Roberta Metsola: Good morning. It is my pleasure to welcome the Greek Prime-Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the European Parliament. And let me start by congratulating you, Prime-Minister Mitsotakis, on your recent election and composition of government.
Today, our focus will be on the European Council. On the need to stay the course on Ukraine, on the need for an upgraded long-term EU budget (MFF), and on the need to continue to deliver, ahead of the upcoming European elections. And, of course, we will discuss migration.
Dear Kyriakos, I am aware of the challenges that your country faces, has been facing for a very long time, in terms of migration. No man, woman or child should die at sea trying to reach Europe. And this isn’t a Greek issue. No Member State is able to cope with the migration flows on its own. And migration is too important and too urgent to leave for the next generation of politicians to fix. This is on us.
Migration also cannot be instrumentalised. We owe it to our citizens to reach an agreement on a true European asylum and migration policy before the elections, and the negotiations between the Parliament and the Council have already started. We need to find a way forward that is just and humane with those in need of protection, that is fair and firm with those who are not eligible and that is strong with those smugglers preying off the most vulnerable. And with the latest tragedy in mind, let me especially emphasise the need for us to increase our cooperation with third countries to crack down on the trafficking networks.
So dear Prime-Minister, dear Kyriakos,
Greece is the heart of Europe and I look forward to strengthening and continuing to work together in the future.
The floor is yours.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Dear Roberta, thank you very much for this warm welcome to the European Parliament. It’s a real pleasure for me to be back as a newly re-elected Prime Minister of Greece with an absolute majority in Parliament. I think the Greek people placed their faith in Nea Democratia to continue to deliver sustainable growth, but to also strengthen the position of our country within the European Union. It’s always very good to realize that this cycle of pain and trauma that put so much strain on Greek society during the previous decade has closed for good. And that Greece now is a protagonist and not a laggard in all important European developments.
Let me just say a few words about the topic which you raised regarding migration. And as you know, as you pointed out, there was a tragic shipwreck in the international waters in the Mediterranean. It occurred in a period between my first and second government while Greece was under a caretaker administration. There is a judicial investigation underway in order to identify exactly what happened. But I’d like to make some broader observations.
First of all, it’s a tragedy. Everyone in Greece feels immense sadness over the loss of so many innocent lives. But as you pointed out, we should be in no doubt that the real blame lies in the hands of the criminal gangs who packed the boat with desperate people in the false promise of a safe travel without even life vests. These gangs are despicable. They profit from human misery. And we have no alternative but to break this horrific smuggling of people and really go after the root cause of the problem, which is boats which are not seaworthy, leaving the coast of the Southern Mediterranean and then in risk of a tragedy unfolding at any given point.
It is very, very unfair to point the finger at the Greek Coast Guard. The Greek Coast Guard has saved tens of thousands of people, in risk of dying at sea. They are doing an incredibly difficult job, sometimes having to save people without life vests, people who cannot swim. And their priority is always not just to protect the external borders of the European Union, but to assist everyone who’s actually at risk of drowning in the sea. But my argument has been very simple from the beginning, since we took over in 2019: the fewer boats you actually have at sea, the less the risk of people drowning at sea.
We’ve been able to reduce migration flows by 90 % in the Eastern Mediterranean route. This, of course, also forces us to work even closer with Turkey. So the cooperation of the countries of transit is absolutely important. I would like us to place more emphasis on establishing a similar cooperation with the North African countries, in particular Libya, which, as you know, is currently in a very problematic situation. Last, let me point out that we’re happy about the progress that has been made regarding the Migration and Asylum Pact. We’ve been advocating for a long time for a European solution which encompasses a principle of solidarity in addressing what is essentially a European problem.
And of course, the protection of the external borders is only one dimension of our comprehensive migration policy. We need to talk about returns and we also need to demonstrate that we can provide legal pathways for those either fleeing persecution or those seeking economic opportunity, but with our rules, not with the rules of the smugglers. So again, thank you very much for the excellent cooperation we’ve had on this file. And thank you also for understanding what it means to be on the external borders of the European Union, doing a very difficult job, protecting not just the Greek borders, but also the borders of the European Union.
Journalist: Madam President, Prime Minister Mitsotakis, first of all, let me point out that your meeting is taking place four days after the Greek elections, where Nea Democratia has won more than 40% of the vote and the absolute majority. So what is the message of the Greek elections for Europe and for the EPP also, ahead of the European election? Thank you very much.
Roberta Metsola: So I start by saying that the result is unequivocal. The Greeks voted decisively for growth and for the enhancement of Greece’s international presence. A stable government such as the one that the Greeks have just elected with the leadership of Kyriakos are key to Europe’s unity, to our ambition to effectively act on the geopolitical level and to push through the much needed reforms at EU level, whether they be in the migration area and the digital area, in the climate area. One year ahead of the European elections, we need pro European leaders who have a clear vision for Europe and who are deeply committed to our common values. And I’m standing right next to one.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you for your kind words. Again, we’re very happy that we have secured a second mandate. We’ve actually increased our share of the vote compared to the 2019 elections, something which is highly unusual for an incumbent government, and we remain fully committed to deliver on an ambitious reform agenda. I think you’re right to point out that the growth that we create needs to be an inclusive growth, and we need to support people, especially more vulnerable people, who are facing real pain when it comes to the cost of living crisis, especially the cost of food and inflation related to that. I think we’ve been able to deliver tangible results on this agenda and we will continue down that path. And of course, we will always be strong supporters of our vision for a stronger Europe. And I’m happy that when we take stock of what we are at the EPP, at every gathering we seem to be adding more participants at the table of heads of state and government. And I think this is a positive indication in light of the European elections which will take place in a year from now. Thank you.
Earlier, the Prime Minister and President of the New Democracy party participated in the meeting of the European People’s Party, where issues related to migration and the european economy were discussed.