Guy Johnson: Prime Minister, thank you very much indeed for your time. I hope you’re having a great week in New York. And it’s fantastic that you can take some time to join us here at Bloomberg.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, thank you, Guy.
Guy Johnson: We are starting to see an economic slowdown in Europe. We are starting to see Germany slowing down. We’re seeing France slowing down. How do you think that’s going to ripple into your economy?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, I’m happy to report that the Greek economy has proven particularly resilient. We will have significant growth rates for 2023. I expect growth in excess of 2%. My goal has always been to significantly exceed the Eurozone growth, average growth. I think this is a success, taking into consideration everything that had happened to Greece over the past decades.
I think Greece is back for good. We just won our second mandate. We have a very clear reform agenda. We just got to investment grade, which was an important milestone for the country after 13 very difficult years. If you look at all the indicators, I think we will do significantly better than the eurozone average. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can maintain this growth track for the long term.
Alix Steel: What’s your goal then, economically, for 2024 in light of potential 4% interest rates from the ECB for longer?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, the fact that we got to investment grade helps us with our borrowing cost. This is, of course, significant for public finances, but we’ve also been unapologetic about maintaining fiscal discipline. We understand how important this is for global capital markets. Looking at Greece, we will have a primary surplus of 0.7% this year and a higher primary surplus in 2024. We feel that we can meet these fiscal targets without compromising our growth.
If you look at tourist numbers, they were remarkable this year. There seems to be a trend in Europe, in spite of the recession, people continue to travel and they seem to continue to prefer Greece over maybe other Mediterranean destinations.
Alix Steel: Guy definitely does, by the way.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, you should. Alix, you should too. Greece is a lovely country to visit, and not just during the very hot months of July and August. We’ve been able to expand our tourism season and attract significant investment in sustainable tourism.
Guy Johnson: Okay, actually, Prime Minister, I’d like to talk to you about that. I managed to avoid it this year, but I know plenty of people that didn’t. It got very hot in Greece. It got very hot around the Mediterranean this year. I talk to people in Scandinavia and they think that they are going to be the big beneficiaries of this. They think that people will no longer want to travel to places like Greece if it’s 45 degrees and there are fires burning. What do you think the long term trajectory is for Greek tourism if we are going to see this climate change sticking?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I disagree with this hypothesis. People still enjoy the hot Mediterranean and they do want to come to the Mediterranean, and to Greece in particular, during the summer because they like to spend time at the beach. If anything, I would argue that climate change is an opportunity for us to expand our tourism season.
Yes, it may be hot to come to Greece in July and August, but we will always have enough people interested to come to Greece during those two months. But we have now more people interested in coming to Greece in March and April or October and November. More people interested to come to visit our cities year round.
Expanding our tourism season has always been an important priority for us. I think, Guy, that there will be more people who, given the choice, will choose not to take their holidays in July or August, not just because it may be too hot, but because it’s too crowded. For us, it’s a great opportunity to expand our tourism season and also to open new destinations on the mainland for people to explore. It’s still going to be some time until the Scandinavian beaches or the Danish or Swedish beaches are going to compete with the Greek beaches. I don’t see this happening anytime soon.
Guy Johnson: I’ll pass that message on next time I see them. You did face some criticism, though, in the way that you handled the wildfires this year. What lessons do you think you learned?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I mean, the climate crisis is here and it’s here for good. We’ve always had wildfires in the Mediterranean, but we had particularly intense wildfires this year and we also had unprecedented floods. It’s very clear that we need to focus more on short-term adaptation. This is, of course, a case I’m also making to my European colleagues. We spend trillions of euros on long-term mitigation, and rightly so, because we want to be leaders in the climate transition. But we also need to support people when they lose their livelihoods, their houses as a result of climate disasters today. So we need to be much more effective in dealing with these disasters.
We’ve made good progress. For example, in Greece, we have a 112 emergency number, which we used very successfully to evacuate people and make sure that we save lots of lives. This is something, for example, that was not present in Maui. When I look at the Maui disaster, it’s so painful because we had gone through similar disasters five years ago, but we learned from them, and we are using technology in a much smarter way today to make sure that at least we can save people’s lives.
Alix Steel: The climate crisis is going to cost more money in terms of either dealing with events or also where you get your energy. Where are you going to get reliable, affordable energy from, and where do you get it?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, we get it from the wind and the sun. We are….
Alix Steel: Affordable?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is affordable. It is cheaper.
Alix Steel: Reliable?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is reliable because we have lots of sun and lots of wind. But of course, it will not do the trick on its own. But Greece is one of the top 10 producers of renewable energy from the wind and the sun. We have 12 gigawatts of installed wind and sun energy in Greece and much more to come.
But of course, in the short to medium term, we will also need to rely on natural gas as a transition fuel. There’s a case to be made that Greece is playing a very important role in the European energy system because we are also an entry point for natural gas to serve not just Eastern Europe, but even pumping gas up to Ukraine. Greece’s role as a pillar of geopolitical and energy stability in the Eastern Mediterranean has certainly been enhanced after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine.
Guy Johnson: Prime Minister, one of the other effects of climate change could be that we face within Europe even greater pressure from migration. How destructive could that be to the forces that bind Europe, the EU, together right now? How damaging could it be to institutions such as the European Union? Could we see those institutions once again, fraying at the edges because of the pressure that is being applied? What do you think needs to happen now in order to try and avert that crisis? I know you’ve had talks with President Erdoğan recently. Let’s talk about how that could progress in terms of dealing with the issue. But how do you see the European Union doing more on this matter?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, obviously, there are long-term solutions addressing the root causes of migration, but these are going to take time. As far as the short-term solutions, we need to do two things: we need to be ruthless in terms of breaking the smugglers networks that benefit from desperate people who they put on boats which are clearly not seaworthy.
But at the same time, we need to balance that by offering legal pathways to migration, to those who can come to Europe and who can also help us with our economic growth. Look at Greece, for example, we’re bringing our unemployment down. We already have labor shortages in sectors such as agriculture. We want to do bilateral deals, but we want these people to come on our own terms and to come safely.
Alix Steel: Prime Minister, we do have to leave it there. It was such a pleasure to catch up with you. Thank you so very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thanks for having me.
Alix Steel: Thanks for joining us here. Thank you, come back.