Statements by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President of the European Parliament Roberta Metsola after their meeting at Maximos Mansion

I had the pleasure of welcoming the President of the European Parliament in Athens, in the context of her first official visit to our country in this capacity. And, of course, we had the opportunity to discuss all the issues of concern to Europe, as our cooperation is always close and constructive.

After all, we are less than four months away from the European elections, which will take place in our country on June 9th. This is a key moment, as it is then that the correlations will be formed which will confront the challenges facing Europe over the next five years. Geopolitical challenges, economic challenges, technological challenges, against which Europe must have its own answers. That is why it is so important to build strategic autonomy and to forge a common path for its Member States.

The key to this democratic process, as we had the opportunity to discuss with the President, is obviously the participation of citizens. And I am particularly glad that in this direction, essentially through the first law of our second term of government, the postal vote was established in Greece. So all citizens, not only those abroad but also those at home, will be able to participate in the electoral process if for any reason they cannot or find it difficult to come to the polling stations. The relevant platform opened yesterday and is simple, easy and fast.

I believe that this is a choice that shows responsibility, a choice that encourages popular expression, while strengthening the representative institutions within the European family, along with, of course, dialogue on our common problems. A dialogue which must always be conducted responsibly and certainly beyond petty partisan considerations, which can often create false impressions, and beyond myths that lead to unsubstantiated conclusions.

I insist on this, as Greece in recent years has often been at the centre of slander, sometimes with non-existent cases – such as that of little Maria in Evros, which turned out to be a staging of unscrupulous migrant smugglers – and sometimes with manipulation and allegations about the rule of law, which is stronger than ever in our country. And these are actions that have so disturbed our country that they have to receive a harsh response from justice itself, from the Supreme Court itself.

And on the other hand, it seems at least paradoxical that some forces in our country, which once aligned themselves with the most anti-European, the most anti-populist slogans, should suddenly appear as defenders of democratic values and justice.

I will say it once again, first of all we had the opportunity to discuss it with the President: the final judge of the quality of the rule of law in a European country is the European Commission, which has both the impartiality and the objectivity to be able to monitor the progress of each Member State on these very crucial issues. And, to be honest, the dangers for Europe lie elsewhere and they must be condemned by the vote of Europeans in the forthcoming elections.

We respond to these voices with the expansion of rights and the strengthening of pluralism, with the latest example being the recent institutionalisation of equality in civil marriage with a significant consensus – the initiative was supported by five parties in the Greek Parliament. It is a reform for freedom, a reform for equality, a reform for justice that confirms our country’s place at the heart of Europe, while at the same time reminding us of our commitment to the principles of open democracy.

Indeed, they are policies that are recognised by our partners and by reputable media. It is no coincidence that following the European Commission’s positive report on the rule of law, “The Economist” recently ranked our country among the top 20 countries in the world in terms of the quality of our democracy. Therefore, some people should not worry, democracy always lives and progresses in its birthplace.

With the President, it was natural to discuss the big issue of migration, the need for a common European attitude towards the illegal trafficking of people. It is an attitude of solidarity between the Member States with a balanced and fair distribution of responsibilities. And it is a direction which is already favoured by the political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council on the new Pact on Immigration and Asylum, something for which the President has personally fought hard. This is a crucial issue for our country, which remains in an area of multiple crises, which are obviously present and were not absent from our agenda today.

After all, it will soon be two years since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. At the same time, everyone’s attention is still focused on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, which has reached a turning point, four months after the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel.

Moreover, I did not hide my concern from the President about the spread of regional instability in the Red Sea, where the constant attacks by Houthi rebels threaten world trade and of course endanger our ships. And I say ‘our ships’ because Greece has the largest fleet of any country in terms of merchant shipping and that is why Greece immediately came out in favour of coordinated action by taking over the tactical command of the European defence operation ‘Aspides’ from the Larissa headquarters.

It is an initiative of European responsibility, from which our country could not be absent, as a country belonging to the narrow European core but also as a strong force for peace and stability on the eastern borders of our continent.

And that is precisely why we had the opportunity to discuss with the President one of the important issues of the next European elections: how Europe will acquire a real dimension of strategic autonomy. What it means to have an independent and autonomous defence policy, a strong defence arm.

How to boost Europe’s competitiveness. How are we going to face challenges, such as the mobilisations of our farmers, who will be in the centre of Athens today – as they have been in many other capitals – demonstrating and expressing many demands, which I think are fair, about the speed with which our primary sector is moving towards the green transition.

These are all issues that we will have to deal with in the run-up to the European elections and will certainly concern the next European Parliament.

Therefore I hope, dear Roberta, that everything we have been discussing will also become the subject of electoral reflection in the run-up to June 9th and that this electoral period will be a fruitful period in which we will really discuss the future of our common European family.

I want to thank you again for our productive collaboration and you are always welcome in Greece and in Athens, which I know you love so much. Again, welcome.

Roberta Metsola: Thank you very much and good morning. I am delighted to be here today in beautiful Athens in this special year, as we will celebrate 50 years since the return of Democracy in Greece. I am very proud to say there are few better places in the world to be.

I would like to thank the people of this great country and you personally, Prime Minister, for your leadership, for your commitment and your dedication. It has not been easy, but you rallied to exit the EU enhanced surveillance and reduce the debt ratio.You reformed and you handled crises thrown your way. And you did that in the midst of the energy transition, natural disasters, war and global economic slowdown. And that is no small feat.

On the 9th June, Greeks and another 400 million other Europeans will be called upon to vote in the European elections. And this is why I am currently visiting European Union member states to listen, to show the value of Europe, to increase awareness about the European elections. I am here to encourage people to vote, particularly young people, where those here aged also 17, can for the first time do just that. And now that postal voting is a reality it is easier and faster than ever to participate in democracy.

After the 9th June, there will be 720 members of the European Parliament, 21 from Greece. Who those people are and what they stand for is in your hands. They will shape policies and adopt legislation that affects all of Greece and Europe. And it is up to you Greek citizens to vote.

With the Prime Minister we also used this opportunity to discuss a number of other pressing issues as we’ve just heard. These included the situation in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine, as well as our support for farmers and the agricultural sector. And here it is important to address this pan-European situation and make it clear that we intend to leave nobody behind.

As the Prime Minister said, we also discussed the rule of law. The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution and I understand that the Greek Supreme Court issued an opinion on this yesterday. We will of course analyse this and we will reflect on what is said.

But irrespective, I also want to be clear that we must treat all member states the same. And this is why we insisted as a Parliament, on an annual rule of law report from the Commission that puts all member states under the same scrutiny. Why have we been asking for this? And we’ve done this for many years now, because we want to discuss the issues honestly and we need to be careful not to politicise or weaponize important discussions on the rule of law.

And I also want to acknowledge the important steps that Greece has made on transparency, on equality and on combating racism. I am grateful for the assurances given by Prime Minister Mitsotakis and I am confident that in our discussions going forward we’ll be able to move very much forward together.

Last word. Let me very much congratulate Greece for legislating under your leadership, Kyriakos, for marriage equality. This was an important decision on our shared journey on strengthening people’s rights, and I thank you.