The Turkey-EU deal is dead by Turkey’s responsibility, says Kyriakos Mitsotakis in an interview with CNN and journalist Richard Quest. “It is dead because Turkey has decided to completely violate the agreement because of what happened in Syria. Turkey has an obligation to stop people reaching the coastlines, and has an obligation to do whatever it can to contain illegal smugglers and prohibit people from illegally crossing to Greece. This is exactly what the agreement says. And Turkey is being doing exactly the opposite”, the Prime Minister emphasized.
“Europe cannot be blackmailed by Turkey over this problem. Mr Erdogan needs to recognize that. Mr Erdogan needs to stop being the instigator of fake news, “Kyriakos Mitsotakis points out, adding that “Greece does what any sovereign State has the right to do: protect its sovereign borders against any illegal entry. This is what we do and we will continue to do so in the future”.
Referring to the economic consequences because of the spread of coronavirus, the Prime Minister calls for a change in fiscal policy at European level. “This is a time to take a hard look at how fiscal policy can help us alleviate the pressures on growth that will inevitably occur as a result of this outbreak”, he points out.
Here is the full text of the interview, in an informal translation:
R. QUEST: In an exclusive interview with the Prime Minister’s Office, Kyriakos Mitsotakis told where he thinks the real problem lies.
K. MITSOTAKIS: What we are dealing with at the moment is not really a migration or refugee problem. It is a conscious attempt by Turkey to use migrants and refugees as geopolitical pawns to promote its own interests.
The people who try to cross into Greece are not people who come from Syria, they do not come from Idlib. They have been living in Turkey for a long period of time, most of them talk Turkish fluently. They have been fully supported by the Turkish government as it provides them with the means to transfer them to get to the border and Greece, of course, is doing what any sovereign State has the right to do: to protect its borders against any illegal crossing. This is what we have been doing and this is what we will continue to do.
Obviously, we have seen over the past hours increased tension at the borders. There have been attempts to actually burn down the fence that we have. There have been numerous attempts to throw tear gases on our troops. So, I am afraid that this is a constant and very systematic provocation on the Turkey’s behalf, which has nothing to do with the plight of these people. They are being used by Turkey and the result is the scenes you see on the Greek-Turkish border.
R. QUEST: This may be the cause, but the result is that you are the one to accept to some degree the burden of good and bad response of public opinion. When we see images similar to those of last week, it’s your troops that stop migrants. This creates bad images. And you bear the brunt of the blame.
K. Mitsotakis: I don’t see why we should be getting any blame for something we have publicly said we will do. We have every right, Richard, to protect our borders and that is exactly what we do. We are not the ones who initiated this crisis; we are not the ones who encouraged these people to cross into Greece illegally. And frankly, it was our country that over the past years has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees. We have opened our homes and our hearts. And I find it totally unacceptable as Prime Minister of this country to be accused of not properly treating these people in times of great need. Greece has demonstrated its humanism throughout this crisis, but what we are not willing to do is engage in a process by which another country – systematically – uses and abuses these people to try to send them across the border. Now, in terms of methodology and methods that we use, we have not used any sort of excessive force, and we are always reacting, we are never initiating, in terms of responding to the provocations that have taken place at the border.
R. QUEST: Do you think that the events of the past week challenge, or in practical terms, revoke the agreement, which is in force since 2016 between EU and Turkey?
K. Mitsotakis: Richard, right now, let’s be honest, the (EU-Turkey) agreement is dead. And it is dead because Turkey has decided to completely violate the agreement because of what happened in Syria. Turkey has an obligation to stop people reaching the coastlines, and has an obligation to do whatever it can to contain illegal smugglers and prohibit people from illegally crossing to Greece. This is exactly what the agreement says. And Turkey is being doing exactly the opposite. They have systematically assisted both on land and at sea, people in their effort to cross into Greece.
On the other hand, I have been public about acknowledging the fact that Turkey has also borne a big burden by hosting millions of refugees, and I have always been willing to support Turkey in this effort. But this is not going to happen, Richard, under a situation of blackmail. Europe cannot be blackmailed by Turkey over this problem. Mr Erdogan needs to recognize that. Mr Erdogan needs to stop being the instigator of fake news. According to the Turkish Minister, apparently hundreds of thousands of people have already crossed into Greece, making completely inaccurate accusations in terms of what is happening at the border. So, we are not the ones who are escalating this conflict. But we have every right – and I will continue to do so – to protect our sovereign borders. We have succeeded in doing so and will continue to succeed in doing so in the future.
R. QUEST: Mr Prime Minister, please allow me one or two more questions about the coronavirus and the severity of this situation. What are the expected actions at European level, Prime Minister? Since we are on the verge of calling the coronavirus a pandemic.
K. Mitsotakis: This is obviously a very serious issue; we need a coordinated European response. I think we have done everything we can within our capacity to contain this problem as much as possible. We have not had any single death yet in Greece from the coronavirus. But we know that this is a problem that is going to spread. Obviously, coordination at European level would be most welcome, but this is also a question of speed. Every Member State needs to assess its own peculiarities and address the problem speedily by taking the necessary measures. Where I think we need more European response is in mitigating the economic consequences of this outbreak.
It is very clear, Richard, we have discussed this before, even before the coronavirus hit us, that monetary policy has reached its limits and this is a time to take a hard look at how fiscal policy can help us alleviate the pressures on growth that will inevitably occur as a result of this outbreak. So where I expect more European coordination is clearly on the financial and the economic side. I do hope that the next Eurogroup is going to be more proactive in terms of containing the economic damage, which inevitably will occur as a result of this outbreak.