Francine Lacqua: I am delighted to be joined by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of Greece. Thank you, Prime Minister, for giving us a little bit of your busy schedule. When you look at Greek performance in terms of GDP, it’s actually better than most. Are you worried that this year is still going to be difficult, given all of the unknowns?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think this is going to be a very good year for the Greek economy. We have built what I consider will be a sustainable momentum. The Greek economy is growing much faster than the eurozone average, and there are good reasons for that. We’re bringing in a significant amount of foreign direct investment. Our debt to GDP is declining at a record pace. If you look at the Greek spreads, the Greek bonds are trading close to the Spanish bonds. Who would have thought that this would have been possible during the years of the fiscal crisis?
So I think we’re at the beginning of a long term growth cycle for the Greek economy. Of course, there are geopolitical issues and concerns. I mean, the cost of living is still a big concern for us, but I remain very optimistic.
Francine Lacqua: So, Prime Minister, what exactly is the next step for the economy? What will make you get a further, I guess, better rating?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think what we need to do is to balance our fiscal prudence to continue to produce healthy primary surpluses and bring down our debt to GDP ratio with sustainable growth. We’ve proven that this is actually something that is doable. We’ve reduced taxes during our first term. We have improved the business environment. I think we’ve changed the image of the country abroad because many people still thought of Greece as a “basket case”. Greece is no longer a “basket case”. It’s a very successful economy and this is attracting a lot of interest. I had a chance to witness it again during my 36 hours in Davos.
Francine Lacqua: There’s also a lot of interest, the process for the IPO of Athens International Airport has started. When are you expecting the sale of 30%?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, this should happen during the first months of 2024. But it is not just the Athens Airport. As you know, we have very successfully sold off stakes in our banks. The NBG transaction, which took place last year, was oversubscribed eight times. There is going to be a significant chunk of Piraeus Bank that will be sold off. And what I do expect, Francine, is also new IPOs on the Greek Stock Exchange. I mean, Greek companies, they need to raise capital. And for the first time, the Greek stock market is an attractive alternative.
Francine Lacqua: For the Athens Airport, what will determine the exact timing? Is it market conditions or something else?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes, but the decision has been taken. It will happen during the first months of 2024. And again, it’s a very successful airport and it’s benefiting from the increase in tourism. Athens has become a year around destination, a fantastic city. There’s tremendous investment taking place in infrastructure in Athens. We are targeting the high end market. And of course, everything that is being built in Greece today has to be sustainable. We’re very much focused on green and sustainable tourism. So the Athens Airport will be a very good proxy for those interested in investing in the tourism sector.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, talk to me a little bit about the banks. So this is also divesting stakes in some of the banks. How’s that going and when can we expect further news?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, you’d expect news on Piraeus soon. Again, we should take stock of the progress that was made last year when Eurobank was fully privatised. Again, the NBG transaction, tremendously successful. A big Italian bank investing in Alpha Bank. Again, this is a vote of confidence in the banking sector and in the Greek economy. But just remember, Francine, when we had these discussions four years ago, many people had concerns about the banking sector, the NPEs, we brought them down significantly. Now everyone seems to be very bullish about Greek banks and frankly, we need more competition in the Greek banking sector. We need banks to extend more credit to the real economy.
Francine Lacqua: And, Prime Minister, have you already made up your mind if it’s the full 27% of Piraeus that will be on the market or just a part of it?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It’s not just a decision that is made solely by us, but I don’t have any further details on this, but it will be a significant chunk.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, you will also bring to parliament a draft law for same sex marriage that you pledged after being reelected. Are you confident that it will pass through?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes. If you remember, we discussed this during my first interview I gave to you in July. It was part of our programme. Marriage equality will be tabled at the next cabinet meeting, which will actually take place next week and will be approved. And then after a period of public consultation, will be presented to parliament. And I’m very optimistic that it will become Greek law within the first two weeks of the month of February.
Francine Lacqua: So you’re expecting little resistance or…
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I mean, what I’ve said very openly is that these are important issues for many people and that’s why I have not imposed any party discipline. I’ve always been making the case that this is not an issue that should divide Greek society. And so far we’ve had a very healthy debate in Greece. I think we’ve explained the case for marriage equality, but also for protecting the rights of those kids that already exist. It’s a fact. And at the end of the day, I believe that this is something which will be legislated by the Greek Parliament soon.
Francine Lacqua: What comes after that? Is there a strategic plan for also more progressive laws?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think we have made addressing inequality a key sort of driver of our policies. But again, in order to do that, you need an economy that is growing, so you need a healthy fiscal surplus. And we have been able to create fiscal space to support the more vulnerable Greeks.
Even now, again, there is a real cost of living crisis in Greece. We want to support especially young families, families with kids. We are particularly concerned about the declining Greek population. So this is an area of priority for us. How do we support families? How do we support people who are actually forced to rent now that rents are going up? This is a key priority for my government and you’d expect many measures in this direction to come to be announced very soon.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, how much do you worry, of course, about all of the conflicts around the world and the impact and the uncertainty this has worldwide?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I think this Davos was rather optimistic about the shape of the global economy, but concerned about the geopolitics.
And of course, we are in the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re a pillar of stability in a rather turbulent region. The Ukraine war is still raging, so of course there is significant concern about the geopolitics. And we’re doing our best to help in order for the conflict not to escalate in the Middle East.
And of course, we’ll be making the case why Ukraine needs strong financial assistance by the European Union. And I expect us at the next European Council to approve the 50 billion assistance to Ukraine that we have pledged in accordance, but also complemented by a revision in our own budget, because we need more money for migration and we need more money to address climate change and natural catastrophes.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, thank you so much for your time today. That was Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of Greece.