Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ interview on CTV television network, with journalist Vassy Kapelos

Vassy Kapelos: Mr Prime Minister, pleasure to welcome you to Canada, and thank you so much for your time today.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, the pleasure is mine.

Vassy Kapelos: This is the first time a Greek Prime Minister has visited Canada in almost 41 years, in four decades. Why now?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, it’s been a long time. I guess that’s one good reason. We’re very close partners, we work together on numerous geopolitical issues. But on top of that, there are two additional reasons why I thought this was the right time to come. First of all, it’ll be an opportunity for me to celebrate the Independence Day with the Canadian Prime Minister and to engage with a very dynamic and active Greek-Canadian community. We’re so proud of our Greek diaspora in Canada, and I feel that it was my obligation to come and visit them, especially on such an important day.

On top of everything else, for the first time, we will give the opportunity to our diaspora, those who have the right to vote in Greece, to actually use postal voting to participate in the European elections. So it will be an opportunity also to make that case and to ask them to participate in an election which is quite important for the future of the country.

The second reason is because I think this is the right time to further strengthen our economic ties. As you know, Greece has been making, I think, a rather impressive come back economically. We’ve left the crisis years behind us. I feel this is a good time to make the case also to the Canadian business community, that they should take a good look at Greece and consider deploying capital.

Vassy Kapelos: I do want to talk about the economic relationship and those economic ties, in particular zeroing on the trading relationship, especially to start off with, with respect to CETA, the free trade agreement between the EU and Canada. There’s been some big stumbling blocks lately, namely just a few days ago the Senate in France voted against ratifying it. When will Greece ratify CETA?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, hopefully we’ll ratify it. Assuming we still have some outstanding issues regarding some products with geographical origin or a particular natural product such as ‘feta’, for example. We want to make sure that feta cheese, when it is sold in Canada, is the actual feta cheese. And only Greece technically has the right to produce feta. But I think once these issues are sorted out, we’ll be very happy to ratify the agreement.

In principle, I’m very much in favour of these types of free trade agreements, although I understand that there are some difficulties with other countries. But we’ll sort out our differences. Then hopefully we’ll also use this as an opportunity to ramp up our trade, because if you look at our bilateral trade, I don’t think it is where it could be. So this will also be an opportunity to strengthen our overall trade relationship.

Vassy Kapelos: You are, though, as you said, you are in principle supportive of CETA. And the reason I ask very specifically is because there is growing sentiment in certain aspects of other countries, particularly in the case of France, for example, from farmers, about liberalised trade and negative impacts that they perceive having.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: In principle, I think that if we wanted to sort out issues which are sensitive to all involved parties, free trade agreements work for everyone. But again, for example, we have a very sensitive issue when it comes to products which are Greek origin, which, according to European law, only Greece can produce. We feel that the same sort of rules need to apply in the context of a free trade agreement. So particular sensitivities need to be taken into consideration. But in this case, with Canada, we don’t have problems that we may have with other parts of the world where products may be imported into the European Union that don’t meet basic environmental standards. At a time when we’re imposing additional restrictions on our farmers, these trade deals need to be properly balanced.

Vassy Kapelos: So do I interpret from that that you feel as though your sense is that Canada’s environmental standards are as stringent, for example, as Greece’s?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, again, in our case, it’s particularly an issue of the products of origin. Canada is an advanced economy with particular environmental sensitivity. So, for example, we don’t have the same issues with Canada as we would have with Mercosur, or with the countries of Latin America, or with the countries in Africa.

Vassy Kapelos: Do you anticipate that the issues that you’re referencing will be resolved anytime soon? The reason I ask is you had a minister here last year and the year before. He made the same comment, essentially, “once those are resolved, we remain in support and we will ratify”. But that was two years ago.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, let’s hope that’s going to be one of the issues I’ll discuss with the Prime Minister, but again I don’t want this to monopolise our agenda. We have a very broad agenda. I do need to point out that Canadian companies have been active investors in Greece and they actually invested during the financial crisis. If they did so during the financial crisis, there is an additional reason why they would do so much more right now.

We also have Greek companies that are investing in Canada. For example, one of our leading industrial companies is building one of the biggest, if not the biggest, solar farm in Western Canada. So, as much as I’m interested in trade flows, I’m also interested in investment flows.

Vassy Kapelos: Why is that?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, because investments in Greece create good jobs. Of course, if there is a know-how that can be exported to Canada, for example, we are leaders when it comes to solar and wind energy, we use 50% of our electricity from wind and solar. Why not export that technology to Canada? One of the big challenges for Greece has been over the past years is to change the fabric of our economy and to make our economy more extrovert and more focused on innovation and value-added products and services. If we can cooperate on issues such as renewable energy in Canada, why not?

Vassy Kapelos: Has it been difficult to sell or pitch the message that Greece is not the country it was eight years ago, economically, that essentially the message you started off here today with, Greece is open for business, is a safe place to invest. Is it still challenging, essentially, to…

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I can tell you it’s much less challenging today than it was four years ago. The ‘Economist’ voted us ‘country of the year’ in 2023. Again, in one of these rankings, we make the biggest jump in terms of the improvement of the business environment. The Greek economy is growing at a much faster pace than the rest of the Eurozone. Our debt to GDP is decreasing at the fastest pace of any OECD country. Unemployment has dipped below 10%. Our borrowing costs are much lower than those of Italy, for example.

So there’s no doubt that we have put our macroeconomic house in order and that the economy is currently on what I believe is a sustainable high growth path that will last for years to come. If you look at the influx of foreign direct investment into Greece, it has been substantial, we go from record to record.

So part of my job while visiting Canada is to make that case obviously to the Canadian business community. I don’t expect everyone to be completely familiar with what has happened in Greece. And I’m sure that there’s still some preconception, some memories of Greece of the financial crisis. I want to make sure that I dispel any doubts and to make the clear case that Greece has turned the corner for good.

Vassy Kapelos: We talked about renewables and clean sources of energy. I know that’s been an especially pertinent discussion in Europe ever since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the transition away from Russian gas. We’ve had other European leaders here in Canada say if it were more available to them, they would be interested in Canada’s LNG, liquified natural gas. Is that the same for you?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: That’s the same for Greece. We are a big entry point for LNG. Not just for the Greek market, but also for the Balkans, for Eastern Europe. Theoretically, we could even supply Ukraine. We have a floating storage and regasification unit up in Northern Greece, which is coming up now. Of course, the point of this infrastructure is not just to serve the Greek market, but also to serve our neighbours towards the north.

So, in principle, yes, we are very interested in obtaining LNG at competitive prices. As fast as we go in terms of our renewal penetration, we will still need a reliable source of electricity. For us, for Greece, we don’t have nuclear. We’re practically moving away, completely moving away from coal. So that leaves natural gas for the foreseeable future as a significant source of energy for the production of electricity.

Vassy Kapelos: Is Canada, given the current geopolitical status of things, an ideal partner in that, do you think? Could it be an ideal partner?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Absolutely. Again, Canada is a country with which we share so many values. Again, as I pointed out at the beginning, the Greek-Canadian community serves as a natural bridge between our two countries. We’re cooperating with Canada on political issues, Ukraine, Gaza. I think we see eye to eye on many of the challenges that we face. Of course, it is up to the liberal democracies of the West to ensure that we have a common front against the Russian aggression. And Canada is an indispensable partner in this effort.

Vassy Kapelos: I want to ask about that front because right from the start, Greece has been unequivocally supportive of Ukraine. You recently travelled to Odessa, and there was a series of very troubling things that happened while you were there. Did that experience change or impart anything on your view of what’s happening and what has to happen in response to Russia’s aggression?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think it reinforced my belief that we need to support Ukraine in order to help the Ukraineans defend themselves. It is very clear that we need to do more in terms of assistance. We’ve made it very clear to the Ukraineans that we want to help. They know what we can do and what we cannot do. The same is true for many other European countries.

One of the topics that we are discussing at the European Council is how can we help Ukraine to make sure that they have the necessary equipment to defend themselves. For example, we’ve made pledges regarding shells, because they are short of artillery shells and we need to make sure that we help them in that direction.

But once you go to Ukraine, especially in Odessa, you understand that for us it may be just a few hours from what is a warzone -and we actually had the rather troubling experience of witnessing a missile explosion not too far from where we were in the Odessa port- but for those people, this is their everyday reality. We have an obligation as liberal Western democracies to stand up against the aggression and to make it very clear that any change of border through violence can, in principle, not be accepted.

Vassy Kapelos: Europe is very unified to a large degree on this issue. There is a large amount of aid currently stuck in the United States. How concerning is that to you?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is concerning, and I do hope that the US Congress is going to resolve this issue. We did our part. I think we’re also sending a signal to the US that they also need to overcome all these sometimes procedural delays and deliver when it comes to financial assistance.

It also took us some time, but we managed to reach a unanimous agreement to support Ukraine with 50 billion euros over the next four years. Τhis is a significant amount of money that keeps the Ukrainian economy functioning. I would hope that the US takes note of what has happened in Europe and that they will also step up to the plate and deliver the necessary assistance as soon as possible.

Vassy Kapelos: Greece, the US, Europe, and Canada are all key members, obviously, of NATO as well, which factors into this aspect of the discussion. There is a lot of conversation in this country about defence spending targets. Your country exceeds NATO’s defence spending target currently. Does that target matter in your view?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Of course, it does matter. We are spending, we’ve been spending, ever since we joined NATO, more than 2% of our GDP on defence. We have done it because we have our particular geographical and geopolitical challenges. But it is important for all other countries to reach the 2% target as quickly as possible.

Especially for European countries, I think this is imperative to send a signal that we will be able to defend ourselves and that we need to spend not just more, but also to be able to be smarter in terms of our defence spending. That, of course, also relates to being able to streamline the procurement rules when it comes to defence purchases. It means better cooperation amongst the European defence industries. But at the end of the day, NATO is only as strong as the sum of its parts. And the more every single country spends on defence, the stronger it will be.

Vassy Kapelos: You mentioned the imperative for Europe. Does the imperative, in your view, also exist for Canada? Because Canada does not yet even have a plan to get to 2%.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think that every NATO country should get to 2% as quickly as possible. Of course, I do understand there’s always a temptation not to spend money in defence and spend it on other priorities. But, in our case, we never had that luxury. We always spend more than 2% on defence, and then we also had to make sure we found enough money for our other budgetary items. But to the extent that this is a collective goal of the NATO alliance, I think it is important for all countries to accept it.

Vassy Kapelos: I’ll leave it on that note, Prime Minister. I’m out of time. Thank you very much.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you very much.