Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ meeting with Vice President of the European Commission Věra Jourová

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met this morning, at Maximos Mansion, with the Vice President of the European Commission for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová. The statements by the Prime Minister and the Vice President of the European Commission, at the beginning of their meeting, follow:

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Well, always a pleasure to welcome you to Athens, dear Věra. You’ve been coming at a time of significant geopolitical turbulence in the neighbourhood. Let me repeat how strongly we condemn the attacks launched by Iran against Israel. Any escalation right now would be a significant threat to regional stability and security. We continue to stand by Israel, but at the same time, we urge all sides to show the necessary restraint to avoid what could be a very dangerous further escalation.

Now, coming to our topics, we are just less than two months before the European elections, and I would like to thank you for the commitment you have shown towards highlighting the importance of protecting the integrity of the electoral process. Remember, we were together also at the Munich Security Conference highlighting the need for increased vigilance in a time when many actors with malign interests would like to interfere in our electoral process. This is an issue I’ve also raised at the level of the European Council, and I do hope that in the conclusions of the next Council, we will at least have a reference to the danger posed by misinformation, and in particular, the emerging danger of deep fakes.

Thank you very much for the work you’re also doing in that direction. Of course, as you know, regarding issues of rule of law, we continue to have excellent cooperation. I think significant progress has been made, which is also recognised by the Commission. We always take the recommendations in the annual rule of law report very, very seriously, and we try to comply to the best of our ability. But I’m happy about the progress that we have made, and our teams are always at your disposal to look into the details of the issues that you have raised and to make sure that we respond to the best of our ability. So again, thank you so much and welcome once more to Athens.

Věra Jourová: Thank you very much, Prime Minister. Also on behalf of my team, it’s a great pleasure and honour to be invited back here to your place. I wanted to start by congratulating you for a decisive victory in the elections, which enables me to continue our dialogue today.

Also, thank you for your engagement in the Munich Accord against the deep fakes being used in the political campaigns. I think it was a good moment we had in Munich with the big tech because their approach -we cannot help it- is quite key and has an influence on whether we will see free and fair elections and the campaign which will enable the people to cast their autonomous vote or whether we will have the campaign full of hidden manipulations. Of course, we want the first thing. I also address the European political parties to refrain from using the deep fakes.

Indeed, last time we had a very good debate. We also continue a very good and fruitful debate with your ministers on the topics of the rule of law. You mentioned the rule of law report. We are now preparing the edition to be published at the beginning of July.

I want to comment on the very good cooperation we have with the Greek authorities. You know that all four topics which we cover in the rule of law report are key for our democratic systems, be it justice and prosecution, be it the legislative process, be it the situation of the media, anti-corruption fight, and overall checks and balances. This is a very important set of factors or fields which we would like to see well-functioning in all the member states.

As you know, the rule of law report is a common work. It’s not a unilateral Brussels assessment. It’s something we do together.

Once again, thank you very much also for undertaking steps to follow the recommendations, the reforms ongoing in the justice field and anti-corruption. I will today speak to your media task force to understand what has been done to protect the journalists, but I will have a chance to discuss how best the new rules for protecting the media will be implemented in Greece.

I will also speak to the authorities and entities playing the role of enforcement of the Digital Services Act, future enforcement of the Media Freedom Act, who are doing the work against the foreign propaganda, might be Russian, but also there are other actors who try to influence our information space.

So, I will have a long and fruitful day, I hope, I’m sure, in Greece, in Athens today. The result will be very important for me to understand the preparedness of Greece for the upcoming European elections. Of course, we discuss during my democracy tour in the member states about the European elections, but it’s important to fortify this system for any elections.

I will add that we are fully aware that the organisation of elections is fully the competence of the member states. I am coming to the member states with the offer in case there is some difficulty in communication with the big tech companies. I can help, I can bridge the communication. I can be the messenger, because what I hear from the platforms is that they sometimes do not understand the sensitivities which might influence, fill in the information space in each state.

The answer they always give us when I’m criticising them is that they are not doing the proper moderation of the content in all the 24 member states’ languages. Ηere comes always their answer: “we would like to have some closer contact with the entities, with the individuals, with the people in each member state who could help us to differentiate what is this information, what is just hate speech, and to do the content moderation in the proper way”.

I don’t have to mention that for the Commission, it’s always important that content moderation does not kill the freedom of speech. We only focus on illegal content, child pornography, hate speech, terrorism. In case of disinformation, we always focus, or we want them to focus on the disinformation which has the potential to endanger security or some other public interest. This is the minimum we should insist they should be doing under the Digital Services Act.

I already mentioned AI and the need to prepare for bigger impact of artificial intelligence on every sphere of our lives. Here, I think that we also have a good space for cooperation.

Last comment, maybe last two comments. Last time we discussed about the usage of spyware, which is becoming an issue in many member states. I promise to you two things: that we will cover spyware usage in the member states in our rule of law report so that you have a better picture of how big the problem is. The second thing is that we will issue a legal opinion on the usage of spyware from the side of the public authorities, but also private entities. This is in the making. I am still ready to issue the paper during this mandate.

I don’t have much time, by the way. Today, I am taking over the portfolio of Mr. Reynders. It will be my main responsibility to finalise the process. I remember I promised to you, not only to you, but several other prime ministers that we will provide the legal assessment and also respond to the European Court of Justice case law to clarify fully what are the legal conditions for any usage of the spywares.

Last comment, rather question or plea: we still have in the process the Defence of Democracy Package, which plans, which suggests to create a public register of the contracts, which the entities operating on European market have with third country governments. The contracts which invite those entities on the single market to do some kind of lobbying or influencing of the public opinion and political decision making.

This Directive is now in the legislative process. The Belgian Presidency promised, or indicated that they might still achieve the general approach in June. I wanted to ask for the support of this legislation because we believe that we should know more about such contracts, about such contacts, about such foreign influence on our decision making, especially after the revelations of the cases of the European politicians being allegedly paid by the Russians, which was disclosed two weeks ago by the Czech and Polish secret services. I think that it’s time to ask for more information about these kinds of contracts and efforts from those countries. This was the brief from my side.

Once again, thank you very much for the very good cooperation in all different fields, especially the rule of law field. I just want to express the wish to continue in the future, maybe during the next mandate, whoever will be doing this portfolio.