Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ statements on the occasion of the Trilateral Summit between Greece, Bulgaria and Romania

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: With my friends, the Prime Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania, but also with the extremely useful participation of the Vice-President of the European Commission and the Commissioner, we confirmed today the truly excellent relations between our countries.

At the same time, however, we agreed to deepen our cooperation, both on a bilateral or multilateral level and in the wider region, and this is also indicated by the presence here in Euxinograd of the Moldovan Minister of Energy.

Our meeting is, of course, overshadowed by the terrorist attack on Israel’s territory. Like Europe and the entire civilised world, we condemn the truly horrific images that we have seen, with shootings against civilians, kidnappings of innocent citizens, and even incidents of desecration of dead people. And certainly we recognise Israel’s right to self-defence. This massacre must end as soon as possible.

Athens, Sofia and Bucharest are, after all, addressing all key issues from positions that converge. And this is clearly reflected in the joint declaration that we have just signed, focusing, as our friend the Prime Minister of Bulgaria said, on the new form that this trilateral partnership can take and how it can be utilised within the European Union and other international organisations.

We discussed, for example, the crucial importance of our cooperation within the context of NATO. Projects such as the upgrade of the Greece-Bulgaria-Romania fuel pipeline are extremely critical. As I mentioned at the Summit, Greece plays, and aspires to play, a central role in the energy interconnectivity between our countries.

Since last year we have quadrupled our gas exports to our northern neighbours. The IGB pipeline has completed its first year of operation and we are even transporting fuel as far as Moldova, thus safeguarding the energy security of the whole of South East Europe. And, as you know, the floating storage and regasification unit in Alexandroupolis, the well-known FSRU, will be inaugurated soon.

We will continue to invest in Renewable Energy Sources and certainly we want to turn our country, but also the whole region, into a hub of international interconnection and distribution of green energy. Starting, obviously, with Bulgaria and Romania, which of course requires, as we have discussed, the strengthening of the electricity interconnections, which also have a special place in the new regional energy vision that we are developing.

Together with my counterparts, we have also agreed that the European trajectory of the Western Balkans and the Eastern neighbours can constitute a driver of stability in the region.

I would like to remind you that Greece, as the oldest member state of the Union in South Eastern Europe, has been supporting the European perspective of the Western Balkans for more than twenty years. Since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, that is where the journey of these countries towards the European family began.

I will repeat, however, that this particular path, prospective, passes through the adaptation of the candidate countries to the European acquis, which obviously means respect for International Law and absolute compliance with the rule of law. And in this, obviously, all our three countries are ready to contribute.

We were very preoccupied with transport, hence the presence of the Commissioner responsible, with a focus on the vertical road routes, but mainly rail axes connected to strategic ports. And I must say that we particularly welcome the European Union’s initiative on the map of the new Baltic Sea – Black Sea – Aegean Sea rail freight corridor. It is just one proof of how when our countries can work together on such large infrastructure projects, they can ultimately claim more European resources for projects that affect the wider region, but also, I dare say, the geopolitical stability of Europe more broadly.

The recent accession of our country to the “Three Seas Initiative”, which of course now should rather be called “Four Seas”, as it now includes the Aegean Sea, adds to this.

We also renewed our meeting. We hope that the next meeting can take place in the beautiful and hospitable city of Alexandroupolis, a city which maybe symbolizes precisely the importance we attach to this new interconnectivity between our three countries. Always with the support of the European Union, our states are promoting a model of transnational partnership for the benefit of all the peoples of our region.

Thank you very much, dear Nikolai, for the very beautiful hospitality in this truly wonderful place.

In response to a journalist’s question on the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area, Prime Minister Mitsotakis said:

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Greece supported and unreservedly supports the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the Schengen area for two reasons: the first is the principle and respect for European rules, without selective discrimination based on the political priorities of specific member-states. Our European family is a family based on principles, on procedures.

The European Commission is the final guardian of Bulgaria and Romania fulfilling the conditions for joining the Schengen area. As the Vice-President said, Bulgaria and Romania have done everything they have been asked to do or are doing everything they are asked to do in relation to the latest reforms that Bulgaria has implemented on rule of law issues. Therefore, any further delay would be unjustified.

But of course, Greece also has its own economic interest in the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the Schengen area. At the moment we do not have land borders for the free movement of goods and people. And obviously, if we want to implement this ambitious plan for a more integrated economic area, more trade, greater interconnectivity, more tourist flows – I would like to remind you that Greece is a country that welcomes millions of visitors from Bulgaria and Romania every year, but also reverse flows from Greece to Bulgaria and Romania – it is obvious that we have a personal interest in closing this pending issue as soon as possible.

And as far as I am concerned, to the extent that I can exhaust my own arguments as to why the accession of Bulgaria and Romania will ultimately make Europe as a whole more secure, I will make sure that I do so in order to convince – as much as I can – these few counterparts that they should now put aside their reservations and agree to Bulgaria and Romania joining the Schengen area before the end of the year.

Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): My question is addressed to the Prime Ministers of Greece and Bulgaria, it is related to the waters of Arda. And I would like to ask you, where do the negotiations stand, as the relevant agreement expires in a few months from now, i.e. in July 2024.

And a supplementary question to the Greek Prime Minister: Mr. Prime Minister, we see the Greek Government constantly putting pieces in a puzzle that create the image of a strategy to further deepen our country’s role in the region.

And I would like to ask you, how do you see in this context the role that the major ports of Northern Greece, Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki, could play in terms of the transport of Ukrainian grain and products. Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me in turn endorse what the Prime Minister of Bulgaria said: our aim is to be able to reach a draft agreement on the Arda water issue by the end of the year.

Indeed, as you rightly pointed out, this agreement, which goes back many decades, expires at the end of next year and I think it is in the mutual interest of the two countries to come up, sooner rather than later, with the new framework of the agreement which will obviously take into account the sensitivities of the two countries, but also issues that the Prime Minister has raised, complex issues that have to do with the fact that the water is not only used for irrigation purposes, but also for the production of electricity from hydroelectric power plants in Bulgaria. I believe that with goodwill and by making use of the expertise of the relevant Ministers, we will reach a mutually beneficial agreement.

For Greece, obviously, this issue is very important. It is not only about the irrigation of the entire greater Evros valley, but also about protection against flooding. Our country, having been affected by catastrophic floods, obviously has a very great, very heightened sensitivity to these issues.

Now, Greece, as you know, has proceeded with the dynamic development of all its ports, in order to become a major transit centre in the entire South Eastern Mediterranean.

Indicatively, next week we will sign the concession contract for the port of Igoumenitsa, which is the second largest port in our country. Already, the development and significant investments in the port of Thessaloniki are progressing and we have decided for the time being, for geostrategic and geopolitical reasons, not to proceed with the privatization of the port of Alexandroupolis, but to withhold resources from the Recovery Fund so that, initially, we as Greek Government can proceed with its further development.

Obviously we have every reason to investigate how Ukrainian grain can be exported through Greek ports as well. First, through the port of Alexandroupolis. Some upgrades will be needed on the Greek side in order to be able to support this economic activity. But before we get to that point, we will have to, first of all, explore, on a pilot basis, the commercial interest that may exist for such a transport of grain, southwards through Alexandroupolis and further exports to world markets.

There are some thoughts on how we can do this and with the cooperation of the European Commission, but we certainly want to play our part in this effort. And I would say that such a project would be a first tangible short-term demonstration of how our countries can work together to address the many geopolitical challenges of our time.

In response to a journalist’s question on cooperation in NATO’s eastern wing and on freeing the European Union from dependence on Russian gas and the transport of gas to other European countries and Romania, the Prime Minister said:

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The Commissioner spoke about the need to secure more resources for military mobility, and it is clear that the infrastructure that we are talking about has both a commercial and a military dimension.

This is the reason why I think it is important that this is taken into account in the European Commission’s proposals for funding in the context of the possible revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework that is expected to be discussed in the coming months.

As you know – and I think we have had the opportunity to discuss this – significant military material has entered the European continent from the port of Alexandroupolis. And in order to reach the north, it needs the appropriate infrastructure to get there quickly and safely.

As far as Europe’s energy independence is concerned, I believe that overall we, the European Union, have every reason to be satisfied with the speed with which we have become independent of Russian gas. We believe that Greece, in its own way, has also played a role in this effort. We stood by Bulgaria in difficult times when it needed an alternative supply of natural gas.

We are standing by Moldova. Greek companies are currently leading the way in supplying Moldova with natural gas and with the operation of the FSRU in Alexandroupoli we will be able to significantly increase the capacity of receiving LNG on our northeastern border.

Obviously we are not the only ones who need this gas, but we are primarily willing to export it through existing pipelines, some of which may need to be upgraded so that their capacity can be increased.