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

Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1 – AΜΝΑ): Mr. Prime Minister, we had a Special Summit, which was essentially monopolized by the international, very dangerous, developments in the Middle East and our region. I would like your answer as to whether you, as the Greek delegation, are satisfied with the text of the conclusions on both Iran-Israel, this chapter, and on EU-Turkey relations. Can you confirm that some of our partners asked for more in terms of Ankara’s perspective and its accession perspective.

I also want your answer regarding the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which found the link between Turkey’s European perspective and the resolution of progress on the Cyprus issue unacceptable. Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I would like to express my satisfaction with the conclusions that we agreed upon last night, also with regard to the issues concerning the Middle East. Particular emphasis was placed on the need for all parties to work to prevent a further escalation of this crisis and an expansion of the conflict. I think that is the main concern.

And I would like to stress, of course, that in addition to the obvious support that we are providing to Israel against Iran’s unprecedented attack, I also consider it extremely positive that there is still a reference in the conclusions to the situation in Gaza, where the humanitarian crisis is indeed such that it requires an immediate ceasefire, which is something we are again calling for in the European Council’s conclusions.

As far as the issues concerning Turkey, I think the conclusions are satisfactory for both Greece and Cyprus. There is an explicit reference to the framework of the previous European Council decisions, which sets out the way in which EU-Turkey relations can be improved: in a way that will be gradual, but under certain conditions and reversible in the event that Turkey changes its behaviour.

And, of course, I think it is very clear that the progress of EU-Turkey relations is obviously also affected by developments on the Cyprus issue, which I would say is demonstrated by the relevant paragraph in the conclusions. So I think there is a general satisfaction both in Greece and in Cyprus with the final formulation of the text.

Giannis Kantelis (SKAI): I would like to insist on the issue of Turkey, because in recent days Turkey is coming back with some provocative statements on the occasion of the creation of the two marine parks in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. The latest case is that of the Turkish Ministry of Defence, which says, according to its sources, that “we will prevent Greece’s attempts to establish a unilateral regime”. Whether this climate also affects your visit to Ankara to meet with Mr. Erdoğan in May and whether the date of your visit there has been finalized.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me start with the second part of your question: the date has indeed been finalized, it will be the 13th of May, the day on which I will be in Ankara, reciprocating President Erdoğan’s visit.

Now, on the first part of your question, look, Mr. Kantelis, Greece exercises its sovereignty and sovereign rights in the Aegean based on International Law and the Law of the Sea. Beyond that, I too am surprised by Turkey’s totally unjustified reaction to an initiative which, after all, is of an environmental nature.
Greece will proceed with the creation of these marine parks, as I pledged at the recent “Our Ocean Conference” which was held in Athens.

Let me make a more general observation: I do not believe that the improvement in Greek-Turkish relations, which is undeniable and measurable, automatically leads to the working assumption that Turkey’s basic positions on the crucial issue of the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean have changed. These positions remain positions that are deeply problematic for Greece.

However, this does not prevent us from being able to discuss, to create a generally good climate and to invest more in the positive agenda and less in the issues that divide us and on which we clearly disagree.

Let me give you just one example: tomorrow I will be in Mytilene (Lesbos) and I think if you do a report on the islands of the Eastern Aegean you will see very high levels of satisfaction with the fact that Turks can travel to these islands for leisure purposes with “visa facilitation”. It constitutes a significant support to the local economy and I think a tangible proof that improving Greek-Turkish relations can ultimately have measurable results for the benefit of both peoples.

Maria Psara (STAR): Mr. Prime Minister, despite the pressure on Israel not to respond, Prime Minister Netanyahu insists that he will respond at a time of his choosing. Are you concerned that we are facing a spiral of continued warfare and conflict in our region? What can the European Union do, also after the discussion you had last night, and whether it will finally use the tools at its disposal to put pressure on Israel as well?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think that both the conclusions of the European Council and the public statements that have been made by European leaders, but also by the leadership of the United States, all point precisely to the need to convince Israel not to proceed with an escalation which will then lead – as you said – to a further spiral of even greater tension in the Middle East.

It is clear that Iran must be isolated for its behaviour against Israel, but, I would say, not only that. I believe that if Israel also demonstrates a greater understanding of the issues concerning Gaza and takes into account the calls from all of us for a ceasefire and for substantial humanitarian support for the suffering people of Gaza, this will also help Israel as a whole to build those alliances that will allow it to really isolate Iran and demonstrate that it is a country that is constantly creating problems in the wider region.

Alexandra Voudouri (Kathimerini): Mr Prime Minister, good evening. Yesterday you stated that Europe’s competitiveness is not an abstract concept. In which direction is the European Union moving? And, based on what you have discussed today, what secures an improvement in the living standards of European citizens, which is also an issue in view of the European elections? And as far as defence and the defence industry are concerned, how is the debate on the issuance of Eurobonds progressing, beyond the “Letta proposal” for joint financing through the ESM? Thank you.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, I think the “Letta report” is moving in the right direction, demonstrating the fact that Europe’s competitiveness has declined in recent decades.

It’s very important for a medium-sized country like Greece, an outward-looking country, for the single market to work and to really work and to overcome various bureaucratic obstacles that exist. It is also very important for Greek businesses, the more extroverted Greek businesses, to have a capital markets union, which will allow European businesses to raise capital more easily, but will also allow European investors to invest accordingly in European businesses, instead of these funds leaving and going to the United States, for example.

Therefore, I believe that this debate that is taking place is in the right direction. And I believe that we will take steps towards a single supervision of the European capital market, without this invalidating the role of the national authorities. It is a position that Greece supports in principle.

Now, on the issue of the Eurobond for defence, I think we are at the beginning of this debate, but I want to reiterate the great insistence with which I will personally call for a single European financial instrument to support Europe’s defence.

It is clear that Europe has set many ambitious goals: it wants to make the green transition, it wants to make the digital transition, it wants to have a common defence, but it does not possess the necessary financial tools to be able to implement these policies.

The private funds, which I spoke to you about a while ago, are a source of funding for such initiatives. But public resources, European public resources, will also be needed. And I would say that defence is the first priority that we need to put in our discussion when we discuss such a single European funding instrument. An instrument which must, however, direct its resources to projects and systems which will be European and will serve the needs of armouring the entire European continent.

Giannis Christakos (MEGA): Mr. Prime Minister, good evening from me as well. While we are on the issue of the economy, I would like to move on to the domestic economy and ask you this: our country still faces, we can see that, you and the Ministers are discussing it, high prices. There are aspects of the economy, such as inflation, which at least shows stability at one level, if we take food, for example. For fuel, as you know, the price of petrol today has exceeded two euros.

And in general, people see something that is not consistent with the second part, which I will remind you: the reports of the International Monetary Fund that show that our country will have higher growth than forecast, in the reports of the European Commission and in media reports. Today we have also seen a report by Reuters, which says that the growth of the Greek economy will be very, very high, at least for the next two years.

Why are these two views inconsistent? What is it that is not being done in our country and doesn’t go right, and is not being felt by citizens?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Your question is reasonable. Indeed, there is an inconsistency between the actual performance of the economy – the growth rates, the jobs that are being created, the investments that are being launched in our country – and the sense that a significant number of citizens have that this growth really concerns them. And I fully understand that. Because what is of primary concern to citizens today are the persistent high prices and the pressure that high prices put on disposable income.

That’s why the government’s policies come precisely in response to this problem. When we raise the minimum wage, we do so because the economy allows us to do so, but we also do so as a “buffer” against real pressures on disposable income, especially for the weakest households.

I’ve talked about inflation many times, I won’t go into a lengthy analysis now. I will only say that the latest data on food inflation are encouraging. We will wait for next month’s data as well. And I certainly hope that the “household basket” for Easter, and if we are talking about the “godfather’s basket”, the lamb and seafood that we eat at Easter and during Holy Week, that prices will be reasonable and will not exceed last year’s levels. That is at least what we are fighting for.

Finally, I want to say that the government will continue in every way to support disposable income, but also to correct injustices. And here I want to focus in particular on the maternity benefit platform, which has been opened today. As you know, it concerns self-employed women, it concerns farmers, women who were not receiving this benefit, which is not negligible. We are talking about 830 euros over nine months.

So we are correcting an injustice, but at the same time we are also directly supporting the institution of the family, because any support offered to a family that has a child is obviously welcomed and helps in this overall effort that we are making to tackle the big problem of low birth rates in our country.

Georgia Skitzi (ERT): Mr Prime Minister, if I may, I will take you to the European elections and specifically to the candidacy of the legally elected Mayor of Himara and illegally imprisoned Fredi Beleri, which has, however, caused some reactions from the opposition and they accuse you ,specifically, of involving national and diplomatic issues in the European elections and I wanted to ask you what is your response?

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, first of all, I want to be clear that it is not my job to talk about individual candidacies, as we have 42 candidates and I do not want in any way to appear as if I am discriminating in favour of any candidate. However, I will say that the candidacy of Fredi Beleri has a very heavy symbolism, which I think everyone who has a real interest -not just in theory- for the rights of the Greek National Minority in Albania, understands.

Giorgos Papaconstantinou (ACTION24): Mr Prime Minister, good evening. I will also remain on the issue of European elections, but I will focus on the very explicit reference in the conclusions of today’s European Council, to the measures and cooperation that all member countries must demonstrate in order to combat, to deal with the wounds – I would say – of misinformation and the use of artificial intelligence, but even more so to prevent possible attempts of manipulation by foreign countries. I would like you to tell me how concerned you are, given that the European elections will be held in 52 days’ time.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I am glad that you are asking me this question, because indeed in the first introductory paragraph of the conclusions there is an explicit reference to the need to protect ourselves from misinformation and the manipulation of public opinion and the use of artificial intelligence in this effort.

It’s something I’ve talked about many times. It is something that we need to keep talking about, because we know today that there are foreign powers that want to intervene in the national elections to promote their own geopolitical agenda.

We also know that the tools of artificial intelligence are now such that it’s very easy to release fake videos, fake audio, which can spread very quickly and then you have to swiftly prove that something that is fake is really so. But too many people will have heard it and then it’s too difficult to undo the first impressions that have been created.

That is why I always make an appeal, also in view of the European elections: citizens must be wary. They should not assume that any news, any video, any information circulated on social media is necessarily true. And to seek out the most objective and factual information possible. That’s where your role, the role of the media, I would say is extremely important.