Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview on “Times Now” TV station with journalist Navika Kumar

Navika Kumar: Thank you for joining me, Prime Minister Mitsotakis. Welcome to India.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you so much for having me.

Navika Kumar: It’s a pleasure that you’re in India. The first Greek Prime Minister to be here in the last 15 years. And the strategic level of India and Greece’s relationship after Prime Minister Modi visited you last year, the first Indian Prime Minister to do so in 40 years. So what’s the distance that you’ve travelled with Prime Minister Modi and India over the last several months?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, I’m very happy to be able to visit India as Prime Minister of Greece. You are right to point out that it has been 16 years since a Greek Prime Minister visited India. And, of course, it had been 40 years since an Indian Prime Minister had visited Greece. So I was very happy when Prime Minister Modi decided to visit us last August. And I think that visit was the opportunity to really put our bilateral relationship on a completely different track. We signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement.

My visit to India was an opportunity to take stock of the progress that we had made, but also to chart the course towards a much stronger, much more productive relationship between our two countries with many deliverables on many different fronts, which I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to discuss.

But I truly feel that this is an opportunity to take our bilateral relationship to a different level. We have found ourselves in a very, I would say, fortuitous circumstance. The Indian economy is growing very fast. The Greek economy is growing very fast as we are finally permanently exiting a very difficult period for the country.

My government has a strong mandate to deliver big reforms for the second term, and we have also reestablished a true, I would say, a true personal contact with the Prime Minister, which I very much appreciate.

Navika Kumar: You touched upon the fact that it’s your second term. Prime Minister Modi is completing his second term, and we’re in the middle of a very noisy run up to the third term elections for Prime Minister Modi. How important is personal chemistry in diplomacy in building a relationship with countries? And what has your relationship with Prime Minister Modi been like over the past few interactions?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, I think that’s a very good question because I think it’s a very important question. Personal chemistry is very important, and it starts with the fundamental relationship of trust. Of course, countries need to see their interests being aligned. But on top of that, I think if there is a good personal chemistry, we can drive the change at a much faster pace, especially if, as is the case, we’re both convinced regarding the strategic nature of this partnership.

So without interfering in Indian domestic politics, I think things look pretty good for the Prime Minister in light of the upcoming elections. And I’m sure we’ll have an opportunity to meet again soon and to further develop this relationship.

Navika Kumar: Mr. Prime Minister, we’ve seen trade relations increasing at a fast pace between Greece and India. From 2021 levels of about $615,000,000. It’s now, I think, $1.9 billion in just about three years. To what do you assign this growth? Is this the special chemistry relationship or is it just the economies on both sides?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think it’s the fundamentals of two countries and two economies that are growing and that are now rediscovering their complementarity. And this should not just be about the trade itself. We’ve set a target with Prime Minister Modi to double our trade by 2030. I personally think that this can be achieved earlier. This is also about investments. Investments by Greek companies in India, investments by Indian companies to Greece.

I can tell you, having met a lot of Indian business people, that there is tremendous interest by Indian companies to invest in Greece. And I think that this is natural. If you just look at the map, Greece is the obvious entry point for Indian businesses into the European market. And I think after Brexit, Indian companies are looking for a new anchor in Europe. And Greece could very well play that role. The ‘IMEC’ Corridor, which is a visionary, generational project connecting the Indo-Pacific, India, the Middle East and Europe. Greece has a critical role to play in terms of our logistics infrastructure, our ports, our trains, our energy networks, our data infrastructure.

So there is, I think, tremendous complementarity between our two economies. And again, the fact that we both find ourselves on a high growth track makes the opportunities that much more obvious.

My job in India is to educate the Indian business community about the opportunities in Greece and to also educate the general public about the progress that we have made. Because a lot of people may still think of Greece as a country with a problematic economy, and that was true, maybe five years ago. But now the Greek economy is growing at twice the pace of the eurozone average. Our fiscal position is very strong. We have a lot of European funds that are directed towards Greece to complement private investments. We have streamlined our processes and made the regulatory environment much more friendly for foreign entrepreneurs. And we already have Indian companies in Greece. One of your leading airport operators is building the new airport on my home island of Crete. We have investments in agribusiness, in pharmaceuticals, and I think this is just the beginning.

Navika Kumar: You’ve also said that India’s gateway to Europe is going to be Greece. And the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor is an important part of your master plan ‘Greece 2.0’, as well as India’s dream of connecting itself with Europe, with the Middle East. How much progress has been made considering the fact that the announcement was made with a great deal of fanfare? But do you see Turkey throwing in a spanner in the works because they said no ‘IMEC’ without Turkey being involved? Is that a roadblock?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, first of all, I think that this is a very visionary project that will not be completed in a year, two years or even five years, because it requires significant infrastructure investment, and it also requires an overall condition of peace in the Middle East. And of course what happened, the tragedy of what happened on October 7, and of course now the war in Gaza has maybe redirected priorities elsewhere. But I still believe that, if anything, now ‘IMEC’ is that much more relevant, because at the end of the day, only countries that have peaceful relations, trade and have economic ties. So looking into the future, past what is currently happening in the Middle East, I do see a lot of value in this project.

Now, I don’t want to talk about the role of countries that may not see themselves as being part of this plan, but at the end of the day, if you look at ‘IMEC’ the way it is being designed, there needs to be a shipping corridor that complements a physical corridor. And Greek ships have a big role to play because we’re the largest shipping nation. So at some point, goods will reach Greek ports or European ports in general, and we want to make sure that we have the right infrastructure to welcome these goods.

And this is not just about goods, it is about data, it is about energy, and it’s also about people to people connections. Because there’s one thing we can do very, very quickly, way before ‘IMEC’ is actually put in place. And that is to establish, for example, a direct flight connection between India and Greece. Because I see huge opportunities in tourism, both of course tourism from India which is a preferred destination for Greek tourists. But think about the potential of Indians travelling to Greece. It’s a six hour flight. Greece is popular for weddings, islands such as Santorini. We try to encourage your film industry to film more in Greece, to make Greece better known. But the potential for Indians to discover Greece in this particular context is huge.

Navika Kumar: Absolutely. And Santorini has been a destination for Bollywood for a long time and has showcased tourism in Greece.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: What I’m saying is that it’s not just Santorini. There are many other places where Bollywood can film and many other places which are worth visiting. Many other places, for that matter, which are great to have a wedding for those Indians who choose to have a wedding in Greece.

Navika Kumar: Well, yes, destination weddings, but I don’t know how that’s going to fly because the Prime Minister is also trying to portray Indian destinations for Indian weddings. So you have competition.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I don’t think we can ever compete with Indian destinations for Indian weddings. We just want our small share of the pie.

Navika Kumar: But let me also ask you the question and the last statement that you made about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. You’ve been in total condemnation of Russia’s move against Ukraine, but you also made a statement yesterday that India has the heft and Prime Minister Modi is someone who can actually influence the manner in which this conflict can be resolved. Can you give us a sense of what you think India can do, even at this stage, and how this conflict can be resolved? And are there any differences due to the fact that India has played a very balanced role, it’s kept its energy requirement, cheap energy requirements that Russia has fulfilled, along with the humanitarian care for Ukraine. How do you think we can take this further?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, the point that I made yesterday in my speech is that this is not just a European war. Τhis war has broader consequences. And for a democracy such as India that has every interest in maintaining the rule-based international order. What happens in Ukraine actually matters. It matters because the Ukraine war was a brutal effort to change, to redraw maps, lines on the map by using force. This is something which in principle should not be accepted and not just condemned. But we have been, by we I mean the European Union, we have been supporting Ukraine because at the end of the day, when this war comes to an end, because all wars come to an end, we want it to happen by Ukraine being in a strong position and not in a weak position.

So what I’ve said is that again, maybe countries, for their own reasons, which I fully, fully understand, have taken a more balanced approach, when the time comes, they need to throw their negotiating weight in helping us resolve this. But again, for us, it was never a question of keeping equal distance between the two parties. There’s an aggressor and there’s a country that has been a victim of this aggression.

But for me it was more a recognition of the fact that India really matters on the global stage and people look at India as a big global player. What you’ve done at the G20 was remarkable, overall, you are the fifth largest economy in the world and you are becoming the leading voice of the Global South. So it’s important that India has a view and an opinion on these issues.

Navika Kumar: Let me ask you a direct question on personal relationships and diplomacy. And let me ask you, you’ve been at the helm of affairs for the last several years, your second term in Greece. How do you see India on the world stage in terms of its stature, in terms of its voice. And in terms of the manner in which, let’s say, Europe and America look at India as a voice from the East.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, first of all, let me make two points. India is a democracy and it is admirable that you have a well functioning democracy with 1.4 billion people. I don’t think we frequently recognise in the West the complexities of what it means to have democracy at this scale. It has also proven that democracies can deliver for the people in terms of what has happened.

I’ve been coming to India for many, many years. The progress that you have made is remarkable. Some of the things that India has done, especially on the digital side, bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, providing them with basic infrastructure, this is remarkable. And this has raised the stature of India as a leading voice of the global south. And in that sense I think there is a lot of respect for what you have achieved.

And when I look at the relationship between India and Europe, I see again natural complementarity. I hope that at some point we will be able to agree on a mutually beneficial free trade agreement. I think it will be a milestone in terms of strengthening the economic ties between our two countries.

And I think that also the G20, the fact that you managed to include the African Union in this debate, gave what we call the global South a new visibility and a new impetus.

And one more thing: we’ve been advocating reform of the Security Council. India deserves a permanent seat on the Security Council. We cannot talk about multilateral institutions without recognising the fact that the world has changed significantly since these were created more than 70 years ago.

Navika Kumar: Also the fact that Greece has supported India’s bid at the United Nations Security Council, but also in terms of what is an emotional issue for India, the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. Greece has often supported India on this count and you’ve had problems with countries like Turkey which have taken this issue to the UNGA and stood with other countries. How do you see this region, India-Pakistan, you know, the way democracy has functioned in India vis a vis the other countries around.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: You know our positions and they have not changed. Again, this is also relevant for what’s happening in the eastern Mediterranean, you know our sometimes complicated relations with Turkey. What we’ve said is, at the end of the day, there is one playbook by which we can resolve this issue and that is international law. And in our case, in particular, the Laws of the Seas. And India has supported us also in this fundamental premise. So without going into much detail into the regional complexities of your relationships with your neighbouring countries, what I can tell you is that Greece has always had a very principled approach to these issues and we’ll continue to do so.

Navika Kumar: Mr. Prime Minister, Houthis and the Red Sea attacks on ships, how do you see this entire issue? You’re also at the receiving end. And how can this be handled better by countries coming in together? And is that part of your Indo-Greek strategic relationship?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think we have a common interest in making sure that trade routes are not disrupted. 80% of India’s trade towards Europe goes through the Red Sea. We are the largest shipping nation in the world, so we also have a broader interest in making sure that freedom of navigation is not compromised. And that is why Greece is participating in a European operation called ‘Aspides’, in coordination with ‘Prosperity Shield’. And we also recognise the important role that India can play in terms of cooperating together to ensure that no one can blackmail us by firing missiles indiscriminately at ships, and I’m of course referring to what’s happening by the Houthis in the Red Sea.

So there I see our interest as being fully aligned and we certainly hope that we can play an important role with other European countries, with the US, in ensuring that ships can travel safely through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. But it also highlights, I think in the long term, the importance of IMEC as an alternative supply route which will further foster trade to and from the Indo-Pacific towards Europe.

Navika Kumar: Prime Minister Mitsotakis, I want to ask you what next for Indo-Greek ties? How is this strategic partnership going to go forward? What are your expectations and what are the milestones that you’ve set?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, we have short term and longer term milestones. Let me point to one short-term milestone which we have jointly agreed with Prime Minister Modi. We want a mobility and migration agreement as soon as possible. We want to give the opportunity to young Indians who want to work in Greece to be able to do so. We already have labour shortages in sectors such as construction, agriculture, and tourism. And we want to make sure that we have an agreement in place that will offer people skills, have them work in Greece, then they can return to India and possibly even vice versa. So this is one short term goal we have set.

I would say in the short to medium term, I would like to see many more Indian companies invest in Greece and leverage the opportunities we discussed. I can tell you again, I see tremendous interest. We’re open for business. I said yesterday, I will repeat it again today: Greece is India’s gateway to Europe and I’m sure we will see very concrete results in that space.

Of course, we’re also cooperating on issues such as defence. We’re both big defence spenders. I think we need to bring our defence industries closer, our armed forces closer, joint exercises, learning from each other. This is also an area we have agreed we can leverage.

And, of course, we also have the challenges of climate change. How do we make the green transition happen, but also how do we address issues of climate related disasters? So adaptation, effective adaptation policies. I think we need an alliance of countries that are affected by climate change today and that need to think smartly about cost effective adaptation solutions to climate events which are already taking place as we speak.

Navika Kumar: Very well said. And India is committed to climate change and policies towards that. In the end, what fascinates you about India and have you tried Indian cuisine?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: One of the main reasons I always love travelling to India is because I get real Indian food. And of course, you know better than me, there is not one Indian cuisine.

Navika Kumar: What’s your favourite dish?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m actually a big fan of Indian, although I love my tandooris, I’m a big fan of good Indian vegetarian food, which I sampled yesterday at the Prime Minister’s mansion in a wonderful lunch he offered us.

But I’ve been coming to India since 1993. I’m fascinated by India, and the one thing that we have in common is an understanding that Greece and India are two ancient civilizations. They’ve contacted each other and have exchanged ideas, and wisdom for thousands of years. And for me, every trip to India is an opportunity to discover something new. And I think this affinity between our civilizations is also, I would say, the foundation upon which this relationship can further develop.

Navika Kumar: Well, on that note, thank you, Prime Minister, thank you very much for speaking to me and Times Network. And thank you for your visit to India. And we do hope you’ll take back with you some good memories.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes and hopefully we’ll also have and again encourage your viewers to come and visit Greece, and spend time in Greece to sort of appreciate Greek culture, Greek cuisine, beautiful Greek landscape. We hope to see many more Indian visitors come to Greece.

Navika Kumar: We will do that and very much hope that this entire interview squad is in Greece for another interview.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Very good. I’m sure they’ll be happy to join us.

Navika Kumar: Absolutely. Thank you very much. Fantastic speaking.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you so much.