Alexandra Voudouri (Kathimerini): Good evening, Prime Minister. How does the attitude of certain countries, as was seen in the European Council yesterday and today, makes more difficult the next steps for the new Pact on Immigration and Asylum and what could be the policies beyond the usual, ‘out of the box’, that you referred to in your intervention?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We did indeed have a long and difficult debate on the issues of migration and asylum and unfortunately we were unable to reach conclusions at European Council level because of the persistent refusal of two countries, Poland and Hungary, to sign up to the text that had been prepared.
Therefore, the President of the European Council will make statements, which I believe will accurately reflect the views of the other 25 Member States of the European Union on this issue.
I would like to begin by making a very important distinction between the external dimension of the migration problem and its internal dimension.
The external dimension primarily concerns the protection of external borders, cooperation with the countries of origin of migration, of those who are not entitled to asylum to the countries of origin.
On these issues there is now, I would say, a universal agreement among all Member States and I believe that Greece has also fought hard in order to reach the previous decisions of the European Council, which highlighted the need to guard the external borders as a prerequisite for a coherent migration policy of the European Union.
As you know, there was an agreement at the level of the Council of Ministers regarding the new Pact on Immigration and Asylum. This agreement was reached by an enhanced majority, Poland and Hungary disagreed, and I believe that they simply carried this disagreement over to the European Council level today.
Essentially, however, there will be no substantial change, because the Pact will continue to be negotiated with the European Parliament and the trilogue process, and the external dimension of migration is also being taken forward operationally. With initiatives undertaken both by the Commission and by Member States through agreements, such as, the agreement currently being reached with Tunisia.
When I talked about ‘out of the box thinking’, I wanted to demonstrate the very great importance I attach to the need to break up the networks of traffickers, so that vulnerable migrants and refugees do not even board vessels or rotten boats to embark on this dangerous journey.
It is something I believe in very strongly. The success of Greece’s border security policy has exactly to do with the fact that far fewer boats are leaving Turkey to embark on this dangerous journey. And if you look at the statistics over the last four years compared to what happened during the four years of the previous administration, far fewer people have lost their lives in the Aegean, precisely because far fewer boats set off, because they knew that the chance of reaching their final destination was extremely low.
Therefore, we need to work with the countries of North Africa, with Tunisia. We need to find a way to cooperate with Libya. We have to find ways to discourage traffickers from putting these people on the boats, from even starting the journey. Or if it does start, that these vessels and these rotten boats are tracked very close to the coast of Libya so that they can safely return there.
I think there is a general recognition at the European Council level that we need to do more to protect the external borders of the European Union. And towards this direction was the letter from the President of the Commission, Mrs von der Leyen, with which I personally agree and endorse all its contents.
Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1): Good evening, Prime Minister. I followed with interest your statement yesterday and we were informed that, among other things, you pointed out to the European leaders that lately – if I am not mistaken, in the last two months – there has been better cooperation from the part of Turkey at this level, on the migration issue. And I want to take you, ten days from now, to the NATO summit in Vilnius. There you will see, now it’s official, Mr. Erdoğan.
I want you to tell us, first of all, what is the message that this meeting sends. What is the framework for talks and whether from this meeting, Prime Minister, we can – it is the fifth meeting, if I am not mistaken, between you and Mr Erdoğan – we can expect some tangible result or a path towards a more comprehensive understanding. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: This will be the first meeting I will have with President Erdoğan after we were both re-elected. Therefore, we are at the beginning of our government’s term of office with a strong, fresh, popular mandate.
And as I have said many times, this is an opportunity to redefine the framework of Greek-Turkish relations. And yes – I use the term you chose in your question – to chart a path of rapprochement, but without Greece backing down from its red lines, for which I have spoken about many times in public. I do not think it is something that I need to repeat.
I would like to remind you that in the conclusions of the European Council there was also a paragraph on the relationship between the European Union and Turkey, which Greece supported and which essentially, recalling all the conclusions of the European Council for which we fought hard, hopes that we can also reposition the framework of EU-Turkish relations on a new basis.
There was also a paragraph on the Cyprus issue with an encouragement, an exhortation to the European Union to also support the United Nations’ efforts for the final resolution of the Cyprus issue. Obviously, we too warmly supported this position. After all, it was something we had also discussed with President Christodoulides during our preparations for the European Council.
From that point on, I want to see the glass half full. I keep in mind the fact that in recent months there has been extremely limited military activity by the Turkish air force in terms of violating our country’s airspace, and the fact that yes, according to the operational briefing I have, there is better cooperation with the Turkish authorities so that we can achieve our objective, which is to prevent boats from setting off from the Turkish coast.
I have said many times that Turkey must be our ally in dealing with the refugee issue. After all, the European Union has made many billions available to support Turkey and may make more available, as there may be additional provision in the revision of the European Union’s Μultiannual Financial Framework, precisely in order to support Turkey in the future as well.
Therefore, I believe that there is room for broader cooperation, and apart from the meeting that I will have with President Erdoğan, I believe that there will also be contacts at ministerial level. Not only at the level of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defence, who will accompany me to Vilnius, but also at the level of the relevant Ministries for the management of the refugee issue, whether we are talking about the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection or the Ministry of Migration.
There have been contacts in the past and obviously it is good that these contacts are more intense. We can demonstrate in practice that Turkey is an ally in the response effort, as long as it wants to be.
What remains to be seen at the meeting in Vilnius is whether Turkey really wants to turn the page in Greek-Turkish relations. But we will find that out after I have concluded this meeting.
Maria Psara (STAR): Prime Minister, if you will allow me to follow up on my colleague’s question. When is this strategic discussion on EU-Turkey relations that is mentioned in the conclusions text expected to take place? And if I may take you back to the migration issue, there are reports that FRONTEX is considering suspending activities in Greece.
I want to ask you if you have any indication of that. If there is cooperation, a contact between FRONTEX and the Greek authorities, and with the new setting that is being formed on migration, what is the role that FRONTEX itself will play? Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is certain that there will be a more strategic discussion on the new framework of EU-Turkish relations. But we still need some more time and more visibility on Turkey’s real intentions. I would not rule out this discussion taking place before the end of the year.
Beyond that, you know that we, as the previous government, had consistently good cooperation with FRONTEX, which we look forward to continuing. Whatever issues there are can always be resolved in good faith.
The issue you mentioned has not come to my attention at all. I believe that we also have a common mission with Frontex, and that is to protect the external borders and, of course, to always rescue people who may be in danger at sea.
FRONTEX is not a non-governmental organisation. It is a transnational European organisation charged with border security, with a commitment that we also have, to fully respect fundamental human rights.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA): Prime Minister, Fredi Beleri, Himare’s elected Mayor, remains in prison, after the latest refusal of the Albanian authorities to grant him special permission to take the oath.
I would like your comment following the latest developments and also whether you have discussed this issue with your European counterparts, given that it concerns the rule of law in Albania and its respect is a criterion for its accession process.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: In the conclusions of the European Council there is a reference, in a specific paragraph, to the 20 years since Thessaloniki, since the Thessaloniki Declaration, when for the first time the will of the European family to integrate the Western Balkans into the European Union was expressed.
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. You know that Greece has always been a protagonist in the effort to integrate the Western Balkans, and we want to be there to help them on this difficult journey they have embarked on towards full compliance with the European acquis.
However, on the occasion of this very debate, I had the opportunity to inform my counterparts about what is happening today in Albania with the case of Himare’s elected Mayor and to express my disappointment, my indignation at the fact that an elected Mayor is arrested practically two days before being elected. He is still in prison, in our view with dubious procedural provisions, and I believe that this is a blow to the rule of law and to the effort that Albania is making to comply with the European acquis.
I look forward to this issue being resolved very soon. It is an issue that is very important for us and its resolution or non-resolution – I hope for the former- will be an element of the Greek assessment of Albania’s European course, which is now beginning and, as I said, it is a long journey.
But compliance with the basic rules of the rule of law is a non-negotiable condition for any country aspiring to become part of the European family.
I would like to believe that this message has been fully understood in Albania as well. I totally respect the separation of powers, and I want to be very clear about that. On the other hand, however, this is not an issue that I am going to let go without a reaction from Greece. And the first reaction was expressed in the European Council, by briefing my counterparts on what exactly is happening today in this case.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Prime Minister. Yesterday you commented on Alexis Tsipras’ resignation, saying that one political cycle is closing and another one is opening.
I wanted to ask if you believe that, over time, Syriza will find its way. And if I may say so, there are some people who think that after this change in the leadership of the main opposition party, the road will open for cooperation, probably with PASOK, in order to create a new, broader, larger centre-left pole. How does New Democracy see this possibility?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: You are asking the wrong person. Concerning Mr Tsipras’ resignation, I have nothing else to add. It’s subject, obviously, to political commentary from others, not from me. And from that point on, it will be put to the judgment of history.
From there on, I can speak for our party, for New Democracy, for the great expansion that we have achieved and for the election result, which I believe reflects our ability to bring together in New Democracy progressive forces that may not have chosen New Democracy in the past to express themselves. We will see about the rest regarding the main opposition or the opposition in due course.
My first concern at the moment is to implement the government’s work with great speed. That is what we were elected for. From that point on, we will be in Parliament at the end of next week for the Policy Statements.
And there, I think, we will also draw some initial conclusions about how the opposition as a whole – because I remind you that we have seven parties in Parliament, in addition to the New Democracy party – will face up to us.
Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): Prime Minister, good evening. My question regards the economic field. We were informed about the data included in the Bank of Greece’s report on monetary policy. At 2.2%, it maintains the estimates on the growth rate of the Greek economy in 2023, at 3% for 2024, at 2.7% for 2025. I would like your comment.
And one more question. During the election period, you frequently mentioned the investment grade. You had even linked its attainment to political stability and the message it will send to the markets, and I would like to ask how close we are to achieving that goal, Prime Minister.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me start with the second question. I believe that the investment grade is a matter of time. My view from the beginning was that the only obstacle that stood between the investment grade and the country’s ability to achieve it was the political uncertainty that accompanied the double election cycle.
Since we have a stable government, with a four-year horizon and a comfortable parliamentary majority, there is essentially no political risk and I believe that Greece will soon attain the investment grade, as I had predicted, as I had pledged before the elections.
The Bank of Greece’s forecasts for growth rates are encouraging. They show that Greece is now on a sustainable path of healthy growth rates, which allow us to create the necessary wealth to implement the other aspects of our policy.
I will not be surprised if the growth rates end up being better than those forecast by the Bank of Greece. We should always make our forecasts on the basis of the most conservative estimates. But, I stress that high and sustainable growth rates are a prerequisite if we are to be able to achieve wage growth, if we are to be able to bring more investment to our country, if we are to substantially change the productive model of our economy.
And, of course, I also point out the qualitative characteristics of this growth. It is not just a 1%, 2.5%, 3%, 3.5%, it is not just a number. It is a growth that comes more from investment and less from consumption. It is growth which is fuelled more by exports and extroversion. A growth which must have ‘green’ characteristics -I mean pro-environmental characteristics- it must have digital characteristics.
A growth that must prioritise social cohesion and the reduction of inequalities. This is the kind of development we want. So we are not just looking at the absolute number, we are also looking at all the individual indicators that will confirm that these political priorities that we have set can be implemented.
Giorgos Papaconstantinou (ACTION24): Let’s finish with a question on the economy, Prime Minister, as today Eurostat released seven inflation-related figures. There, Greece continues its slowdown in the harmonized consumer price index at 2.7%, well above the Eurozone average.
At the same time and in parallel, the Ministry of Development announced the extension of the ‘Household Basket’ and I would like to ask you what these figures mean in the first place and whether we should expect further measures in order to address it further, as the issue of high prices has not been eliminated.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Inflation is still persistent, especially in food, Mr Papaconstantinou, despite the fact that we are doing much better than the European average and that is certainly encouraging.
I had predicted a few months ago that we had seen the worst in terms of inflation. I believe that my prediction has been confirmed. But inflation is still here, especially in food where it is persistent and that is why we need a coordinated government response to be able to support especially our weaker citizens who are being squeezed by the high cost of food.
What does this mean in practice? Yes, the ‘Household Basket’ will continue for another six months, because it was a successful measure which gave much more transparency to prices. It has encouraged competition as regards the products in the basic basket of goods, which is why I would like to remind you that many other European countries have copied this initiative.
However, we will obviously not stop there; you will wait for our Policy Statements in Parliament, where I will be able to be more specific about the content of the first bill, which we will hopefully vote on before Parliament’s summer recess.
And let me stress, of course, that the answer to inflation is not temporary allowances – temporary allowances are useful, well-received and obviously give breathing space to households – the answer to inflation is price compression as such and of course the improvement of disposable income through permanent, I stress, permanent increases in wages and through permanent reductions in taxation that support disposable income.
This is the policy of our Government, this will unfold in the reading of the Government’s Policy Statements next Thursday and immediately afterwards, of course, a large part – especially the measures relating to 2024 – will be legislated, so that this debate, which we listened to intensely during the pre-election period, about our ability or our will to implement our Government’s programme.
Finally, I would like to say that we will, of course, also legislate on something which I think is a conquest of the election period. What is that? To talk about estimating the financial costs of election campaign programs. This will now be enshrined in law. There will be the possibility, that is to say, the power, rather, of the Fiscal Council to be able to make this estimation of financial costs.
I don’t think we’ll go into another election without a costed program, and I think that’s a conquest for the credibility of political discourse and for the way in which we ultimately bridge our projections with the reality that we want to serve the next day.
I believe everyone will now be very careful, especially those who may have had a strong tendency in the past to promise things that they themselves knew were completely unattainable.