Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met today in Strasbourg with the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and members of the College of Commissioners, as regards European support for Greece to deal with the consequences of recent natural disasters.
The extended talks were attended, on the Greek side, by the Minister of National Economy and Finance Kostis Hatzidakis, the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Christos Staikouras, the Minister of Rural Development and Food Lefteris Avgenakis, the Alternative Minister of National Economy and Finance Nikos Papathanasis and the Deputy Minister of National Economy and Finance Thanos Petralias.
On behalf of the European Commission, the talks were attended by the Executive Vice- President Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner for Budget and Administration Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Paolo Gentiloni, Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski and Commissioner for Cohesion and Reforms Elisa Ferreira.
The Prime Minister then had a meeting with the President of the European People’s Party Manfred Weber.
The following statements were made, upon the completion of the extended talks:
Ursula von der Leyen: Prime Minister, dear Kyriakos, thank you very much for coming here to Strasbourg. I am simply appalled by the recent disasters that struck Greece and its people. You have shown me the pictures; it’s unspeakable. For the first time we see that your country faced the most dramatic wildfires that the EU has ever seen. Never ever before such a vast area has been destroyed by the wildfires. Then floods have devastated large regions of Greece. For example, the plains of Thessaly. The pictures from Larissa are heartbreaking and let me assure you that our thoughts are with all the women, men and children who are courageously withstanding these disasters and we mourn the lives lost.
Europe stands at the side of the Greek people and I want Greece and the Greek people to know that we are with them. Our Union is a union of solidarity. It was therefore very important for us to be able to meet here today. Kyriakos, many thanks for coming and to discuss this solidarity, together with your ministers and our Commissioners.
We spoke about the best ways how to help the Greek people. A lot of investment will be necessary to rebuild, but right now, also a lot of immediate support and help is necessary to restore the livelihoods.
My main message is that the Commission will be inventive. We will be quick and we will be flexible. We will mobilise all EU resources that can be deployed. And let me focus on five important funding streams that could be mobilised.
First, we should use unspent cohesion money from the last period, which would otherwise be lost, so that’s fresh money, and front load parts of the current cohesion funds.
Second, the same goes for the European Social Fund Plus, that could be mobilised here too. These funds would be lost and can be dispersed this year. So part of the money that can immediately go to Greek citizens to support will also be European money.
The third element is the Common Agricultural Policy that can play an important role. Here are two unused funds from the previous Greek rural development programme. But we also look into funds under the current Greek CAP strategic plan and we will examine the agricultural reserve for next year. If we look at those funds, they could, for example, help restore forest or farming infrastructure.
A lot needs to be done. Altogether, this could allow Greece to mobilise up to €2.25 billion. And then in addition, the Commission stands ready to assess a Greek request for support under the Solidarity Fund. Here it is important that the member states agree on our proposal to top up the Solidarity Fund. And if this happens next year, we could make available up to €400 million.
And finally, Greece could consider to use some of the resources of NextGenerationEU. Of course, in NextGenerationEU we have all to show utmost flexibility because the revision was just submitted. So we will work with it.
My services will work closely on all these options with the Greek authorities. We have decided to form a task force that immediately will start its work today. Together we will find the best possible ways to help the Greek people. And the Greek people can count on Europe for fast support, maximal flexibility, and we stand by your side, not only in this acute moment, but also to rebuild and reconstruct.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you, Madame President, dear Ursula. First of all, thank you for the speed with which you responded to my request to meet you and your team to discuss, as we have done today, in a very constructive meeting, the ways in which Europe can stand by the people of Greece during these extremely difficult times.
I would first and foremost address the gravity of the situation at hand. Greece has over the past month endured two devastating natural disasters of historic proportions. The megafire in the region of Evros is the largest fire in Europe’s history. And if that was not enough, then we were hit by the massive storm Daniel, which hit the regions of Thessaly and Central Greece particularly hard. We’ve had the worst floods in our history. This is probably one of the most powerful storms to ever hit Europe.
I would like to again express my condolences to those who lost loved ones during this storm. I would like to thank our emergency response teams, the civil protection, our armed forces, all the volunteers who are still, as we speak, active in the field, dealing with the aftershocks of this unprecedented natural disaster.
This is just one photo of the village of Metamorphosi, how it was before the storm, how it is now, and unfortunately, we have dozens of villages that are in a similar situation. We’ve had massive damage to our agricultural production, significant damage to our infrastructure and most profoundly damage to people’s lives. I mean, houses have been flooded. So it is our number one priority to make sure that these people can actually return to their houses, that the businesses can start operating again. And we count on Europe’s support to be able to achieve that.
The good thing is that at least our economy has been performing very well. We are in a position to cover many direct needs without deviating from our budgetary targets. But I think it is urgent, as you said, for the European Union to show maximum support but also maximum flexibility and to come up with innovative ideas of how to support Greece immediately, but also in the short to medium term.
And I think you touched upon many of the areas we’ve discussed. We still have additional unused funds which would have been lost, as is always the case in these programmes, that can be reappropriated to immediately support people and businesses. I think it is important to know that part of the support that they will be receiving over the next weeks will eventually also include European money.
And of course, reprogramming of the financial instruments that we have for the next programming period would allow us to direct more than €2 billion towards reconstruction, but also building back better what has been destroyed. And I do want to stress that because it is very clear that the old rules of the game no longer apply to what it is we are experiencing. And, of course, this is also true for the instruments that Europe needs to mobilise to support countries that suffer the consequences of climate change.
Now, we’ve discussed numerous times, and the Commission is very supportive towards the idea of committing significantly more funds to the Solidarity Fund. The Solidarity Fund was conceived 20 years ago. It is clearly not fit for purpose, not in terms of the processes, but in terms of the size of funds available. So I will make it my personal mission to convince my colleagues at the European Council that we need to top up the Solidarity Fund with significantly more available funds in order to support countries that are struck by natural disasters directly related to climate change.
But there are also other types of natural disasters where countries need support. And, of course, this is also true for the agricultural reserve. It’s less than 500 million in these days of significant impact of climate change. It is also very clear that we need to mobilise additional funds for this purpose.
There are many ideas, but we need to convince our colleagues at the Council that this is an utmost priority. I think the important thing now is, as you pointed out, not to despair. We will build back. Europe is going to support us in this effort. And I would like to thank you again, Madame President, for the speed with which you have responded to my request.
I would like to point out that we have already set up, as you said, a task force that is going to do the detailed work of overcoming the traditional bureaucracy and making sure that whatever money is dispersed by Europe reaches its final destination as quickly as possible. And I know that, as in many other instances during the past years, we can count on your personal support. We can count on Europe’s support. Europe has supported Greece during very difficult periods, and I’m sure it will do the same now.