Alexandra Voudouri (Kathimerini): Good evening Mr Prime Minister, thank you very much. The debate has been going on for a long time about changing the framework of the new economic governance, after a long period of fiscal relaxation, due to the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. You said yesterday that Greece is entering this debate in a stronger position than in 2019. What exactly does this mean about the substance of the debate?
And secondly, if I may, what is Greece’s position on the Commission’s proposal and more importantly, how many people share the position of Greece? Thank you very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Greece supports in principle the Commission’s proposal for the new framework of fiscal rules.
The Commission’s proposal recognises that we need to have more flexibility as Member States, to negotiate together with the European Commission a reasonable reduction of public debt without being constrained by stiflingly harsh numerical rules.
Most member states seem to share this proposal, but I had the opportunity to stress at today’s European Council that much faster progress is needed. The new fiscal rules must be agreed before the end of the year.
What Greece cannot under any circumstances accept, as well as many other member states, is to go back to the previous fiscal rules, which will happen automatically if we don’t agree on a new framework.
Greece has proven that it can combine fiscal responsibility with fast growth and a rapid reduction in public debt. Therefore, what we have achieved over these four years, we want to be able to continue to consolidate it, so that we ourselves can set out a debt reduction policy that does not undermine our main growth objectives.
Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister. During your statements yesterday, you pointed out the positive results of the Greek economy and the objective of the investment grade, which will be the ‘bridge’ to reduce borrowing costs for households and businesses. I would like to ask you how close we are to this target, whether this can be achieved in 2023 and whether markets are in a wait-and-see mode due to the upcoming elections in our country. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is a fact that we are in an environment of rising interest rates. As you know, interest rates in Greece are not set by the Bank of Greece, but they are set by the European Central Bank, which takes into account many parameters. The main one, however, is the European Central Bank’s attempt to contain inflation.
Right now, if Greece can regain the investment grade, it will be able to de-escalate the cost of borrowing. In other words, the Hellenic Republic will be able to borrow more cheaply, banks will be able to borrow more cheaply and, ultimately, businesses and households will be able to borrow more cheaply.
I believe we can achieve the investment grade within 2023. To rephrase: I am confident that we can achieve investment grade within 2023, provided that the Greek people will trust us in the elections and a strong and stable government will emerge.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Mr Prime Minister. I have two questions. Electricity prices are falling, and we are seeing it in our country as well. But no one knows whether they will remain at the levels we see today.
I wanted to ask -if you were elected again- would you continue to support Greek households, as you have done throughout this period. And secondly, how did the European leaders respond to your proposal to transfer energy through other networks. A proposal that Greece made today and if you can elaborate a little bit more on that. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We have actively supported households and businesses by absorbing a significant part of the increases in electricity bills. You may remember, I imagine, that a year ago it was the main topic of discussion, not only in the European Council but also in Greek society.
We have, therefore, shown that we can support households and businesses and curb increases in electricity bills. And we were one of the first to be able to implement a plan to ‘recycle’ the excess profits of electricity producers and distribute these revenues to support society, households and businesses.
Obviously, as prices go down, there is a need for less subsidies. But nobody can be sure about what will happen with the prices of electricity next winter. This is why it is important to act now, make sure that we fill natural gas storage facilities, but also move at a faster pace in the redesign of the electricity market, so that the price of electricity will not be determined by the highest marginal price of the system, which has lately coincided with the natural gas price.
Greece continues to have a lead role in all these talks at a European level. I would like to remind you that maybe it is no coincidence that there has been a fast de-escalation of the prices of natural gas ever since a cap was imposed on natural gas.
Other than this, we want more networks and interconnections between Greece and the North, so that we can export the energy that we produce, wind or solar energy, to central Europe, or probably the energy that we can transfer from North Africa. I think that it is becoming commonplace that we need to interconnect electricity networks at a European level at a faster speed.
Nadine Chardalia (SKAI): Good evening Mr Prime Minister. I would like you to give us more details on the content of your discussion with the Italian Prime Minister, regarding the economy and the rules of economic governance and also tell us whether you had the opportunity to discuss what you announced for the further evaluation of the contract with Hellenic Train on the investment in better trains in Greece and whether you have scheduled an appointment to discuss this issue.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I invited the Italian Prime Minister, Ms Giorgia Meloni, to visit Athens before the elections, so that we can discuss the agenda of our bilateral issues. She accepted the invitation with pleasure.
In the context of this discussion, we will be able to specify our proposals on financial rules. We are very close with Italy on these issues. We will discuss the major challenges of the refugee and migration issues, because Italy is also on the front line right now and I would say that it is also a victim of the trafficking networks that instrumentalize human lives and transport to central Mediterranean desperate people from Libya and Tunisia to the Italian shores.
And, since you ask, we will also have the opportunity to discuss the way in which the Italian government, through Trenitalia, will be able to support in a more active and substantial way the restart of the Greek railway. As you know, TRAINOSE has been in fact sold to the Italian state company for 45 million euros in 2018. But I believe that we have the chance to forge jointly a new future for our railway networks, where on one hand the Italian company will invest in safer and faster trains and we will do the job we are supposed to do -as I have said- to invest more in our network, its safety and probably its extension.
Maria Psara (STAR): Mr Prime Minister, I don’t know whether you would like to comment on the conditions of cooperation after the elections as they have been described by Mr Andoulakis, especially regarding the issue of the Prime Minister.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think that you should ask Mr Androulakis to say what he meant by what he said in his recent interview.
The only thing I can say is that the country needs a strong and stable government in order to make the big leap to the future, which is what the silent majority of Greek society demands. This is why I will continue to fight and this is why I claim the trust of the Greek people. I am not interested in anything else. You should ask others to explain what they meant by what they said.
Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1): Good afternoon, Prime Minister. Let me take you to domestic news now. Last week, you passed a bill on water and despite the ascertainments by the Minister of Energy, Mr Kostas Skrekas, and MPs of the government that there is no privatization, it seems that the opposition does not believe you.
There is a latent discussion on drastic changes in the public sector after the tragedy in Tempi. So I would like you to assure us whether there is, finally, an issue concerning privatization of the water supplier. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I explicitly assure you that there is no issue of water privatization whatsoever. Water was and remains a public commodity. And I am really wondering if we will continue to head towards elections in the midst of the unacceptable environment of fake news.
The government has repeatedly explained why it is reinforcing the Regulatory Energy Authority with responsibilities associated with water. This has nothing to do with the privatization of the water supplier, which -let me say- I reject in principle.
So don’t ask me, because the government’s position is clear. Ask those who continue to reproduce these fake news, which I have been given the opportunity today, at my level, to explicitly refute.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA – AP): Prime Minister, after the recent financial turmoil you had your first meeting with the head of the European Central Bank, Ms. Christine Lagarde. We want you to tell us what she told you, whether the banking system in Europe and by extension the Greek banking system is stable?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The banking system in Europe is stable. The European Central Bank has done a very good supervisory job to ensure the stability of the European banking system.
And I must assure you -once again- that Greek banks are also absolutely stable, they are robust and I don’t feel that they are in any way threatened by this nervousness that exists in the markets today.
I should remind that when this government took over the responsibility of governing the country, in July 2019, the non-performing loans of the banking system were over 40%. Today they are below 10%. Private capital has been injected into at least two Greek banks and our banks are robust and shielded.
I am not at all sure that others could say the same thing if there had been such a banking crisis during their time in power, when our banks still had very big systemic problems.
And I think one proof of what I’m saying is that today it’s other banks that seem to be tested in the stock market, big European banks. But there is no concern from the market about the stability of Greek banks. And I think this is a conquest, not only of the Greek banking system. Having a stable banking system is a prerequisite for stability of the whole economy.
And of course a strong banking system, combined with our country gaining investment grade status, is what will ultimately allow us -in the context of the decisions taken by the European Central Bank- to have as competitive lending rates for businesses and households as possible.
Giorgos Papakonstantinou (ACTION 24): Prime Minister, good afternoon. In the aftermath of the Tempe tragedy you said that we must change the deep state now or never. How will you do that, Prime Minister? And I also want you to tell me if your party agrees.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We have proven that we can change the deep state which comes from a past that we all want to leave behind. And we have given very concrete and measurable evidence.
Just to give you two examples: gov.gr is nothing other than a very successful effort to reduce bureaucracy and, I dare say, the low level of corruption in relations between citizens and businesses and the state. It is a great success, a great achievement for the country, which must not be flattened.
The second example -and I have a lot to say about this, but a standing interview is not the appropriate occasion- is the case of the EFKA (Unified Social Security Fund). The EFKA was part of a deep state that came from the past and that is why it took two or three years to issue pensions. Today, pensions are issued in two months. Why? Because we have made drastic interventions in human resources, in the processes of the EFKA, we gave productivity bonuses, we made an evaluation.
This government and this party is the only party that has proven that it can and wants to change the state.
I have also said that we will win some battles and lose others. Like the Tempe tragedy reminded us all that there is still much work to be done, but if anything it further galvanizes our will to overcome all obstacles and stand up to all those who want to keep Greece tied to a past it does not deserve.