Georgia Skitzi (ERT): Mr Prime Minister, I wanted to ask you about the results of today’s European Council. Where did you focus, where did the Greek positions focus and whether we can say, as Ms. Ursula von der Leyen noted that it is a happy day for Europe, and if this is also true for our country.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, let me express my satisfaction for the fact that relatively quickly all 27 countries managed to agree on the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework and of course to provide an anticipated and significant financial assistance to Ukraine.
I would like to remind you that since the previous European Council we had agreed on the basic framework of the review and all the Greek positions had been taken into account, which have now been reflected in the final conclusions agreed today.
I am referring to the increase, at European level, by a total of two billion euros of the allocated funds for financing migration, which obviously concerns us significantly, as Greece is one of the major recipients of European resources from the migration funds.
The increase by 1.5 billion euros of the financial tool for dealing with natural disasters, but also a number of very important flexibilities concerning the cohesion funds, i.e. the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework), which allow us to have a significant benefit on our budget due to these revisions.
So, yes, although it took one more Summit than what we had planned, the fact that all 27 countries managed to agree, and relatively quickly, I think is a positive development for the European Union.
We discussed other issues, but I guess you will ask me about them later on.
Giannis Kantelis (SKAI): Anyone who went out on the streets in Brussels saw that the EU buildings are surrounded by farmers. Although it was not on the agenda, did you discuss this issue with the other leaders? And if, given what is happening in Greece, you are ready perhaps tomorrow to say something more regarding the demands of the farmers.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes, on the initiative of some countries, including Greece, the issue was discussed briefly in the European Council and this is reflected in the Council’s conclusions.
Obviously it is a complicated issue which, as you can see, concerns many European countries and not only Greece and I want to stress that the concerns that we hear very often in our country about the increase in production costs, about the fact that prices may be squeezed by European and global competition, are concerns that, I would say, resonate with farmers throughout the European Union. So it is not just a Greek issue.
First of all, I would like to welcome the initiatives of the European Commission, for which I would like to stress that Greece fought behind the scenes to have amendments for the year 2024 regarding the set-aside land scheme that was imposed by the Common Agricultural Policy, already from 2020.
What does this mean in practice? That more than a million acres are being released for Greek farmers, for specific crops. This means additional income but also, of course, coupled payments for the acres that will be cultivated.
I also want to welcome the fact that a deep and strategic dialogue is starting at European Commission level on structural issues which have to do with the way the Common Agricultural Policy is organised and the important constraints it imposes on the effort we are making towards the green transition.
I believe that this is an opportunity to possibly identify shortcomings and correct some of the paths that we have charted, taking into account the reality as it is now reflected throughout the European Union.
From there on, I will have the opportunity tomorrow to speak in Parliament, in response to a question by the President of the New Left parliamentary group, concerning what is happening in Thessaly and to elaborate on some of our thoughts on how we intend to further strengthen the primary sector. But bear with me, we will talk about this tomorrow with more ease in the Parliament.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA): Mr Prime Minister, I will insist on the issue of farmers. I understand that you did not take decisions at the level of the European Council and I want to ask you if the matter will come back again. Will it be on the agenda of a next European Council? Will the European policy for the agricultural world change at some point?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, Mr Armenis, let me clarify that 1/3 of the European Union’s budget goes to the Common Agricultural Policy. If there was no Common Agricultural Policy, I do not think that there would be an agricultural sector in the European Union today as we know it. Therefore, we give, we spend a lot of money for the Common Agricultural Policy. However, there are problems which also have to do with how European farmers, and as a consequence Greek farmers, are exposed to global competition, which need to be discussed.
For example, free trade agreements. We are asking European producers to adapt to strict standards, which of course increases production costs. Should we not also be asking countries that export to the European Union, within the framework of a free trade agreement, to have the same restrictions so that they do not have a natural competitive advantage in terms of their costs? Just one example of the issues that are surfacing again.
I would like to stress, however, that the issues of the primary sector are European, but some issues are also national or regional in nature. Tomorrow, for example, we will be discussing Thessaly. What we have done, what we can do more in order to deal with natural disasters. And this has a European dimension. If we had not been able to negotiate, for example, the use of resources from the Recovery Fund and from the old NSRF, we would not have had the same firepower to support the reconstruction of infrastructure in Thessaly today.
But we’ll talk about all that tomorrow. I want to say once again that the government of the New Democracy, our government, has proven that it is close to our agricultural and livestock farmers and our fishermen, through a series of policies that we have implemented. We are doing the same now, within the budgetary constraints that obviously exist, and I believe that when we fully roll out our initiatives, our agricultural and livestock farmers will realise that we are really doing our best to deal with aν objectively difficult situation.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister. We saw that there was a battle, both at the previous EU Summit and now, with Mr. Orbán, to convince him to say “yes” regarding support for Ukraine. In view of the forthcoming enlargement of the Balkans and other countries, Ukraine later on, how likely do you think it is that this debate will open up further in order to take decisions, political decisions of the European Union with qualified majorities? And what will be Greece’s position and how united is Europe ultimately if such a decision is taken?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, there is already a very specific framework for decision-making by qualified majority – you know this – not at European Council level but at Council meetings at ministerial level. I think that this debate is starting now, but it has a long way to go, because I would like to remind you that changing the qualified majority rule requires first of all unanimity in the European Council itself, which does not seem very likely at the moment.
Now, regarding Mr Orbán’s stance, I will only say that you have finally seen that we were able to reach an agreement, even if we had to explain that we were willing to go ahead, all 26 of us, without necessarily the agreement of the 27th member-state. But it is preferable for the 27 of us to go ahead, which, as I said, even if it took a little longer, we managed to achieve.
Maria Psara (STAR): If you will allow me, Mr. Prime Minister, a follow up on the Green Deal. I want to ask you whether the policies for a green transition have been decided in a way that works to the detriment of farmers. And at a time when these policies are making things more difficult for European farmers, there are taking place imports, for example, of substandard products, as you said earlier, from Latin America, Asia and so on.
A second question on the Middle East, if I may. You discussed the Middle East today but there were no conclusions, no text of conclusions in the end. Once again the European Union fails to reach a common position on the Middle East. Do you think that this image reflects the geopolitical role that the European Union should play in our neighborhood at least?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, on the Common Agricultural Policy, Ms Psara, let me say that it was actually agreed in 2020, at a time that preceded the pandemic and the major geopolitical developments that resulted from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
And I believe that the time has come, without calling into question the core of this green transition, to revisit some possible adjustments that take into account new realities that we cannot simply ignore. And I would like to stress that many of the objections of farmers, not only of Greek but also European farmers, seem to me to be comprehensible and to a certain extent justified.
So I think that this issue will be back on the agenda of our talks. I do not think it is just a flare that will go out so quickly and I think that we will have to deal with it again at European Council level.
Now, look, I didn’t hide my words at the European Council. It does the European Union no credit that we could not once again reach conclusions on the Middle East. And that is something that weakens the role of the European Union as a whole, at a time when many other players aspire to play a role in a new peace effort.
Unfortunately, we have divergent views among the Member States, but I believe that, with persistence from my part as well, we will come back to this issue and at the next European Council, I believe, we will reach conclusions that will go beyond what we said in October. We reached conclusions in October, but now we are at the beginning of February and many things have changed and obviously we too must be able to adapt our position and play a more active role as the European Union.
From there on, Greece, as Greece, as a credible country in the wider region, will continue to do what it can to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the tragic situation that currently prevails in the Gaza Strip, but also to raise the issue of the final political settlement to this problem, which cannot be other than a two-state solution, as we have explained many times.
Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1):* Mr. Prime Minister, let me take you back to the basic menu of the Summit and today we did not experience a thriller. It was very quick to reach a compromise. Can you tell us if you are ready to be a little more specific on what Greece is gaining in terms of additional resources for migration, but also for natural disasters and what is the timeframe for these resources to come to Greece?
And a question which is related to natural disasters: You told us a short while ago that our country also fought behind the scenes for the partial revision of the Common Agricultural Policy. Is Greece raising as an issue in this long process of revision that there should be autonomous resources in the Common Agricultural Policy and flexibility to deal with it and from there on, that there should be a second reserve essentially for dealing with natural disasters? Thank you very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We will be dealing with this in the context of the new Common Agricultural Policy in a few years from now, and the adjustments that are being made, are being made in the context of what has obviously already been agreed at European level and is not something that can easily change.
Now, Greece will get its share of the additional funds that will be disbursed, but in the case of the refugee and migration issues, we have a large participation in these funds, as we have a lot of infrastructure, for example, which is funded and must continue to be funded from European resources, as we are doing European work on our country’s borders with Turkey, which also requires European funding.
I would also like to stress that, as far as the primary sector is concerned, we have managed to obtain some additional resources from the EU Solidarity Fund, as compensation for the damages in Thessaly.
But the vast majority of the amounts for agricultural compensation will always come from the state budget and I want to remind you here that over the last four years more than 1 billion euros has been disbursed by ELGA (Hellenic Agricultural Insurance Organisation), to help farmers deal with natural disasters and damage from extreme weather events.
I have said it many times and I will say it once again: this amount is double the amount corresponding to the contributions paid by farmers to insure themselves against natural disasters through ELGA. This means that the state budget, the Greek taxpayer, had the opportunity and obviously did well, we as a government did well, to support our farmers with significant additional resources.
This does not mean, however, that we should not proceed to a revision of the ELGA regulation, which should now respond more accurately, I would say, to the new climatic data. But let us discuss this in more detail tomorrow.
However, in conclusion, Greece is a big beneficiary and all the Greek demands, which were submitted in the context of the revision of the Multinational Financial Framework, were finally accepted.
George Papakonstantinou (ACTION 24): Mr. Prime Minister, I want to take you back to domestic news. You have said that no one should question the government’s determination to implement reforms. One of the reforms concerns the non-state, non-profit universities, where there are reactions with student occupations and destruction.
At the same time we see an attempt by the opposition to politically cover this kind of reactions and I would like your comment on this, as well as on the fact that the University of Patras, for example, did not participate in this “shield” that was created in order not to lose the semester and not to lose the exams.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Everyone will be held accountable. The legal framework is very clear and the Ministry will do its job to point out to university authorities what they need to do to comply with the law and to serve – I believe – what we all want in the first place: not to miss the exams. And I’m glad because almost all universities are moving in that direction and because there seems to be a de-escalation in this wave of student occupations as well.
From there on, the establishment of non-state, non-profit universities was the cornerstone of New Democracy’s programme. No one should be surprised, because we are legislating in that direction. We will not back down. The draft bill will become state law by the end of February. It will be put on public consultation very soon. Obviously we will listen, we will consult, we will adjust provisions of the bill.
However, the basic core does not change. And I want to reiterate that this plan is not only about non-state, non-profit universities, it is also about the public university itself, which has been significantly strengthened under the New Democracy government, and we will continue to move in this direction.
Deutsche Welle: Thank you, Prime Minister. There’s a real chance Donald Trump will be back in the White House after the US election. Does that concern you, given some of the remarks that he’s made about NATO and the US continued support? But also, can Europe stand alone in supporting Ukraine? If you have a Trump administration that rolls back on US support for Ukraine.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me repeat what I have already said, that I don’t think it is appropriate for European leaders, for any leader for that matter, to make any comment regarding a democratic process in another country. And I’m speaking of the United States. We will adjust, we will work with whoever the American people choose to elect as their next president. And I think we demonstrated by reaching a decision to support Ukraine with €50 billion that we can have the common resolve to support Ukraine. And we’re also sending a signal, I think, to American legislators that the financial support for Ukraine is now more important than ever. Thank you.