Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. I mean, it’s been quite a week for you, I have to say. The Prime Minister of the UK Rishi Sunak canceled the meeting with you, accused you of grandstanding and ruled out allowing some Parthenon Sculptures to leave the British Museum. You seem to have a cordial meeting with his opposition.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, Francine, in the spirit of long-standing good relations, our two countries have, which I certainly intend to preserve. I don’t have much to add to this topic, nor do I want to get embroiled in domestic UK politics. I think we’ve said everything we have to say about this issue, and I really don’t want to comment more about it.
Francine Lacqua: Have you spoken to the Prime Minister? Do you feel like it’s now behind you?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I would certainly want to leave this unfortunate incident behind me, but it always takes two to tango.
Francine Lacqua: Have you spoken to him?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No.
Francine Lacqua: Okay, maybe you’ll get a call, maybe after this interview. Prime Minister, there’s a lot to be done here at COP28. Are you confident that there’s going to be something meaningful instead of just talk.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, this is an important COP. It’s a stock-taking COP. I think there is a very understandable concern about the track we are on and about the gap between our nationally defined contributions and where we need to get to and coming from a country which suffered the devastating consequences of the climate crisis this summer, I cannot just but urge everyone to be more ambitious in their goals.
Greece has done its own fair share of the heavy lifting. We have reduced our emissions by 43% since 2005. That is the fastest reduction of emissions of any European country. Granted, we also had an economic crisis to deal with, but we still remain fully committed towards meeting our mitigation target focus. But obviously we can’t do it alone.
Francine Lacqua: You also have growth, which helps if you have money to spend on this. What kind of advice do you give? There are leaders here. Without maybe giving them advice, what’s the biggest challenge right now to a leader that wants to do good but can’t quite get there?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Listen, we have to set long-term targets and medium-term targets. I think decarbonising our power sector is the obvious way to go in terms of increasing the penetration of renewables. This is something we’ve done in Greece. We’re a top 10 producer of renewables globally, and we intend to continue down that path.
But we also need more investments in our grids in order to actually make renewables work. So this will be the number one priority. Then, of course, the obvious energy savings looking at our houses and how we can achieve quick wins through positive NPV measures.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, what do you worry about the most in Europe right now? There was a pretty shocking election in the Netherlands that not many people were expecting, with the far right to win. Does this change also commitments to greening the economy?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, look, we are committed to the “Fit for 55” agenda and important legislative initiatives have been passed. At the same time, we need to listen to our people and understand that we cannot place more burden on the less privileged ones. That is why the total, say, rebalancing of our fiscal approach, making sure that we use the proceeds of growth to support the more vulnerable households, is so important in our case and to make sure that a lot of people can actually tangibly benefit from the green transition.
For example, in Greece, we have an extensive penetration of thermal solar. We just heat our water using solar energy and it’s a very cheap measure that helps reduce electricity bills. So make sure that we focus on those matters where we can actually demonstrate to people that we take care of their concerns and we don’t put unnecessary burden on them.
Francine Lacqua: But overall, do you worry that there’s a tilt, that there’s more domestic uncertainty in a lot of big European countries?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’d say yes and no. But you look at other countries, you look at Poland, you look at Greece, for example, reasonable moderate centre-right…
Francine Lacqua: You got elected in the summer….
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: …government with a strong majority, a very strong mandate to deliver growth, a growth rate way higher than the eurozone average. These are all good signals. You can actually run a moderate centre-right government, obtain a large majority as long as you continue to deliver benefits for citizens.
Francine Lacqua: Do you worry, Prime Minister, I’m talking a lot about worries because it seems that the economy overall, the world is not getting easier to deal with. We talk about onshoring, we talk, for example, about a lot of the green technologies coming back to the US. We talk about the risk between the US and China. If you look at these big issues, what do they mean for Europe?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, Europe has an important role to play in terms of carving out its own agenda regarding its own strategic autonomy. We are leaders in climate change, but we can’t do it alone. And certainly, we don’t want to put our European businesses at a disadvantage compared to the US or to Chinese businesses. Look at shipping, for example. We want to decarbonise shipping, but shipping is a global industry and we want to make sure that our shipping is not placed in a position where we would just have shipowners move their flags to other countries.
Francine Lacqua: How do you do that? Again, it’s extremely difficult. If you look at shipping, it takes a huge amount of capital at a time where interest rates are high to either rebuild or actually repurpose a lot of these….
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: You do it by offering the right incentives and by making sure that you spread out the burden equally on everyone. It’s not an easy exercise. You need to use technology and to make sure that we’re at the forefront of technological innovation. But you certainly want to get to that point.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, Greece is actually aiming to be an exporter of green energy to central and Southeast Europe as more renewable power comes online. At the same time, you’re also looking at hydrocarbon exploration. How do you marry the two?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We need baseload power. We need natural gas for the foreseeable future. But at the same time, we can significantly expand our green production capacity, which is something we intend to do. We want to be an exporter of green power in the medium to long term. In the short term, we want to make sure that we cover the requirements of our neighbouring countries in terms of offering them access to natural gas, which is something that we do through significant investment in our infrastructure.
Francine Lacqua: Do you think you can help them meet some of their priorities?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We are doing that already. We’re doing that already by covering the needs of Bulgaria. We’re exporting gas to Moldova. And we’re building the necessary infrastructure to import gas into Europe through Northern Greece. We want to be a provider of energy security for many European countries.
Francine Lacqua: How long, Prime Minister, will it take for that infrastructure to be put in place?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The FSRU is arriving in Alexandroupolis in a month. So the first infrastructure is already in place.
Francine Lacqua: If there’s one thing that you think COP leaders need to get right in the next two weeks, what is it?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: To make sure that we wrap up our ambitions. What we’re doing is not enough, we’re paying the consequences and we need to send out the signal of extreme urgency out of this meeting.
Francine Lacqua: But this is what pledges on methane….
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Methane power production in the short term and of course climate financing for those who need it the most.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us.