Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The Special Summit is being held under the shadow of the catastrophic earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria. I would like to express, once again, my sorrow on behalf of the Greek people for the tragic losses. Let me reiterate that Greece will stand by the side of the two peoples, as it has already done, providing direct assistance in order to find survivors in the rubbles, also through the provision of important humanitarian aid, in order to support hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of people who will be left homeless within the next period.
Moreover, we will be on the forefront in order to organize here in Brussels a Donor’s Conference, so as to find additional sources that will contribute to the reconstruction of the hurt regions.
This Summit will give us the opportunity to welcome President Zelensky, so that we can reiterate once more our unconditional support to Ukraine’s fight to defend its territorial integrity.
The support of the European Union and the entire European family, in this effort, can be taken for granted. We will give the opportunity to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government to be able to negotiate a just peace with the Russian intruder, under the conditions that Ukraine itself will define.
We will also have the opportunity to discuss two crucial issues that concern the European family. The first one concerns issues of Migration, especially illegal migration, which again demonstrates strong trends of significant increases in the last year.
Greece will continue to fight in order for the European Union to do more to protect its external borders. It is something that we are already doing, as a country, but we aspire to even more European support. And we will continue to call for additional European resources so that we have all the means at our disposal to guard our borders effectively.
And when I refer to all means, I also refer to the need for the European Union to use natural barriers, such as the fence that we are building in Evros.
At the same time, it is a fact that Europe should speed up its return policies so that those who are not eligible for asylum are quickly returned to their countries of origin.
At the same time, we will also discuss issues of European competitiveness, support for those technologies that will allow us to make the green transition quickly. It is a debate which is becoming increasingly urgent, following the decisions that were taken in the United States.
Greece supports, in principle, the relaxation of the state aid framework, but this must be done in a way that is temporary and targeted and does not put in a difficult position countries that do not have enough fiscal space to support their national businesses.
At the same time, Europe will continue to fight on all fronts to improve its competitiveness. An additional way to do this is to relax the way we deploy European funds. But it is certain that at some point, the discussion on additional financial resources will also start. These will be necessary in order for us to support European competitiveness.
In any case, Greece will continue to be one of the leading players in the absorption of existing European funds. We are leading in the Recovery Fund, we are leading in the absorption of European resources from the Cohesion Fund, from the NSRF, and we will continue to do so in the period ahead.
Journalist: You’re going to discuss migration today. What’s your approach on returning more of those people who don’t have an asylum claim in the EU?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We’ve been very, very clear that the return policies of the European Union overall have failed. If you look at the total number of people whose asylum applications have been rejected, a very, very small percentage is actually being returned. So we need better European coordination in order to make this happen.
At the same time, we’ve always been advocating for a more effective policy to protect the European Union’s external borders. Unless we manage to secure our borders in an effective and fair manner, we will not be able to solve the problem of migration. This is not just a problem of secondary flows. It’s a problem of people trying to come into the European Union in a completely uncoordinated manner.
And let me point out once more the absolute necessity to eradicate, to eliminate, to destroy the networks of smugglers who are benefiting from the human pain and are currently trafficking people into the European Union, frequently in completely horrible conditions, as is currently happening in the Aegean.
Journalist: Are you in favor of using EU funds for fences on the external borders?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Absolutely, yes. I think it doesn’t seem to me to be very logical that the EU is financing, let’s say, technology or drones or surveillance equipment, but refuses to fund the fence itself. We’re talking about an integrated approach in terms of the external border management. And of course, fences should be included in that financing package. In any case, Greece is building its own fence, and it will do so with or without European money.
Journalist: Are you going to offer (inaudible), because you are neighbors?
Look, Greece was the first country to send rescue teams to Turkey. They’ve saved numerous people from the rubbles. We’ve sent a second team. We’re currently sending five planes full of humanitarian assistance. It is our obligation to help our neighbors. And this is a time to leave aside our political differences and to offer a hand of friendship to the Turkish people, the Syrian people, who are suffering a horrible catastrophe.
And frankly, when it comes to the relations between our two countries, I cannot imagine a stronger message than a Greek rescue worker, a Turkish rescue worker, working together to save a little Turkish girl. I’ve said many times that Greek and Turkish people have nothing to separate, that we are friends, and we are proving that we are friends in these times of difficulty.