Honorable Chancellor Scholz, dear Olaf, thank you for this warm welcome at a meeting that confirms the long-standing ties between Greece and Germany and our excellent relations. Relations that are strengthened through the fluctuations of the common challenges our two countries face.
We are, after all, partners in the European Union, we are allies in NATO, we are fellow travellers on the road to strengthening democracy. We therefore share the same values, pursuing the same goals for a better future.
I cannot forget that my last official visit to Berlin was in March 2020, literally a few days before the entire continent froze as it had to deal with the coronavirus storm.
Fortunately, today this nightmare has passed and despite the difficulties, the news from Greece is much more optimistic compared to that period, with my country already writing a new chapter in its history.
From being a “black sheep” during the crisis years, it now has one of the most stable economies in the euro area. It has maintained dynamic growth rates, reducing unemployment. It is attracting more investment than ever before. It is increasing exports, industrial production. While, at the same time, it supports the disposable income of citizens by pursuing a prudent policy that allows us to achieve sustainable primary surpluses.
This year, in fact, we are expected to break the historical record of tourist revenues and arrivals, with German visitors again preferring our country.
And all this as the public debt is already below 170% of GDP, and continues to shrink. You may also know – as we have discussed – that Greece has the fastest rate of debt reduction in the world.
The recent recovery of the investment grade marks an overall national progress which is underway.
“Keys” to these are two elements: first, our unwavering orientation towards reforms, reflected in a fruitful work for more than four years. And, secondly, political stability, confirmed by the renewed popular mandate to the government in the last elections.
In this new chapter, of course, I have to say that our bilateral cooperation is also very broad. German companies are the leading foreign investors in Greece, and in dynamic sectors such as telecommunications, airports, digital and green technology.
The environment for bilateral trade is equally favourable. We should not forget that Germany is the second main supplier and at the same time the third largest customer of Greek products. It is therefore no coincidence that it will be the country of honour at the next Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, to which I had the opportunity to personally invite Chancellor Scholz.
Just as we share a common approach to the green transition, with perhaps the most emblematic symbol of Greek-German cooperation being the Astypalea project. The green island which has been called “butterfly of the Aegean”.
Finally, the vivid Greek community that lives and thrives here remains a solid bridge between us. Just over half a million citizens who are harmoniously integrated into the local community, contributing to its economic progress and enriching its culture.
In our discussions, we also focused on the geostrategic importance of the green energy corridor between southern and northern Europe, connecting countries that have a high wind energy production, mainly in winter, like Germany, with those that produce a lot of solar energy, mainly in summer, like Greece.
It is an important step towards decoupling from Russian energy, but also towards the development of renewable sources, while at the same time it is an area with a lot of potential for joint actions between our countries.
We were also concerned about the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework, the discussion of which, as you know, is still ongoing – significant progress has been made in recent weeks – because, as you know, Athens insists that additional resources are needed to deal with natural disasters and the migration problem.
After all, we are talking about challenges that due to the circumstances become priorities for the whole of Europe. On the one hand, the generalised attacks of the climate crisis and, on the other, the renewed unrest in the Middle East. Especially with the latter unfolding, it is very likely that front-line states such as Greece will face new strong pressure at their borders, with new flows adding to the current ones, putting a strain on the already large numbers of refugees we are hosting.
Germany knows and recognises our efforts to protect our national and European borders on a daily basis. And I am glad, because recently your state has also decided to revise the social benefits scheme for third-country nationals entering Germany.
I would like to stress that Europe’s assistance must become stronger and must be expressed in a multifaceted and coordinated manner. The new European Pact on Immigration and Asylum must be completed soon, on the basis of solidarity and fair distribution of responsibilities between member-states.
We have also discussed with the Chancellor how to deal with real, existing problems of secondary flows, which need a common strategy, a common approach between our two countries.
To put it differently, we need now more than ever a dynamic plan that moves in two directions: preventing illegal entries on the one hand and managing legal inflows on the other.
Our European agenda, of course, also included the Western Balkans, as part of the European Commission’s Enlargement package for 2023.
We referred to the regional cooperation schemes that help prepare for gradual integration into Europe, the Berlin Process, in which Chancellor Scholz plays a leading role. He is certainly playing an essential role in this process. But with adaptation to the acquis communautaire and respect for the rule of law remaining cornerstones of the accession process.
Regarding the Middle East, Greece and Germany support Israel’s right to self-defence after the brutal attack on its territory. However, this right must be exercised in accordance with the rules of war, International Law and, above all, International Humanitarian Law.
Both countries, after all, have been very clear: we dissociate the terrorist Hamas from the Palestinian people and, of course, we express our deep concern about the drama in Gaza and the unfolding humanitarian crisis.
We support all assistance to civilians, through humanitarian pauses and aid corridors for medicine and food. And, as I have said many times, Greece, also because of its geographical proximity, is ready to play its part in this effort to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
However, I will repeat, as the Chancellor said, that there will be no final solution unless it is political. The final solution can only be a two-state solution, in accordance with United Nations resolutions and International Law.
And International Law must also prevail in Ukraine, on whose side Greece and Berlin remain firm, rejecting any form of revisionism.
I remind you that Greece continues to offer, through the ports of Alexandroupolis and Thessaloniki, alternative routes for the transport of goods to and from the affected country.
Finally, as European partners, we also discussed the Cyprus issue with the Chancellor. Our common goal is for negotiations to restart on the basis of UN resolutions. And we welcome the UN Secretary General’s decision to appoint a Special Envoy for Cyprus. With a role, of course, for the European Union in these developments, as envisaged in the conclusions of the last EU Summit.
From my part, I finally outlined to Chancellor Scholz the Greek effort to steer our relations with Turkey into calm waters, with International Law and good neighbourly relations always as our compass.
Dear friends, in thanking you for your hospitality, allow me to reciprocate with a few words in your language:
Griechenland hat grosse Fortschritte gemacht und es ist nicht mehr das Land, das es einmal war. Griechenland und Deutschland können gemeinsam viel mehr erreichen, in einem Geist des Respekts, des Verständnisses und der Solidarität, aber auch durch eine noch engere Zusammenarbeit.
(Unofficial translation from German): “Greece has made great progress and is no longer the country it used to be. Germany and Greece can achieve much more together, in a spirit of respect, understanding and solidarity, but also with even closer cooperation”.
Olaf, there is a saying that we share. You say, “In der Not erkennt man den Freund” and we say, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”. So, as the challenges of our times call for constant cooperation, I am sure that as two friendly countries we will pursue it even more.
Journalist: A question for the Prime Minister of Greece. Erdoğan’s positions and yours are completely different in relation to Hamas, what role does that play in your meeting with Erdoğan? And secondly, what specifically do you expect from this meeting, the continuation of the détente of the last few months or more than that?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I don’t have much to add to what the Chancellor said about Hamas. Hamas is a terrorist organization, it is not a liberation movement. Consequently, its actions are condemned by the Greek Government in the most absolute, most unequivocal way. One need only look at the images of the barbaric attack on Israel on 7 October to understand what I mean.
Having said that, the fact that we disagree with President Erdoğan on the role of Hamas does not mean that we cannot welcome him in Athens, as Chancellor Scholz is also welcoming him in Berlin, to try to make a step forward in the Greek-Turkish rapprochement, which has essentially begun in recent months and which has so far yielded some significant positive results.
We seek good relations with Turkey, I have said this many times, always with respect for International Law and especially the Law of the Sea. And it is precisely this progress that we will attempt to capitalise on through President Erdoğan’s visit to Athens on 7 December.
Journalist: A question for the Greek Prime Minister. There are tens of thousands of people who have been granted asylum, who have been registered in Greece but who have not been returned to Greece. What is your government doing to make this possible on the basis of the Dublin Regulation? Why is this being blocked at the moment? Do you believe that the free movement of people in the European Union could be maintained under these circumstances?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, Greece has significantly accelerated the processing of asylum applications in the last four years. At the same time, it has implemented a tough but fair policy of protecting our external borders, which has borne considerable fruit, as we have significantly reduced migration inflows in the Aegean Sea. And we will continue to insist on this policy.
As I said before, we are concerned about the issue of secondary flows. I want to be absolutely clear: when we grant asylum to someone who arrives in Greece, our intention is that they stay in Greece. After all, we have great needs in terms of our country’s workforce and we would like these people to choose to make Greece their permanent place of residence.
Therefore, in this direction, we will continue to work with the Chancellor to look at issues of secondary flows, which as I understand do create a problem in Germany, but which I believe can be solved in a spirit of cooperation.
Journalist: Chancellor, Prime Minister, for many years heavy clouds have overshadowed Greek-German relations, mainly because of the fiscal crisis. I would like to ask the Chancellor first, how do you see the course of the Greek economy today? Do you trust it, would you trust it from now on, and what scope there is for further strengthening cooperation between the two countries. And whether, Prime Minister, these clouds have gone away and whether, for us, from our side, this suspicion towards Germany.
And if I may ask you both a question: because both countries, Athens and Berlin, are facing strong inflationary pressures, do you think something should be done at the European level now. Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I would like to mention that we hardly discussed the issues concerning the economy with the Chancellor. This is certainly an important progress. Because the economy was predominantly the subject of discussions with the German side during the years of the crisis. We have left that behind us.
Greece has made very important steps forward. And these steps are recognised by Germany as a whole and by German businesses, which continue to invest more in Greece.
And I think it is very important to change the narrative of Greek-German relations, to leave behind a period of tension, prejudice and suspicion and to look at the future through the optimistic perspective of two countries that stand on solid ground. Of different sizes, obviously, of different capabilities, but two countries that can work together both for a better European future and to further strengthen their bilateral relations.
On inflation, let me just say that it is a central policy priority of the government to do everything in our power to reduce the burden on households, mainly due to food prices. I will not talk in detail now about all the measures we have announced. But it is my deep belief that we have seen the worst of inflation.
Nevertheless, we will continue to support, within our budgetary capacity, with all the means at our disposal, especially our most vulnerable fellow citizens, so that they can cope in an environment that is, objectively speaking, still quite difficult.
Journalist: Prime Minister, Chancellor, it was said that you will soon meet the Turkish President, can we expect that there will be a revival of the agreement between the European Union and Turkey? And what in particular would be necessary for there to be that revival? What should Europe offer Turkey and what is expected of Turkey?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I have repeatedly said that we seek cooperation with Turkey on managing the refugee issue. Turkey hosts four million refugees. The European Union has in the past provided significant financial support to Turkey to enable it to face this major economic challenge of having so many refugees on its territory.
I believe that in recent months we have also taken steps at the bilateral level to intensify our cooperation with the Turkish authorities in order to limit -as much as possible- the boats leaving the Turkish coast. That is our aim.
Our aim is to prevent boats from leaving Turkey and human lives from being put at risk by undertaking a journey that is by its very nature extremely dangerous.
I will say it once again: traffickers should not determine who enters the European Union. This is a job for Europe, and in order to achieve this it must cooperate with the countries on its external borders.
So this is the kind of cooperation we want to develop with Turkey, both bilaterally and at European level. As I said, we have made some progress, but we still have a lot of work to do.
Finally, I would like to stress in this regard the great importance I attach to maintaining European aid to the countries that are on the external borders of the European Union. That is why, in the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework, Greece insists that we need increased resources in order to help countries such as Turkey on the one hand and to help countries such as Greece, which are burdened by heavy infrastructure that has been built with European resources but which must also be maintained with European resources, so that we can manage the refugee issue as effectively as possible.
And I will say once again that the infrastructure that should be financed by the European Union includes, of course, land barriers, such as the fence that we are building in Evros. This fence is intended to protect not the Greek borders but the European borders, and that is why it must also benefit from European funding.