is naive when it comes to Europe’s relations with China. And the need not to be dependent on anyone at the level of a single supplier was highlighted very strongly, also after the adventure of our relations with Russia. And I think that will govern our overall relations as a European family, but also bilaterally with China from now on.
Now, for the port of Piraeus. I want to remind you that this investment was completed 13-14 years ago, if I am not mistaken, at a time when few were interested in investing in Greek infrastructure, at the beginning of the big financial crisis.
Greece is a country that respects the Rule of Law and consequently honors the agreements signed by the predecessors of this Government.
If you’re asking me if I’m particularly concerned about this investment, I’ll tell you straight up: no, I’m not particularly concerned. The port is certainly performing much better at the moment compared to how it was performing in the past.
But I must tell you in parallel that there is, not only at the Greek but at the European level, a filter now, a geopolitical filter for important infrastructure investments that are made in Europe.
And let me add one last thing. Greece is now in the pleasant position, because its economy is doing much better and because it has improved significantly as an investment destination, not to depend on one or two or very few countries as suppliers of capital for investment in infrastructure projects.
There have been a lot of investments in infrastructure projects over the last three years. China did not participate in any of these investments.
Olaf Scholz: Again, I can agree with that. In practice, if we have to rethink our relationship with China, as the Prime Minister said, we have to make sure that we diversify in our international relations, to ensure that we do not depend on anyone unilaterally.
That is certainly the lesson arising from many of the developments in Russia and it is very, very important to always keep that in mind. This means that corporate decisions are now being made all over Europe that will certainly contribute to putting one in a position to always have several options in the supply chain for sourcing of goods, and several export markets and not just concentrate on one country.
I think that’s always been the right thing to do, and those who perhaps haven’t thought about it carefully enough for a while are now doing it, taking into account global developments.
As far as the question on this specific investment is concerned, we are in fact talking about one terminal, one operating company, in a large port with several operating companies – a very small part. And we are talking about a minority stake of 24.9%.
You asked me if I thought that was a good solution. Yes, I think it is the right solution. Because it is indeed a legitimate concern to say that there should be no wrong influence on infrastructures, as there is not in this case, because it is just about what I described. And for those who have not been able to follow this debate in Germany, I would like to point out: The land in the port belongs to the port company and is state property. It will always remain so and will never be privatised.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you very much.