Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview on CNN, with journalist Richard Quest

Richard Quest: With me now is the Prime Minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Good morning, Prime Minister. Thank you. Can you just confirm you are going to meet the Turkish President today?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Good morning, Richard. Indeed, I’ll be meeting the Turkish President in a couple of hours, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. It’s going to be our second meeting since we both were re-elected with a strong mandate this summer. I’m looking forward to building upon the positive momentum that has been created in the relationship between our two countries. As you know, we have long-standing differences with Turkey, but we will try to resolve these differences by using the only playbook that we have available, and that is International Law and in particular, the Law of the Seas.

Beyond that, we are looking to cooperate on various other issues of common concern. For example, adaptation to climate change, challenges faced from global warming. These are common challenges that our two countries face.

Richard Quest: But the difficult areas with Turkey, I always get the feeling with Greece and Turkey that you’re fine together as long as you don’t go there. There’s a large area that you can cooperate and work with: migrants, climate change, all these other issues, but underlying the relationship are always the territorial difficulties.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yeah, I mean, these are long-standing difficulties, and we recognize that we have one major outstanding difference with Turkey, and that is the delimitation of our maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s not an easy issue to resolve, otherwise it would have been resolved. But this does not mean, Richard, that we cannot cooperate on other issues of common interest, nor does it mean that we need to reach a level of aggressive behavior on Turkey’s behalf that is essentially pushing our two countries to the brink of an armed conflict.

So even if we can agree to disagree on the main issues regarding our territorial claims, we can still leave the door open for cooperation in many other areas. And this is what I will strive to achieve in my meeting with President Erdoğan.

Richard Quest: On the issue of climate now, you had a thumping victory in the election, and to that extent, you came in with a strong mandate. But the last few weeks, months have been very difficult with floods, fires, climate change, the effect of the searing heat this summer. And so you arguably should be in a very strong position for thumping the table at all the climate change meetings, because it seems to me that Greece is being hit very hard.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, Richard, this summer has felt a little bit like the two-faced Roman God, Janus. On the one hand, the economy is performing extremely well. After 13 years, we finally managed to get our upgrade to investment-grade status. We’re going much faster than the eurozone average. We’ll have a record season in terms of tourism. And on the other hand, as you pointed out, we were struck by climate-related disasters. First, a catastrophic fire and then an even more catastrophic flood, the largest flood we’ve ever seen in Greece.

And, as you pointed out, indeed, I will be banging my fist on the table to argue that we need to spend more money as a European Union on issues related to adaptation. We’re spending trillions, literally trillions over the next decade on mitigation, and rightly so. We need to bring down our greenhouse gases and bring Europe to carbon neutrality by 2050. But these climate disasters are affecting our lives today as we speak. And frankly, the money that the European Union is putting on the table to support European countries facing these types of crises is extremely, extremely limited.

So we need a proper balance between mitigation and adaptation. And again, this is not just an issue related to the southern countries of the European Union. I think we need a global adaptation alliance to share best practices and to argue that climate change is already happening and we do address it today.

Richard Quest: Right. But is it your fear -I realize it might be some way off- but that the southern European countries could cease to be so attractive as tourist destinations. If for every year the temperature starts getting into the 40s and it becomes unpleasant and unbearable, then you do end up with your very core industry, tourism, being at risk.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I hear this line of thought, Richard. I don’t necessarily agree, and I’ll explain why. I mean, there will always be lots of people who want to enjoy the heat of the Mediterranean summer and will come to Greece or to other southern European countries in July or August. If anything, I think what is happening with our tourism industry is that we’re actually able to extend the season and we’re able to communicate to people that it is extremely pleasant to come to Greece in March, in April, or in October, in November. This is actually happening.

So, in that sense, the climate crisis could be an opportunity for us to pitch Greece not just as a destination where people can come in July and August.

But having said that, we need to address the fact that the summers are getting hotter. The waters are getting hotter. But trust me, Richard, you’ve been to Greece many times. Greece is still an incredibly attractive destination, even in July and August. And these extreme weather events, they are happening, they’re affecting our local citizens, but they’re not derailing our main tourism industry.

Richard Quest: One final question occurs to me, Prime Minister. Do you actually enjoy coming to New York and the General Assembly? I always wonder, people in your position, whether you look at it in the diary as a chore or a joy.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, it’s an opportunity, Richard, first of all, for us to communicate on a global stage, especially when it comes to global issues such as climate change and migration. I’ll be talking a lot about migration in my speech tomorrow.

But the General Assembly is also a great opportunity to catch up with other global leaders. I mean, we come for two, three days. New York is always a very pleasant city. We have a very dense program, but I think it’s time well spent, and I think it is important for global leaders to do show up at the UN. I mean, it was pointed out that of the five security, permanent Security Council members, only one – the United States – was represented by its head of state in this UN. If we really want to make the UN, continue for the UN to remain relevant, we need to be here during its showcase event.

Richard Quest: Just make sure you get your restaurant reservations in early. Thank you, Prime Minister. It is good to see you, always great.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you, Richard.