Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Dear Kaja, I welcome you today in Athens, with certainty that your visit signals the excellent relations between our two countries. After all, as European partners and NATO allies, Greece and Estonia share common principles and values and I have excellent memories of my last visit to Tallinn and I am glad that you are so quickly returning this visit here, in Athens, today.
It is natural, as allies, to have a common attitude towards international challenges and the dramatic events in the Middle East. Together with the European Union and the entire civilised world, our governments condemn the bloody terrorist attack against Israel and, of course, the horrific scenes we have witnessed, the murders, the kidnappings of civilians.
At the same time, we recognize the right of self-protection for the defenders, of course pursuing the restoration of peace as soon as possible.
These are events that not only undermine a just solution in this troubled region, violating the sovereignty of an independent state, but unfortunately – and we are well aware of this in our own neighbourhood – they are also igniting tensions in a wide arc of the world map. With many parallel consequences, from the disruption of international security and the economy to, unfortunately, the resurgence of migration.
Our position, therefore, is unequivocal: borders cannot be violated, terrorist action cannot go unanswered, because in such cases impartiality objectively favours aggression and authoritarianism, and the 21st century cannot tolerate any other hotbeds of violence, nor any other pretexts for religious or ethnic differences.
Regarding our bilateral relations, we were pleased to see once again the significant progress we have made in trade, that still has room for improvement, and in digital technologies. It is a crucial driver of growth and social performance in all sectors, from public services and the functioning of the state to modern education, health and culture.
Estonia was a pioneer in e-government issues and I must tell you, dear Kaja, that when we too planned our own digital revolution, which has already borne significant fruit, we used Estonia as a model country.
And I am sure that we will have the opportunity to work together even more closely to address new challenges, such as artificial intelligence and the need for a European regulatory framework concerning the activities of companies operating in this area.
Of course, with Kaja we also discussed wider regional developments, based on the commitment of both our countries to respect International Law, the Law of the Sea, and the rejection of any form of revisionism. That is why our agenda included both the ongoing war in Ukraine and Greek-Turkish relations and, of course, the international scourge of the Cyprus issue and the Turkish occupation.
As far as the Russian invasion is concerned, Athens and Tallinn, Tallinn and Athens, we stand firmly alongside Ukraine defending itself, within the framework of Europe and NATO, something that is also reflected in the joint statement that we co-signed when President Zelenskyy visited us here in Athens at the end of August.
For my part, I stressed, apart from the continued support we are providing to Ukraine, the important role of Greek ports, Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki, as alternative routes for the transport of goods to and from Ukraine.
Of course, I also informed my Estonian counterpart about the developments concerning the course of Greek-Turkish relations, following the meeting I had with President Erdoğan, about the political dialogue, the Confidence Building Measures and the positive agenda I am looking forward to. But also about the responsibility that Turkey has, which formally, as a candidate country to join Europe, is bound by the principles of good neighbourliness.
Finally, we exchanged views on the cooperation between Greece and Estonia within the framework of NATO and the European Union. Regarding the former, our common conviction is that, following the decisions of the last Summit in Vilnius, the cornerstone of the alliance remains the solidarity and consistency of all member states in the unified decisions that must bind us all. As regards the upcoming European Council, we have discussed and will discuss in more detail the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, which is currently being shaped and which must be revised, ideally by the end of the year.
A subject on which we share the view that Europe must strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and the need for national flexibility, so that countries can converge while maintaining the cohesion of their societies. After all, Greece has now made very significant progress. It has left behind the difficult times of the crisis. We are no longer a problem country for the European Union and we can face this debate with much more confidence than in the past.
Finally, we also addressed the issue of migration, both as a common challenge and, unfortunately, as a particular threat in the shadow of the new crisis in the Middle East, which I mentioned at the beginning. I have often had the opportunity to inform my counterparts about Greece’s role as a frontline country, which hosts migrants from war-torn regions and a country that may well be called upon to face new pressures at its borders.
Migration has become a top European priority. Yes, important steps are being taken, the conclusion of the negotiations on the Pact on Migration and Asylum is a step in the right direction. But I would like to attach particular importance to the support that Estonia has also given to the long-standing Greek position that the European migration problem cannot be solved unless we first and foremost address its external dimension, unless we guard our borders effectively. We cannot allow traffickers to determine who enters the European Union; this must be the responsibility of Europe and the Member States.
But, at the same time, we have to find a balance between a strict but fair border management policy and the need to give legal channels of organised migration to those who can and should come to Europe, but on our terms, not on the traffickers’ terms.
So I conclude by thanking Kaja for her visit. I believe that today we have emphatically confirmed that the 101 years since the beginning of our diplomatic relations say only one thing: that the excellent relations between our countries do not only come from afar but go even further.
Kaja, welcome, again, to Athens.
Kaja Kallas: Thank you. Let me first start with condemning the attacks against Israel by offering my sincere condolences to the families and the close ones of the victims. Estonia stands with Israel.
Dear Kyriakos, it is my great pleasure to be here in Athens today. Estonia and Greece might be on the other ends of Europe, we in the north and you in the south, but we share a joint European home and also common values as small nations with big neighbours. We have very many common issues. I mean, we spend a lot of our budget on defence. We have big neighbours, we also have big maritime borders. We are strong allies in NATO and work together as good partners in the European Union.
One more area where we can do more together is digital cooperation, where we both have big ambitions. For example, when you were in Estonia last November, we talked about our mutual e-prescription. So I’m glad that we have made good progress here, so we can be very effective and very fast. And this is to the benefit of our citizens. I mean, we see on the streets of Athens also a lot of Estonian tourists. So if they can also buy their medicines in pharmacies here and use the prescriptions this is to their benefit.
We also need continued global and collective action on climate change. Sadly, Greece has been affected by climate change, particularly this year. On behalf of my government and also the people of Estonia, I express our sincere condolences to all of those who have been affected by these tragedies.
Estonia and Greece are both European Union border countries. Estonia will continue to support Greece’s police and border guards, for example. We have helped to secure the Greece Sea border via Frontex for years and we are one of the biggest contributors to these efforts per capita.
Greece gained its independence 200 years ago and we followed 100 years later. We both know firsthand, if you want to have freedom, you must fight for it. So today Ukraine is also showing the same thing. What is happening in Ukraine is very black and white. There is one aggressor and one victim. We know from our history that fighting for freedom and defending your freedom is not an escalation, it is survival. That is why we must continue to support Ukraine everywhere and every way we can, including with military aid.
Ukraine needs to win this war. Our primary focus should be on making sure that the aggression ends in defeat. Any negotiated pause would just allow and serve the Kremlin’s interests and give them time to rebuild and prepare its future aggressions.
I would also like to thank Greece and also you personally for your leadership in supporting Ukraine and understanding that Russia poses a threat to the whole free world. Our reply to the aggression at the EU’s doorstep must be onefold. Russia is carrying a war of attrition. There’s no speedy victory, so we should have a plan for a long struggle. Our strategic response must be to signal to Russia that we are not tired and will stand next to Ukraine until victory. And we are ready to do it as long as it takes.
We must keep raising the price of aggression and limit Russia’s income to finance its war machine. That is why our focus must be on stronger sanctions, including effective implementation and ending a circumvention of the sanctions. Given Russia’s continued war crimes and mass atrocities, we must aim for a complete trade embargo with Russia. And we need to significantly restrict transit through Russia to third countries. And we have the 12th EU sanctions package that must deliver on this and several other elements.
We must also focus on accountability. This is the only way to stop the cycle of Russian aggression. After the Second World War, we had the tribunals of Tokyo and Nuremberg, but there was never a tribunal for Moscow for the crimes committed by the Communists. Russia has drawn all the wrong conclusions from this and we cannot forget our own defence. Our NATO is built on our own defence, plus the collective defence of NATO. And the defence needs truly a decisive lift.
We need to step up our combat readiness and we need deterrence that is credible enough to avoid a war and stop Russia’s cycle of aggressions. For that we need to increase our defence budgets. Greece is investing a lot in defence. So are we, as we are investing more than 3% of our GDP to defence. But not all are doing this and we have to talk about this more. We must close the existing gaps in our capabilities and stockpiles so that we can be able to defend our territory, Europe as such, but also to deter Russia from taking any miscalculations towards Europe.