Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We will continue because that is the right thing to do and because our approach is yielding results. I think a lot of people were surprised by how unified the western world was and in particular the European Union, but we will stay the course, we will continue to support Ukraine and of course we will move away, as quickly as possible, to reduce our dependence on Russian gas.
Julia Chatterley: We’ll talk about that, but we are almost one year on, now, from the start of this war. And I spoke to the NATO Secretary General this week in particular and it was all about the weaponry and providing greater support. And a question I asked him and I’ll ask you the same is: “Are you confident that continuing in this manner with support, with weaponry is the only path to peace?”
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Is there an alternative? Because certainly the alternative is not to allow the Ukrainians to be defeated in the battlefield. They need weapons and we will supply them with weapons, in order for them to reach a point where they can negotiate a peace on their own terms. This was always the goal. Obviously, we are all looking for an end to the conflict but we need to give the Ukrainians the means that they require in order to defend themselves. This is what this is all about. This is a war of aggression. This is a provocative attempt by a great power to sort of impose its sort of revisionist fantasies in terms of its foreign policy. And we will continue to support Ukraine as we have done so far.
Julia Chatterley: The Spanish Prime Minister said to me “the lines of diplomacy have to remain open too with Russia”.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: There is no doubt about that.
Julia Chatterley: Can you play a role there? You’ve talked about this “people-to-people connections” between the two countries.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: At the end of the day, of course channels of communication need to be kept open. But this negotiation is going to take place eventually between the two parties involved, and Ukraine is the one that will determine the terms of peace. And hopefully they will reach a point – sooner rather than later – but the more successful they are in the battlefield, I think the more likely we are to reach that end game.
Julia Chatterley: You mentioned energy security and that has been the talk. And also that clean energy is the best form of energy security for Europe in light of what we’ve seen particularly over the last twelve months. But also that if you’re going to invest in oil and gas, it has to be infrastructure that can adapt and transition to cleaner fuels, like hydrogen in the future. I see specifically that in what you are doing in the Northeast.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, it may be snowy and cold in Davos, but I can assure you that today in Greece, all our wind turbines are spinning. It’s a sunny day and we’re producing a significant amount of our electricity even during the winter from renewables. This is the future. If we learnt something from the Ukrainian crisis, it is that we need to double down on renewables. They are cheaper and they are geopolitically safer. This is exactly what we are doing in Greece.
In the meantime, we need gas. But you need to be careful that all the gas infrastructure needs to be ready for a future after gas. For example we are building a new electricity factory in Northeastern Greece. It will be hydrogen ready. In the short term it will provide electricity not just for Greece, but also for the Balkans. We want to be an exporter of energy and a provider of energy security for our Balkan friends. But in the long-term it can burn a combination of hydrogen and gas and eventually it can move to green hydrogen.
Julia Chatterley: You know what surprises me when I look across Europe is particularly the growth in 2022 significantly outperforming most of the other countries. Yet you still managed to bring the deficit down which goes to your point about that 90% profit tax as well, even to the point where some economists out there are saying are you pushing too hard in order to bring that deficit down. I know getting investment grade rating in 2023 is something that you are fundamentally focused on.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It has to happen and it will happen.
Julia Chatterley: Will it?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It will happen. Once we resolve the political sort of uncertainties, because as you know we will have an election in the spring and I am confident that we will win again.
Julia Chatterley: Are you sacrificing popularity though by pushing so hard to get the investment grade?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I don’t think we’re pushing that hard, because the economy has been overperforming, which means that we’ve generated actually more fiscal space to support businesses and households. If anything, we did the opposite. During Covid, we spent more than 40 billion. We pushed up our debt again. But the markets were tolerant because they understood that this was a one-off, sort of, policy response. But at the same time, when they look at our overall debt to GDP, we bring it down by almost 40 percentage points in three years, the fastest reduction of all European countries. But we still have enough money to support vulnerable businesses and households. So that’s why I think our policy has been successful because it was both – and it is both – liberal in terms of generating growth, but also progressive in terms of supporting the weaker households and the weaker members of our society.
Julia Chatterley: It’s a delicate balance. It’s been an incredibly tough three years for all nations, I think, for all leaders. Reforming at the same time, tough too. And I know you’ve tackled that, particularly in the tax sector as well, which goes back to the finances as well. Why should the people give you more time?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Because we have delivered on our promises. Because we are rebuilding relationships of trust with Greek people. Because we have lowered taxes, we’ve reduced unemployment. We have supported people during difficult periods, and I know this is a difficult period that we are going through. And because at the end of the day, I think experience in crisis management counts. As you said, “polycrisis”, we don’t know what crisis will be around the corner. We’re hoping for calmer waters but we never know what the future will throw at us. So I think the question of reliability, stability, predictability is important these days for Greeks. For the first time they sense that the country has turned the corner. I don’t think they would want to derail this path.
Julia Chatterley: Can you avoid a recession this year?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Most definitely. We will not have a recession this year. If anything, we are likely to grow closer to 2% than 1%. This is my estimate.