“Thank you Mr. President. Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure to be back in Paris, at the invitation of my friend, President Macron, whom I thank for his kind words, his ever warm hospitality and his support to our country.
The two countries – as President Macron suggested – are linked with historical ties. Our relations have always been excellent. After all, I think that my very presence here, as Prime Minister, for the second time in a few months, speaks for itself.
Our agenda has been extremely busy: bilateral defence and economic cooperation, regional European issues, the refugee and migration crisis, climate change, the new EU budget. Greece and France have a common understanding on all of the above.
We are essentially developing a “roadmap” for a new strategic partnership that will significantly enhance the relations between our countries.
And since Greece has come out of the crisis for good and our economy is constantly growing – let me remind you, Mr. President, of our recent upgrade by Fitch – we are now looking forward to investments from French companies. Yesterday, the Hellenic Republic issued for the first time, after exactly 11 years, a 15-year bond. This bond was oversubscribed by around seven times. Its rate has fallen below 2%. This is merely an example of the new environment established in the country.
Moreover, the Greek Government strongly encourages Greek initiatives in the French business world as well. The extremely successful Hellenic-French Forum taking place today in Paris marks exactly those fruitful prospects. On behalf of the Greek Government, I would like to thank my good friend Bruno Le Maire, the French Finance Minister, for his support to the Forum and for his kind words on the Greek economy.
Its energy and security as well as its resource diversification are also an area of common interest, where our coordination is deemed necessary. I’ve had the opportunity to inform the President about the great geo-strategic importance of signing the EastMed pipeline agreement. This pipeline will allow gas from the Eastern Mediterranean to safely reach Western European markets. We all know how important gas is, as a transition fuel, until we reach our ultimate goal: a zero-carbon economy by 2050.
I had an extensive discussion with the President on the recent developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. We both denounce Turkey’s illegal actions in the sea area of Cyprus and the utterly invalid document which Turkey co-signed with part of the Libyan political class.
I wish to repeat here, in Paris, something I’ve already said in public: the annulment of this memorandum of understanding between Libya and Turkey is a prerequisite for any political solution in Libya. It is a null and void memorandum that cannot produce any legal outcome. This was also acknowledged with the contribution of France during the last Council Summit and this is also the opinion of the United States, of almost the entire Arab world and of Russia.
The only way to resolve the disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean is the International Law. Greece insists on following this path, by displaying self-restraint and determination to defend our sovereignty and legitimate rights. In this context, Athens welcomes the presence of French naval forces in the Eastern Mediterranean, as guarantors of peace. We are happy to work with them.
Besides, as the President himself stated, both Greece and France foster a new framework of strategic cooperation on security issues. The schedule was described in detail by President Macron. This is why it has been decided that our Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers will be in regular contact on all matters pertaining to our region. On a bilateral level, this alignment will be further enhanced.
My friend Emmanuel and I also established that we have a common understanding on the whole range of European affairs. France has always been – and I wish to personally thank President Macron – supportive of our efforts to achieve lower primary surplus. Since Greece has been consistent in achieving our surplus targets for 2019 and 2020, we have proved to be particularly reliable in achieving actual reforms; so, the time has now come to seek lower primary surplus as of 2021. Our purpose is to further support this great effort of Greece and of the Greek people and get back on a path of sustainable development. We know that France will be our ally in this effort and we thank you once more for that.
We also agreed on the directions of the new budgetary framework, as mentioned by the President. My next stop after Paris will be Brussels, for a meeting with the President of the Council. Our country requests more funds from the Cohesion Fund. It is only fair for a country that has lost 25% of its financial size over the last decade to receive more support from the EU’s main cohesion instrument.
Meanwhile, the President and I established our once more common understanding on agricultural policy issues and on the post-Brexit future of the European Union.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The refugee and migration crisis could not possibly be absent from today’s agenda.
Greece is a first entry state. France is a destination country of secondary flows. Interestingly, although we have different characteristics, we are completely aligned in how to address this issue.
Greece and France agree that there are three keys to addressing this phenomenon.
First: The protection of our external borders – particularly our eastern borders – must be a shared responsibility of the entire Europe. Returns of those not eligible for protection must intensify at European – not just bilateral – level. Such returns have already intensified in Greece.
Second: We agreed that the Joint European Union-Turkey Statement is still extremely useful, provided that Turkey complies with it. I will not hesitate to state that despite our differences, we want our neighbour to be our partner in addressing the refugee crisis.
Third: We agreed that handling this problem on all levels cannot be limited to national-only operations. This is primarily a matter of European solidarity, which must be demonstrated on a constant basis. We are very much looking forward to the suggestions of the European Commission and the Greek Vice-President of the Commission, Mr. Margaritis Schinas, regarding the new proposal on asylum and migration issues.
Moreover, we demand and fully agree on a common European asylum policy, in order to avoid the so-called “asylum shopping” phenomenon and help Europe establish common rules to address this issue, with solidarity and shared responsibility. I will repeat something I have already said before: We cannot have countries enjoying access to the Schengen area – i.e. free movement of citizens within the single European Schengen area – but stubbornly refusing to show the slightest sign of solidarity and engagement in addressing this issue. I believe that this attitude cannot be further tolerated at a European level.
Finally, President Macron and I align on all climate change issues as well. After all, Greece was one of the first countries that committed to the ambitious European vision for a climate-neutral economy by 2050. We have made very bold commitments to shut down all lignite-fired power plants no later than 2028; that is why we request relevant support from the European Just Transition Fund, so that citizens affected by this swift transition will not feel in any case left behind or that they have something to lose due to the National Policy we have adopted.
I wish to stress once more the importance of the public footprint of President Macron’s political discourse on climate change issues. After all, the flagship agreement was concluded here, in Paris, two years ago. The time has come not just to update the agreement – in Glasgow in 2020 – but take it a step further. I am certain that Greece and France will do their share.
Dear Emmanuel, please allow me to end this speech on a personal note. Less than two days ago, 40 hours ago to be more precise, I visited Auschwitz, to honour the memory of the victims of the Nazi brutality. Among them, 65,000 Greek Jews lost their lives as a result of the Holocaust atrocities. This place has made me think and reflect on human limits, violence and democracy and on the responsibility of all of us to ensure the future of our children.
Today, however, I am here in Paris, at a time when by symbolic coincidence the first French edition of “Mauthausen” by Iakovos Kambanellis was published for the first time. A prisoner himself, he also wrote about his life in concentration camps. Later, his work was set to an incredible piece of music by Mikis Theodorakis and was performed for the first time – if I’m not mistaken- by Maria Farantouri at a very young age. I had the opportunity to offer President Emmanuel Macron a copy of the French translation of this great piece of literature. Therefore, I must say that following my discussions with President Macron, any concerns and ephemeral hesitations gave way to optimism and realistic hope.
Greece, France, the Mediterranean and the entire Europe can lead a better life and it is up to us to shape the future with safety, peace, cooperation and prosperity.