Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ Press Conference upon the completion of the European Council in Brussels

Georgia Skitzi (ERT): Mr. Prime Minister, if I asked you to make an assessment of the European Council, what would you single out? For example, there was an emphasis on geopolitics, on defence, but also on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. What is your comment on these and what other issues were discussed?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Ms Skitzi, I would like to focus on three points which I think need some special attention. The first, on the occasion of the debate that is taking place on the ongoing European support for Ukraine: A level of discussion has now been initiated which concerns the strengthening of Europe’s strategic autonomy. In other words, its ability to invest more in European defence, which is becoming imperative, given the geopolitical crises that we are facing.

And I would say that this is a new addition to the debate that we are having, mainly because for the first time we are starting to ‘touch’, without going into the details, the issue of financing this common European effort, which is so necessary. At least that is what we are all saying in the discussions we are having. Consequently, the possibility of examining alternative ways of financing a major joint European effort to strengthen defence is, I believe, now on the table.

Greece – I said this in my statement upon my arrival here – is in favour of this option, possibly through the issuance of Eurobonds, which will be destined, however, exclusively for strengthening the defence of Europe. Enabling us, of course, to strengthen our defence industry, the European defence industry, so that we are not forced to always have to make major purchases outside the European Union.

The second point I would like to stress is that we have managed, after a great deal of effort and after five months essentially, to formulate a new framework of conclusions about what is happening in Gaza. A framework which openly calls for a humanitarian ceasefire leading to a permanent ceasefire, obviously this ceasefire accompanied by the release of the hostages. But it also – I would say – holds Israel to account, saying clearly that an invasion of Rafah must be avoided, which could lead to an even more widespread humanitarian crisis.

And I think it is very important that as the European Union, united, we send this message: that the protection of civilians in the Gaza Strip is a central priority for the European Union right now.

I also think it is important that we keep repeating in every discussion the argument that the only definitive solution to the Palestinian issue is the creation of two states, and the way in which we will get to the discussions to launch such a solution – which we have not been able to do for many decades – is still open.

Finally, I want to focus on the fact that we have discussed the issues concerning the primary sector and our farmers. And at the European Council level we recognise the need to reduce European bureaucracy in relation to the green transition and, of course, to boost the income of our farmers and to facilitate this transition, which nobody is denying. However, some people may question, and rightly so, the speed with which this should take place.

Maria Psara (STAR): Mr. Prime Minister, first of all, allow me a follow up question on Eurobonds. Because I wanted to ask you after yesterday’s debate, how likely is a joint borrowing, even if it is exclusively for European defence? We saw in the past how many days and how many months it took for the Covid Recovery Fund.

And a second question in relation to the tweet of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy which surprised us yesterday. He was talking about agreements that you made when you went to Odessa or assistance from Greece to the country’s air defence. What agreements have you reached, Prime Minister? And will we protect Ukraine’s air defence?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: No deal, Ms Psara. It is something that we have made absolutely clear. It would not be possible, after all, for me to go to Ukraine and secretly sign an agreement. These are not serious matters.

But I will reiterate that Greece continues to firmly support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, but without in any way questioning the operational capability of our Greek Armed Forces. This is something that is obvious and certainly applies to the issues of air defence, which are so sensitive.

Now, to your first question about Eurobonds, I will just say this: when we agreed on the Recovery Fund, in the summer of 2020, several months before that many countries were saying that there was no way this would ever happen. I will remind you that we were the first to send a letter then, together with other European countries, and we were the first to put this concept of joint European borrowing on the table to finance the recovery after Covid. And many countries said at the time that this was out of the question. The same thing may happen now.

What I can tell you, and which is something that I found interesting, is that several countries that one might have initially classified as among the more restrained countries, have expressed an initial interest in exploring such options, and I see this as a positive development.

Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1 and AMNA): Mr. Prime Minister, let me take you to the economic sector, a little bit of domestic news. High prices remain, despite whatever measures you are taking on many levels, not only supermarkets, but also electricity.

My first question concerns how the government assesses the effectiveness of these measures and whether they are actually relieving the income of millions of Greeks, Greek households. Whether there will be a follow-up and continuity in all this, as it is a dynamic phenomenon, high prices persist.

And because in five days the Cabinet meeting of March will take place, you will then be asked to approve the minimum wage proposal. Can you tell us where that will end up?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me correct you, first of all, on the issue of electricity you will also recognise that significant progress has been made. We have a strong downward trend in electricity prices, which is also due to the intervention that we have made, which facilitates competition and transparency in electricity pricing.

Beyond that, we have made no secret of the fact that we are very concerned about the phenomenon of high prices. It is the first issue that concerns citizens. I will not repeat here all the measures we have taken to reduce the extent of the phenomenon. Let me just say that, in addition to the temporary measures, such as the interventions that have been made right now regarding the operation of the market, the anti-inflation basket of groceries during the Orthodox Lent, the permanent response to high prices is a permanent increase in wages, so that we can finally reach the target of having a minimum wage of 950 euros at the end of our four-year term and an average wage of 1,500 euros. And of course I understand that there is a distance between now and when wages will increase, because prices have increased, but the minimum wage has not yet increased.

I will not tell you how much the minimum wage will increase, apart from the fact that it will be above 800 euros. I will only tell you that our aim is to be able to significantly boost the disposable income of Greeks who are paid the minimum wage, which also includes many other benefits, without at the same time creating inflationary dynamics in the economy, which will result to the inflation problem being with us for longer than we expect.

Be patient a little longer. You will hear the Government’s proposals on the minimum wage at the Cabinet meeting that will take place on Wednesday.

Giannis Kantelis (SKAI): Good afternoon, I would also like to insist on the domestic news, as there is a very intense political debate in the country about the Tempi train crash, with the opposition claiming that the government is trying to cover up the specific issue and there is also criticism from the opposition regarding your absence from Parliament during the debate.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, just the fact, Mr. Kantelis, that you acknowledge that there is an intense political debate around the issue of Tempi, I think that is not a good development. Because under no circumstances should a national tragedy of such magnitude be politicised or – to be more precise – be partisan.

I remember that in other great national tragedies, we as the New Democracy party never followed this route. And I wonder what those who talk about a cover-up are exactly referring to? Justice is doing its job much more quickly than it has in the past, and I believe that this is something that cannot in any way be questioned. One only has to look at the fact that there is a large number of defendants in this case and the adjudication of the case seems to be moving at a very fast pace.

So I would advise all not to engage in political speculation on the Tempi issue. Let’s leave justice to do its work unhindered. Ultimately, justice will decide who is responsible. No one is a priori guilty, no one is a priori innocent in this case.

However, the continuous effort to gain a temporary party political benefit over the tragedy of Tempi, apart from the fact that, in my opinion, it is not correct, I believe that in the end it will not be of any political benefit to those who seek it.

From the very first moment, I bowed and we all bowed our heads in respect, especially to the memory of the dead and to the justified pain of the relatives, we said two things: Let the truth shine and only justice can finally deliver the truth.

I don’t think anyone expected from a parliamentary committee of inquiry, if you look at the atmosphere that prevailed during the parliamentary debate, that we would really be able to make sense of it. And of course it is our job, the job of the government, to ensure that this never happens again. That our trains are truly modern and safe.

And we have worked a lot in that direction. In the coming weeks you can expect some even more specific announcements and an account of all the interventions we have made recently – working silently and methodically – to make our trains completely safe.

Giannis Christakos (MEGA): Good afternoon, Mr. Prime Minister. I wanted to ask you the following: we have seen polls, the latest, the recent polls of the last two days, and it seems that the government has a significant drop compared to the previous polls, of course, and a dissatisfaction of citizens on issues ranging from everyday life, high prices and even the serious Bill on state universities.

Do you believe, I wanted to ask you, that the government has lost its stride regarding this picture? And to make a connection, if I may, because we have European elections: you have announced the first official 20 names of the European Parliament candidates’ list. What do they signify and when will we also have the final list?

And finally, as you’re already leaving for Canada, can you tell us a few words about the trip there and the firefighting aircraft. Thank you very much.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Mr Christakos, our government is rapidly advancing a bold programme of major reforms and changes in Greek society. I fully understand why these major changes may cause both conflict and controversy, and sometimes temporary attrition. These are things that are to be expected, but I have never been a fan of stagnation.

On the contrary, I believe that governments must act and sometimes bear the temporary costs of their policy choices. But we are doing nothing more than strictly implementing our pre-election programme.

Beyond that, I also see the polls. Some show some attrition, some show less attrition. These are, you know, things to be expected. But I would say to you that – and in view of the European elections – the government has never, and the New Democracy party, in this case, has never rested on its large superiority in opinion polls. And will never invoke, in view of the European elections, the great electoral victory it achieved in the double elections of 2023.

For us, I have said it many times, the ballot box is empty. We will convince people why this election is so important. We are interested in a strong turnout at the elections. People are voting on issues that affect their daily lives and also on Europe. And that is why the political message that will come out of the European ballot is important for us and we will treat these elections, as I have said many times, as any national elections.

From there on, you will have to wait a little longer for the European candidates’ list. Already today the first 28 names have been announced, there are 14 more to go. By the beginning of April, the compilation of the European candidates’ list will be completed, and will fight the battle for the European elections in a coordinated manner.

Finally, on Canada, I think it’s an important visit for two reasons: first of all, it’s been a long time since a Greek Prime Minister has been to this very important country. We have very strong economic ties with Canada. Important Canadian companies operate in our country. Greek businesses are investing in Canada. And of course Canada has a very, very dynamic Greek community in both Montreal and Toronto. I chose to be there for the March 25th (Greek Independence Day) celebrations and I will attend the big parade that will take place in Montreal, together with Prime Minister Trudeau.

And of course it will be an opportunity to remind our fellow citizens, who reside in Canada and who are eligible to vote in our country, that for the first time there is the possibility of postal voting. And to ask them to register on the relevant platform, so that we can increase participation in this electoral process with as many expatriate Greeks as possible.

After all, as you have seen, there are important expatriate representatives from Canada, from the United States, from Australia and from Europe on our European candidates’ list.

Maria Aroni (OPEN): Thank you Mr. Prime Minister. My question is about Turkey. We know that some countries, like Germany for example, but also others like Italy, wanted to have a paragraph in the conclusions of the EU Summit concerning Turkey, with an emphasis on the positive agenda. In the end, we have been informed that this paragraph was not adopted. I would like to ask whether there was even a brief discussion on Turkey today and why this paragraph did not pass.

And one last question again on Turkey: did you discuss today or ever at the leaders’ level the issue of Turkey’s circumvention of Russian sanctions? Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The issue of Turkey was not discussed in the plenary session of the European Council. There were some discussions on the margins of the Council and I think it was agreed that this issue will be discussed at the European Council in April, that is in a few weeks from now. So that there is more time and there is also the possibility of coming up with a text that everyone can agree on. And when I mean everyone, I am obviously referring to Cyprus and Greece, which I would say are the most directly concerned.

Therefore, the debate in the plenary session of the European Council is postponed until April.

Maria Aroni (OPEN): Did you discuss the issue of sanctions?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: This will also be discussed in the discussion we will have on the framework of the strategic relationship between the European Union and Turkey. Thank you very much.