Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, Kaja thank you very much for this very warm welcome. It’s a real pleasure to be able to visit Estonia and Tallinn. It’s a trip we’ve been planning for quite some time. And I think indeed it is appropriate to come this year because, as you pointed out, we are marking the centennial of our diplomatic relations. We have excellent prospects to develop and give a new impetus to our already very good bilateral relations.
You are right to point out that we have lots of things in common. We sit on the external border of our union. We are maritime states. We both face challenges from larger neighbors to our east. And of course, we share the same values, the same beliefs in a rules-based international order. As you pointed out, there’s lots we can do to cooperate in fields such as digital transformation.
I must tell you that I was inspired by the Estonian model when we designed our own Ministry of Digital Governance. And we have been very successful in dramatically changing the way Greek citizens and businesses interact with the state. With over a billion digital transactions taking place over the last year and a lot of progress made in numerous digital applications, for example, digital prescriptions and applications around health care.
You are leaders when it comes to e-government, and we’re looking to further deepen that collaboration to the benefit of both our countries and of course to also focus on areas of cooperation when it comes to high tech.
We have a booming high tech ecosystem in Greece, and I know you’ve done tremendous things here in Estonia, so I would also like to send a message here from Tallinn that if your companies are looking to expand in southeastern Europe, Greece is really the place to be and to do business.
Yesterday, The Economist published a survey which put Greece at the top of the countries that have improved their business environment. We gained 16 places in three years. So this makes us very happy and makes our story in terms of projecting Greece as a country that has left the crisis years behind that much more compelling.
But of course, we wish we would only be discussing issues such as digital transformation, but there’s a war on our continent and this will take up a significant amount of our discussions. Greece and Estonia stand united against this blatant act of aggression by Russia, along with the rest of our EU partners and our NATO allies.
We are particularly committed to a rules-based international order. We cannot conceive of the fact that anyone in our continent would like to change our borders by force. Hence, we have committed ourselves to continue to provide Ukraine with all the necessary support, and this also includes military support in order for the brave Ukrainians to defend themselves as effectively as possible.
And let me also join my voice to what the Prime Minister said in terms of condemning the indiscriminate attacks that took place as recently as yesterday against the Ukrainian infrastructure, causing not just the death of innocent civilians, but also the destruction of infrastructure that is absolutely critical in order for Ukraine to maintain its electricity supply and to keep warm during the winter.
I would also like to focus on the topic of making sure that we join our forces in terms of convincing those countries that do not implement sanctions against Russia that that is not the right approach, especially when it comes to NATO members. Sanctions are effective, and they are that much more effective if we eliminate loopholes that allow Russia to circumvent them.
I had an opportunity to brief Kaja on the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the continuous tensions provoked by Turkey in the Aegean through actions and rhetoric that unfortunately undermine regional stability and security of the whole region.
I would like to thank Estonia because they have always supported our positions at the level of the European Council. I will keep reiterating that there is only one way to resolve disputes. There’s only one playbook we can use, and that is International Law, and in our case, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas.
Because our difference with Turkey is related to the delimitation of maritime zones. We have demonstrated in Greece that we can resolve these issues. We’ve signed a delimitation agreement with Egypt. Two countries which are essentially at war in the region, Israel and Lebanon, succeeded in signing a delimitation agreement. So there’s no reason why we could not do the same thing with Turkey.
But in order for this to happen, provocations, unnecessary provocations, offensive rhetoric against Greece, openly questioning the sovereignty of our islands, these are completely unacceptable actions which need to stop immediately.
We also have a common interest in terms of cooperating when it comes to migration, because we sit on the external borders of the European Union. And I think we always need to condemn states that openly weaponize migrants in order to gain geopolitical leverage.
And of course, last but not least, we are cooperating very closely with Estonia in terms of addressing issues such as the cost of living, and in particular, the high cost of energy. All our governments are struggling with this problem, and we understand the pain that is incurred upon our citizens.
There are never easy solutions to these complex problems. And I think in all of our countries we face populist oppositions that promise the moon to voters, without understanding that if the solutions were so easy, they would have already been implemented. Having said that, Greece, the same is also happening in Estonia, is systematically supporting businesses and households in order to reduce the impact of the high cost of energy. But we need a European solution. We’ve discussed this at the level of the Council.
Now is the time for our ministers to agree in order to impose a limit to the wild fluctuations in the prices of gas that will allow us to have more predictability in terms of our long term energy policies. And of course, speaking of long term energy policies, Greece is a leader when it comes to renewable energy. We’ll be at COP27 in a few days discussing how the penetration of renewables is so important not only to fight climate change but also for geopolitical reasons.
If we want to break our dependence on imported fossil fuels we need, in the short term, to make sure that we get gas from other sources. Greece is a leader in terms of building LNG infrastructure to supply not just our country but the whole region and of course also to immediately push forward with a much more rapid penetration of renewables that will allow us to leverage sources of energy that no one can ever take away from us.
So, let me stop here. Let me thank you again, Kaja, for the very warm welcome and let me express my satisfaction about the excellent level of cooperation between our two governments.
Journalist: A question to you, Mr Prime Minister. Is it morally acceptable for you that Greece is allowing Russian citizens to Greece as tourists, while Russia is fighting the war in Ukraine? And as I understand, Greece has not supported the Ukraine army, let’s say on a level like Germany or France. And also do you support the creation of an international tribunal for crimes of aggression?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me take your questions in the order that they were asked. We have not been, in principle, supporting a blanket ban for Russians visiting the European Union, but we have really suffered as Greece and as a tourist destination from the fact that we sided with the European Union on all the sanctions packages because practically nobody from Russia came to Greece this summer, whereas almost all the Russians that wanted to travel went to Turkey. So we paid the price in terms of sticking out with the sanctions package and I’m convinced we did the right thing.
We have provided a lot of military support to Ukraine. I will not go, for obvious reasons, into detail, but the Ukrainians are very satisfied with the assistance that we have offered them and there have been no complaints in terms of us stepping up to the plate and delivering. And the last question regarding the alleged very possible war crimes being committed: we’re open to all options in order to hold Russia accountable, those who perpetrated these war crimes accountable. So we do not exclude any options, but we do not yet have a firm opinion on which is the right approach to address this issue.
Kaja Kallas: If I may add, although it was not the question to me, but I would commend Greece’s or Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ leadership on this, considering Greece’s policy regarding Russia. I think it has been a great political leadership so that Greece is on board of the sanctions and is actually on the right side of history, if I may put it so, so that Greece is an equal ally, although the problems may be further away from your borders as they are closer to ours. But keeping the unity, I think it’s very important and Greece has been a strong player in this.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me just add one more point. We have more than 100,000 Ukrainians of Greek origin living around Mariupol, so we deeply care about what happened, at least with that part of Ukraine. So, we took our decisions very quickly, in spite of the fact that Greece has traditional friendly relations with the Russian people – I make a distinction between the people and the government. We will stick to this path and we will always be supportive of European actions to put maximum pressure on Russia to stop this war as quickly as possible.
Journalist: My name is Nikos Armenis from the Athens News Agency. I would like to ask both Prime Ministers about the energy crisis. Mrs. Kallas, as you know, from the beginning of the crisis, Greece has proposed measures to curb the excessive gas prices and also a gas price cap, a dynamic price corridor, in order to limit gas prices for consumers. Are you in favor of a European solution to address the price aspect? What measures do you think will lead to a drop in energy prices? And Mr Mitsotakis, if the energy ministers agree, when will we see a drop in electricity prices?
Kaja Kallas: Yes, thank you for your question. It is true that the energy crisis is something that we all suffer from and we have to understand that it also stems from the war that is going on, and Russia’s actions in weaponizing energy towards European countries. I think in the last European Council, we actually gained two very good decisions, three important points.
One is that we go to a joint procurement, so that we don’t outbid each other. The second is the price corridor that gave a very strong signal to the gas market, as the price has come down and is around $100 right now. And also the way forward, so that there would be a new gas index that would take into account the LNG price.
We have a common goal to get the energy prices down. I think we have been quite effective here and we have to keep this line as well, because the worry is (that it’s) not going to be solved by this winter. We have to survive this winter, but we also have to survive the next winter and to have long term solutions for energy. So we are working hard and unity is key here. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m satisfied that we managed, at the last European Council, to agree to task our ministers to come up with decisions rather than to just plan. The Prime Minister is right to mention that this is a comprehensive package. The dynamic price corridor, the cap on spikes, is one element of what has to be agreed. But I do need to point out that the markets took notice of the fact that we’re serious about bringing down the prices. And I believe that one of the reasons why the prices of gas have dropped significantly is also because they know that we’re ready to act.
So now is the time to act. No one can make predictions about the price of gas in the short to medium term, but I must say that we have been successful in terms of limiting our consumption of gas to the extent that this is actually possible. All our countries engage in energy efficiency measures, try to save gas. And of course, as far as Greece is concerned, we have put in place, we were the first European country to put in place, a scheme through which we capture the windfall profits of the energy producers and then recycle them back to the electricity consumers.
So we have kept prices of electricity for households reasonable. I’m saying we have avoided the very excessive sort of spikes of the price of electricity that would have happened without our subsidy. And everybody who is receiving an electricity bill in Greece now can actually see what they pay and they can see what the subsidy is and what they would have paid without the government intervention.
But I do need to point out that this scheme is also obviously supported through the state budget and that there are limits for all European countries as to how much they can spend to support our citizens. And that is why the European solution, the European support, is so important.
Journalist: I have a question for the Greek Prime Minister. Could you please comment on the reports that Greek oil tankers continue to transport Russian oil, and even more so that during the war the numbers have been record high compared to the average figures? Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, we need to clarify that the Greek shipping industry is fully compliant with the decisions taken by the European Union when it comes to sanctions. As you know, we will not be able to transport any Russian oil into the European Union starting December 1 and no products starting February 1. There has not been a ban on the transport of Russian oil to other destinations. If a ban were to be placed, then of course the Greek shipping industry would comply. And then it’s up to the individual shipping operators to decide whether they want to engage in these types of trades, taking into consideration the risks and the insurance premiums, of course, that are related to this approach.
I need to point out that shipping is a global industry. I’m going to be the first to support any European decision regarding shipping that is actually going to be effective. What we should not do is to shoot our European shipping, which is so crucial for the security of supply globally, in the foot, in order for other countries that are outside the European Union to benefit and to essentially pick up the business that we would be abandoning.
So we need to be very careful, and I think we’ve been successful in doing that to modulate our sanctions, to make sure that we impose pain on Russia. We also incur pain, it’s very clear. But we need to keep this balance right.
Journalist: A question for the Prime Minister of Estonia and for Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Mrs. Kallas, Estonia has become a digital society. You are the champions of Europe regarding this sector. Last year, Greece and Estonia signed the Memorandum of Cooperation. The Pandemic became an opportunity for us to evolve digitally. Is there further prospect of cooperation between Greece and Estonia and to conclude, what steps can we take in order to face challenges such as hybrid threats and cybersecurity?
Kaja Kallas: Yes. Thank you. I think we have many cooperation points and what we could do more together. We have developed a very thorough e-governance system that goes to different sectors. One easy thing that we could do together, that we have, is the e-Prescription, so that you don’t have to have a paper prescription when you go to the pharmacy to get your medicines, because it is e-Prescription and you can go anywhere in Estonia to get your medicine. You can do this for your grandparents, for example. And this already works together with Finland. It is very easy, and actually people use it very well.
The other area of cooperation that we could have is the e-Justice system, to move some of the parts of the justice procedures online or digital. And that has saved a lot of time for our judges to actually do the more simpler things without convening in a traditional way. And also giving documents all these things, saving paper, by the way, which is environmentally friendly as well, that we don’t use paper so much. So these are, for example, two of the cooperation areas that I could point out in the digital sphere.
When it comes to cybersecurity, then in 2007 we were very widely attacked by Russia, by cyber attacks and therefore we learned a lot from there. We invested in cyber security and we do invest every year in cybersecurity and to the foundations of the systems. Why is this important? Because some years ago hospitals, their only security risk was that some drug addict comes and steals morphine. But now actually hospitals have become a security risk because everything is connected and by disconnecting or cyber attacking such infrastructure, that may cause also civilian casualties. So therefore we really, really have to think about those things.
We see currently of course, more and more cyber attacks against us as well. But having been investing so much in this area, then usually they have not been successful. And that also is because we have a system. I hope you all have the possibility to go to our e-Governance center where they show how our system works. So that it is basically a system of very many small dots. So if you attack one dot, it doesn’t mean that the whole system will collapse and this one dot maybe will be out of service for 2 hours, but then it’s up again and it doesn’t hinder the whole system.
So the systems investing in cybersecurity, making them more resilient, I think it’s also a message to everybody currently because of the hybrid war, the cyber war, the information war that is going on alongside the conventional war that we are seeing happening in Ukraine. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me quickly add that e-governance solutions can be truly transformative. When we launched our digital prescription service, it was a true revelation. We have filed 42 million digital prescriptions so far. It is only one example how technology can make our lives so much simpler, but also at the same time promoting transparency, which is a very important priority for us. We’re looking to cooperate with Estonia in various fields. Justice is an area where we can still move much faster in terms of digitizing our processes.
But I would like to highlight the potential for cooperation when it comes to cybersecurity and cyber threats. There I think there are very clear synergies, a lot of expertise in Estonia that we can leverage because these attacks are now becoming mainstream by state, but also by nonstate actors. And we need to be vigilant and we need to be protected.
Finally, the struggle against disinformation is going to be part of the reality of the democratic debate for all our societies, especially for those countries that have upcoming elections in the next year. We need to be aware of the fact that there will be actors that will try to sort of influence our electoral processes below the radar and using methods that we need to be able to anticipate, highlight.
And that is why we are also very supportive of European agendas that will promote transparency in the public sphere and make sure that everybody participates in the public debate, but are also held accountable in terms of what they say so that we know who is saying what. And everybody can be judged for the merit of their opinions rather than from the dark origins of these ideas. So this is another area where we can cooperate and we can do much more together.