Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview on CNN, with journalist Richard Quest

Richard Quest: The Greek Prime Minister told me Europe will overcome the Hungarian obstacle in getting aid to Ukraine. There’s a summit coming up at the beginning of February. I spoke to Kyriakos Mitsotakis earlier and the Prime Minister said Europe is aware of the urgency of the situation.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I am pretty sure we will get there. There is an understanding at the level of the Council that this decision needs to be taken on February 1. And I’m pretty sure that the negotiations are advanced and that we will be able to overcome the Hungarian obstacle and get the deal done.

Richard Quest: Does that mean that Hungary will find a diplomatic way to support it and all 27 move forward or you will end up with a sort of a plan B bilateral, putting the money under the teapot and moving around?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No. When there is a plan B, it’s always easier to get to your plan A. So we know that there is an alternative. If necessary, we will get the deal done, just the 26 of us. It’s going to be more complicated, it’s going to take more time. But I think there is a way to address some of the Hungarian concerns and a general understanding that the deal needs to take place now and it will get done on February 1.

Richard Quest: Let’s talk about how the Greek economy has come back very strongly in a sense. I mean, there will be those who say that there’s still a lot of damage and still a lot of wreckage from the financial crisis, but by and large, it has largely recovered. But now you’re being hit with this migration issue, which is expensive for you. It is difficult and there’s no obvious easy solution.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I would argue that Greece has probably managed the migration problem better than most other European countries. Hence migration has not been a main issue in our elections. We won a resounding victory partly because we succeeded in managing the migration through a tough but fair migration policy, which acknowledges the need to protect your borders, while at the same time opening up legal pathways for migration for those who are interested to come and work in Greece.

At the end of the day, Richard, it’s about who determines who enters Europe. It can’t be the smugglers. These people are reckless and responsible for numerous deaths. It has to be to us. So, you have to, you can build a big fence, but you also need a big door. And this is what we’re trying to do.

Richard Quest: You don’t put them on planes to Rwanda…

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No, you don’t put them on planes to Rwanda, but those who actually are denied asylum need to be returned to their countries of origin to send a very clear signal that if you come to Europe and you’re not accepted and you’re not granted asylum, you need to be returned.

Richard Quest: The issue of where Europe goes next. There’s enlargement on the agenda for quite a large number of countries who now sort of have started the process. Ukraine obviously now being able to start formal negotiations. But I wonder whether the existing EU structures are fit for purpose in a much larger EU.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We know that we have to rethink the way we do business in the European Union if we want to add more members. At the same time, in spite of the complexity of having 27 members around the table, we have done very well over the past four years.

Richard Quest: But you’ve not done as well as you could. I mean, it’s what Alex Stubb always describes as this “suboptimal output”.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes, but when you have 27 countries negotiating and having to reach a decision with unanimity, it is difficult to imagine what the optimal outcome is because it’s different for many member states. But, just look at the RRF and the “NextGenerationEU”. For Greece this is €36 billion of additional European funding, post Covid, critical for climate transition, digital transition. That was Europe at its best.

Richard Quest: Choose your colour (to write on the board).

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The colour can only be blue, which is the colour of Greece, our flag and of course, our party. So I don’t have many options.

Richard Quest: Carry on, sir. Ready for AI? Now, you can define it as you wish. You can even have two or three, if you want to sort of say, are politicians ready? Are companies ready? Is society ready? It’s yours.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I will go with politicians. And I think politicians are probably closer to being unprepared for what is coming, for the simple reason that I think that there is a big sort of distinction between the level of sophistication of what’s actually happening in AI and our understanding of it. And usually when we don’t understand something, as politicians, we tend to overregulate.