“First of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be able to have this discussion with Professor Fukuyama, whom I respect very much. Indeed, the last time we met on stage was in 2018. I think a lot has happened since, maybe we’ll have a chance to review how Greece and the world has changed during our discussion.
But first of all, let me clarify that during the UN vote, Greece aligned itself with the majority of European countries. We have been very clear from the beginning in stating the obvious, that Israel has a right to defend itself, but always in accordance with International Law. We have expressed our deep concern of the humanitarian situation in Gaza and we’ve encouraged all parties to ensure that humanitarian corridors, but also “humanitarian pauses” can be put in place in order for aid to reach those who are mostly affected.
We need to be very, very clear in stipulating that Hamas is a terrorist organisation, that it does not speak on behalf of the Palestinian people and that the only legitimate interlocutor when it comes to the Palestinian people is the Palestinian authority, which currently runs the West Bank.
To that extent, we’ve tried to modify the resolution, but we were not able to include crucial elements which we think reflect our position. Hence, we decided to abstain. I think that the abstention is probably in line with the overall position of the European Union as it was expressed in the most recent statement of the European Council”.
“We were one of the few countries that were both present in the peace initiative, convened by President Sisi in Cairo, but also visiting Israel. I had a chance to visit and discuss with Prime Minister Netanyahu the situation on the ground. I think Greece is uniquely positioned for two reasons. First of all, we are, with Cyprus, the closest country to the Middle East. We have a strategic partnership with Israel, but we’re also very well respected within the Arab world.
In that sense, I think we are objective when it comes to our overall policy in recognizing the basic principles, which I previously described, but also in bringing to the forefront what in my mind can only be the ultimate solution to the Palestinian problem, which is somehow reviving what we term as a two-state solution, which is essentially the right of the Palestinians to have their own state without compromising the safety of Israel and, of course, the right of the Jewish people to call Israel their their homeland. I think that is why we have the ability to talk to everyone in the region. Of course, we don’t talk to Hamas. Nor do we aspire to do that because we are very clear in terms of defining Hamas as a terrorist organization.
There is no way one can imagine resolving this crisis without a strategic defeat of Hamas. I’m careful, and I’m not talking about eradication of Hamas, but I’m talking about the necessity for Hamas to be defeated. But at the same time, let me repeat how concerned I am with the humanitarian situation in Gaza. We are talking to several European countries, but also to the United States, also to the United Nations. If there’s a role for us to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea, given that we are with Cyprus one of the closest countries, we would be very, very happy to do that.
The problem with Gaza now is that the humanitarian assistance that is necessary is significant. Only a fraction of that assistance actually makes it into Gaza, which makes it absolutely essential that the focus should be on getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza and to ensure that civilian casualties are limited to the maximum possible extent. One needs also to be very clear that we are in a very difficult, unique situation where Hamas is using innocent people as human shields. On the other hand, Israel is a democratic state. The rules of engagement of a democracy cannot be the same as the rules of engagement of a terrorist organization.
That’s why the bar is much higher when it comes to what we expect from Israel in terms of managing what is a very, very complicated and difficult situation”.
“That is a very good question and a topic that we have also discussed at the European Council. I don’t think it is too late to start discussing the future of Gaza and who can actually administer Gaza, assuming that Hamas is no longer in the picture.
Of course, I’m not stating something which is not well-known to your audience. The Palestinian authority has not demonstrated maximum effectiveness in terms of managing the affairs of the Palestinian people in the West Bank. This is also one of the problems that we’re facing.
But I think one thing is certain that we will try to play a role as a pillar of stability in the region. And we will also try to respect our alliances while being fair and just when it comes to addressing what is objectively a very complicated situation”.
“Let me add one point, which I think is important when you look at the countries in the region. We talk a lot about the hope that this conflict is not going to escalate. I think everyone, including Turkey, I presume, will have an interest in this conflict being contained. But I think there’s also an additional concern, and that is that important countries in the region don’t get destabilized as a result of this conflict. Egypt, in particular, and Jordan, two key countries, are faced with significant challenges, economic, social. But at the end of the day, they are pillars of a regional system of stability that I think we have an interest in terms of maintaining.
That’s why I’ve been advocating for years now about the importance of building a stronger European partnership with Egypt. Let me just give you one example, Egypt has six million migrants and refugees. There are no boats leaving from Egypt towards Europe. And I don’t want to imagine what could happen if a country with a population in excess of 100 million could get destabilised as a result of this conflict. So, as much as we need to be concerned about spill-over effects, and I think my sense is that there is enough deterrence, firepower in the region, I wouldn’t say to ensure, but to make it more difficult for this to happen, we should be equally concerned with making sure that we don’t cause new sources of instability.
At the end of the day, this overall, rapprochement between Israel and the Arab countries, I think overall was and continues to be the right approach. There was just one missing link that it could not happen at the expense of the Palestinian”.
“I think eventually it will happen, but there’s one missing link, and that missing link was that it cannot happen and it could not happen at the expense of the Palestinian problem. So one could not, this idea that one can bypass the root cause of the difficulties by forging economic ties, that proved to be a problematic rationale. I would argue that what was achieved certainly needs to be preserved and strengthened with the addition of a political solution to the Palestinian problem, to the negotiating table”.
“If you look at the conclusions of the recent European Council, you will realise that we started by reiterating our commitment to support Ukraine and to ensure that this European Alliance remains completely united. And if we were to turn the clock back, this was not obvious. I think it took a lot of effort from all of us to ensure that we make a very clear statement by supporting Ukraine.
This, I think, is a statement that resonates beyond Ukraine, because at the end of the day, this is not just about Russia and Ukraine. It’s about sending a message to anyone contemplating a violation of sovereign borders that they would have to pay a very, very significant price.
This is of course also relevant for Greece, in particular, as I explained, when I articulated, our clear and unequivocal support for Ukraine at the very beginning of this conflict. I think that in terms of the politics, the front is going to remain united. Yes, there will be some voices here and there, but not enough to change the parameters of the coalition. There may be more sanctions. But I think that Professor Fukuyama is right to point out that at the end of the day, the bulk of the military support is coming from the United States.
So the position that the US will take is going to be critical. I think the war also highlighted some of the fallacies that we may have developed regarding the future of warfare. This is not all going to be about cyber and drones and unmanned vehicles. This is a traditional, almost trench warfare that for us, who have an interest in history, reminds probably more of World War I than World War II with tons of shelling. And this highlights also the fact that when you look at our own defense industry and our defense capability in Europe, it is clear that we need to do more. This notion of European strategic autonomy, which is in my mind, not independent of our relationship within NATO, but certainly worth pursuing. Ιs something that we need to contemplate as Europe much more seriously.
Now, Greece is a country that is spending more than 3% of its GDP on defense, and we’ve done so for many years. We’ve paid the fiscal price of doing so. So one of the topics that we’re currently discussing when we’re looking at the future of the Stability and Growth Pact and the new fiscal rules is related to whether we can actually exempt defense spending from excessive budget calculations in order to encourage countries to spend more on defense because defense is so critical for us, for our liberty and our sovereignty.
That is why I think we need to look at the broader context of what Europe can do not more, not just politically, but also in terms of hardcore defense capability, its a discussion we’re having at the European Council. For example, in Greece, it’s an opportunity for our own defense industry, which have not performed particularly brilliantly over the past decades, to get its act together.
And of course, always encouraging our teams to learn from what has happened. We need to learn from Ukraine, what are the warfare lessons from Ukraine? Of course, we also need to learn from what is happening even in the Middle East and how could it be that the strongest army and the strongest intelligence mechanism, certainly in the region, was unable to foresee what actually happened.
“What we saw, and we’ve seen it actually, I would say even during the times of the previous administration, which was pushing Europeans sometimes in a very not particularly polite manner to spend more on defense. What we see is now that all European countries are beginning to spend more on defense. This notion that there’s a peace dividend, we don’t need to spend much on defense because we can use the money to spend it on schools or social services or pensions, that was, in our complicated world, that is a fallacy. Sovereign states need to have the capability to defend themselves. And the European Union needs to be able to pool resources to defend our European interests in the best possible manner”.
“I’m experienced enough not to make any predictions about the outcome of the US elections, that could get me into trouble. What I can point out is that certainly, Greece and the US, we have a strategic partnership that I think transcends specific administrations. Personally, I’ve worked both with President Trump and President Biden. We have a new defense and cooperation agreement that has been put in place. We have bipartisan support in Congress about the strategic importance of Greece as a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean. And we’ve opened up Greece to significant amount of US investments, so we’ve broadened this relationship to add an economic dimension. I want to look at the institutional component of our relationship. So, I think that this is a relationship which is very solid and will only go from strength to strength”.
“China is not an important investor in Greece to the extent that it has made one important investment in the port of Piraeus many years ago, which overall has been a successful investor and has a stake in our main power transmission grid. But apart from that, if you look at the pattern of foreign direct investment into Greece, Greece is certainly not dependent on Chinese capital.
Now, my approach is going to be slightly more nuanced than Professor Fukuyama’s in the sense that China is, and I’m speaking looking at it from the European perspective, as a mid-size European country. China is a rival, a competitor, and a country with which we, at least at the global scale, you need to cooperate in terms of tackling the most important challenges, especially climate change. I’m not sure you can cooperate when it comes to AI because there’s clear rivalry in terms of the technologies that will be developed. Greece is very much defined in terms of its strategic partnerships and its alliances as a member of NATO, but also as a member of the European Union.
Having said that, we have bilateral relations with China. I will be going to to Beijing on an official visit at the end of this week. But you wouldn’t expect me to be saying things that are different from what most European leaders say when we visit Beijing. Of course, again, looking at the world from a perspective of a European country, my concern, and when I look at our economic performance, is that Europe currently is being squeezed. On the one hand, you have the Chinese state control model with significant state aid to many companies without any restrictions, giving them a significant cost advantage. On the other hand, you have the United States engaged in a very aggressive, I hate to call it protectionist, certainly supportive policy in terms of its own domestic industrial base”.
“US already coming to the play with an advantage in terms of its energy cost. If you add on top of that the subsidies given through the Inflation Reduction Act, then I think there is reasonable concern within the European industrial base: Where does this leave us in terms of our competitiveness? And of course, the answer cannot be, in our mind, the fragmentation of the single market, the richer countries simply offering state aid to their companies, because that would mean the richer countries will be able to do that at the expense of those countries that don’t have the fiscal space.
So you need a European response to this problem. We’ve made a first step when it comes to the Recovery and Resilience Facility. That is an important, a hugely important milestone in European history because we’ve carved out €750 billion, essentially for the clean and the digital transition. A big chunk of it is going to be used through grants. For me, the challenge is how do we make this not necessarily a one-off project, but how do we create more ability for the European Union to be able to offer its competitive base the support that it needs in order to compete from China.
And of course, I think you’re absolutely right to point out that in order for us and for me to sit at the European Council and convince my partners that the RRF should not necessarily be a one-off experiment, because the history of the next generation EU started as a response to COVID, but it went way beyond that is convincing my European partners that we’re actually using the money for the right purpose. That is why I’m laser-focused on making sure that we absorb the money, first of all. And that when we will assess the value that has been created through these funds, there will be a clear positive contribution to the overall performance of the economy. All my ministers, who are here, know very well that in my scorecard, there is one item at the very, very top, which myself and the relevant minister is monitoring, and that is compliance with the RRF requirements, because you miss one milestone, one milestone, and you have a delay in the whole programme. So that is why this is essentially, for me, a test of our ability as Europe to do something beyond what we have already done”.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s up to Turkey to demonstrate that what we have started to build a relationship of trust, based on clear deliverables, can be sustained because we’ve always been very consistent in terms of our policy vis a vis Turkey. But it’s Turkey that has made several u-turns in the past. And of course, it is not easy to carve out space for an improvement in the Greek-Turkish relationship with everything that’s happening in our neighborhood. And with President Erdogan, in my mind, sort of being on the wrong side of, I’m very open, on the wrong side of history when he refuses, not only does he refuse to condemn Hamas, but he essentially says that they’re a liberation movement. That is something which may play into his narrative in terms of the role that Turkey can play.
But I will certainly try to do my best to make sure that we preserve this positive momentum in the Greek-Turkish relationship and move step by step, make sure that we have clear deliverables and hope for the best. But at the end of the day, I do need to stress that Greece has always been incredibly consistent in terms of our relationship with Turkey since I took over.
I remember last year when I went to the UN during difficult times and I gave a speech and addressed myself to the Turkish people, and explained to them that we’re not the enemy, we’re destined by geography to be able to live side by side. And even if we cannot agree to resolve what has been a very complicated issue to address over the past four years, which is essentially the delimitation for maritime zones, even if we agree to disagree, that can still, in international relations, be an acceptable way forward. We don’t have to be at each other’s throats. We don’t have to be the recipients of constant threats regarding our territorial sovereignty. There is also a middle ground, which we have been able to achieve in terms of rapprochement over the past months. I would just hope that this positive momentum is maintained. I think it will be good in general in this very complicated world, and this certainly very complicated region, if we don’t add another source of tension to the equation. We have enough problems in the region”.
Political issues and government policy
“If you look at Greek politics, we have every reason to be slightly more optimistic in the sense that we’ve proven that a competent centre-right government that focuses on effective problem solving is inclusive, addresses important social issues while focusing on growth, trying to make the growth more inclusive, can actually win a national election with a higher percentage of votes than it got back in 2019.
What’s interesting, if you make the comparison, is that in Greece, the populist equivalent of what you described collapsed completely. And it collapsed while they were in the opposition. That makes it even more interesting because there was no credible alternative. At the end of the day, Professor Fukuyana has written a lot about the future of liberal democracy and I encourage you to browse through his recent books. There are certain preconditions, I think, for liberal democracy to make, what many would term a comeback.
I think it is a balance between focusing on delivering growth but addressing fundamental grievances, which in my mind are primarily related to inequality. Inequality is the biggest problem that modern societies are facing. In my mind, the fact that the US is facing these problems is not – is clearly related to the fact that it has the highest degrees of inequality of any modern Western democracy. A lot of the resentments upon which populists feed are real resentments. We may want to accuse the populists for offering simplistic solutions, for dividing people. But at the end of the day, you have to understand that the grievances upon they feed are very real and need to be addressed.
I think this is also the debate between democracies and authoritarian regimes. It’s up to us to also prove that democracies can actually be better at what many thought that authoritarian regimes could do best, which is deliver on policy outcomes. What I can tell you is that when authoritarian regimes get things wrong, they get it wrong big time because there’s no checks and balances, there are no controls. There is a sense of supreme power. There is clearly no humbleness or desire to incorporate different opinions.
I think if you look at this, of course, every European country is different, but I take a lot of optimism from the Polish election. The Polish election was incredibly important. Why? You had a two-term government which had already succeeded in eroding democratic institutions, which ended up losing a national election to a much more moderate, pro-European centre-right party, which although it came second in the election, managed to form an alliance that allowed it a comfortable parliamentary majority. Because at the end of the day, it is our duty to protect democratic institutions, to ensure freedom of speech, to make constant improvements when it comes issues of the rule of law. These things eventually strengthen our democracy and make our democratic discourse more productive.
But we are in an interesting position now. We essentially have one party which is very strong. And all the opposition parties being very fragmented. Which certainly places, I would argue, even more obligation upon ourselves to make sure that we deliver on our electoral manifesto and to honour the trust that people placed in us”.
“It’s still going to take some time to understand whether AI is another important technological revolution or whether there’s something profoundly different about it from previous ones, which, of course, was always said about previous technological revolutions. What we’ve done in Greece is to set up a high-level AI committee advising the office of the Prime Minister, with outstanding scientists, about two things:
The first is how can one use, as a government, AI tools to improve public policy? There are numerous areas where this can happen. Let me just give you an example. A few days ago, we just ran a test using AI to domestic innovations to help us with identifying wildfires earlier than we could if we were just using our traditional techniques. And of course, there are numerous, numerous ways where you can envision AI being very, very helpful in terms of government policy. I think every government policy needs to think about whether we can be more effective by using AI.
The second, of course, is what does this mean for the potential to regulate AI? I would not necessarily want Europe to just be the chief regulator of AI, but also to be an innovator in its own right. We have many companies in Greece that are actively doing interesting work in the AI space. The single market is still not working as we would like it to be giving access to these companies to 400-plus million consumers, and that’s something we need to think about. Why is it that we don’t have enough companies that quickly manage to grow?
On the other hand, we find ourselves in a very unique space where the power essentially is with five or six or seven large corporations. When we think about the models of multilateral cooperation that we were… The professors were teaching us when we were in college. It always involved state actors. Now you have non-state actors. Plus, you have maligned state actors who would definitely use AI for misinformation. You can only imagine how easy it will be in a polarized political discourse to start adding deep fakes and these sort of things which are already there. Then the distinction between truth and lies is going to become that much more difficult.
What does this mean for the democratic discourse and the public space? We already know the impact of echo chambers in terms of driving our own, supporting our own ideas, that will become worse before it becomes better. The tech companies have an obligation to go above and beyond and to ensure that they do whatever they can for this not to happen to the extent that we fear it will”.
“I don’t know if I can offer anything meaningful to what is a very complicated topic. But let me just say that what we define as cultural wars, can be extremely dangerous because they draw new dividing lines and new cleavages where they didn’t necessarily exist. I think one of the challenges is to find unifying counter-forces. A healthy patriotism, which is something you’ve written about, is in my mind to the extent that the nation-state will continue to be the dominant actor in the international scheme, in my mind is a unifying force. You can have multiple identities. You can be a proud Greek, you can be proud European, you can be proud about your local place of origin. And they don’t necessarily need to compete or be in constant conflict with each other.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. But it is very, very easy to create new dividing lines because you will always find an audience and because negative news and negative speech travels faster than positive speech. The challenge for us is to find unifying themes. And that is not always easy in our complicated world, but certainly an obligation which I personally take very seriously”.