Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ Speech at the German – Hellenic Economic Forum “Vision & Investment Opportunities”

Dear Angela and fellow organizers of this Greek-German forum, I would like firstly to express my great joy for the significant attendance attained in this event, in difficult times. I understand that your interest in investing in Greece is stronger than your fear of the Coronavirus, which I acknowledge as particularly important and encouraging. However, I find myself in Berlin in a critical conjuncture for Greece, for Germany and Europe since, apart from the economic battle, we are to face 2 more challenges:
Turkey’s attempt to turn tens of thousands of migrants into illegal invaders and gain out of that, bluntly violating Greek and European borders as well dealing with the coronavirus epidemics that is sadly and rapidly spreading and affecting thus the daily life of citizens across the globe and, as it shows, with a major negative impact on economy.
In my effort to convey the current state of affairs from my home-country, I want to be a realist. Indeed, Greece is already moving at a growth orbit; these new challenges lead us to speed up the already planned changes and not to put on the brakes. The asymmetric threat from the East is factually reordering its national priorities and the health crisis, truth be told, makes our task even more complicated. However, I want to be positive. Europe knows how to overcome obstacles and the same applies to my country. Over the past 10 days, we have shown we can defend our national –and European- sovereignty. Greece, and Europe as well, may be coerced by nobody. We have proven that we both have the will and the effectiveness required when it comes to protecting our common borderline, in moments of crisis. So, our meeting’s agenda today de facto becomes broader including current affairs: first, the migration issue. Words by European Commission’s President Ursula von den Leyen about Greece being the “shield” of Europe are our compass. The very presence of all EU leaders a few days ago in Evros, was not just a symbolic act, but a very significant geopolitical fact. Of course, bilateral aid provided by many European countries is solid proof of European solidarity.
When we were in need of our friends, dear Angela, they were there to support us, both morally and tangibly. Because we also protected one of the most important European assets, namely the integrity of our external borders.
So, we are entering a new phase with regard to the migration issue. And it is high time for everyone to prove whether they do mean and intend to seriously deal with it. President Erdogan will be in Brussels this afternoon. I see this development as a positive one and I hope this will be the onset of de-escalation of this crisis. However, in order to be able to genuinely discuss how Turkey can become again an ally of Europe in tackling the migration crisis, there has to be some factual change in Turkey’s politics. If Mr. Erdogan wishes to have the EU-Turkey Joint Statement on migration reviewed –a Statement he was the one who drove to collapse in fact- he now has the opportunity to take some steps.
Firstly, to immediately withdraw all these poor people he amassed in Evros, to stop using and inciting them by means of spreading fake news and propaganda. To swiftly take back, applying a simple and quick process, all the illegal trespassers arrested on Greek soil. To consider ways to further improve the EU-Turkey agreement, like coast guards and other forces jointly patrolling with Frontex not only in Greek, but also in Turkish territorial waters, to manage flows from his territory coming both by sea and by land.
And of course, the returns of all those illegally making into Greece from Turkey have to cover not only for those on the heavily hit Aegean islands, but also those currently in my country’s hinterland.
I want to be absolutely clear, and this is something I have discussed also with the Chancellor many times in the past, that Greece has recognized that Turkey is to play a critical role in managing the refugee problem and they need European help to do so. However, this cannot be attained –and I think everybody now comprehends that- under threat and coercion and with wretched people being used as pawns to fulfill geopolitical aspirations.
Seizing this opportunity, I would like to welcome the decision taken by the governmental coalition taken last night for Germany to lead an effort, which we, as Greece, have undertaken a long time ago, to tackle the problem of unaccompanied minors. The children and adolescents found abandoned in very harsh conditions in my country. I am particularly happy that we will have the opportunity, Thursday, to hopefully welcome once again the European Commission’s President and competent Commissioner to jointly draft a Pact of voluntary relocation of minors and adolescents located in Greece to the rest of Europe. And I urge now, in Berlin, as many European countries as possible to join forces in this tangible proof of solidarity. This is not a burden that Greece should carry alone, along with Germany. More countries have to take part in this effort. This is 5,000 children we are talking about, a significant part of whom may be kept and accommodated by Greece. The rest should be allocated amongst European countries. This would have been a first important step of clear solidarity towards those most severely affected by this crisis.
Now, coming to the second battle that is in the news: the Coronavirus epidemic. Contrary to other countries, there has been no casualties to this day in my country but we are aware that this epidemic is spreading rapidly. Every government’s top priority should be to safeguard public health and take measures to protect the most vulnerable ones, those who are more at risk by this epidemic.
Today, we announced a first set of measures to support economic activities and the labor force, since we are all to adapt to a brand new reality: many fellow-citizens will have to abstain from their work to take care of themselves or their kids who will stay at home as more and more schools will remain closed.
However, and I cannot stress that enough, no mass measure can replace individual responsibility in those open, democratic societies like ours. No decision centrally taken may deliver unless owned by the citizens themselves, first and foremost. Some simple precautions that we keep on talking about is personal hygiene, we even avoid hand-shaking. We also did that with the Chancellor. So, if you see the news, do not assume that we had a quarrel or anything like that; this is what simple rules of hygiene dictate. Avoiding all large-scale gatherings and, mainly, protection of the weakest and the most vulnerable. These are the measures we should all pay maximum attention to. Yes, of course, dear Angela, more coordination at a European level is also required. I was just informed by the Council’s President that teleconference is being scheduled to discuss how we can better coordinate the European response to this problem. This response touches upon public health and also our economy. It is clear that 2020 will be a different year to the one we anticipated. And it is also certain that fiscal targets set in different times, may not be met. This is a reality we should all take into consideration and, this time, we have to react quickly –both fiscally and financially- so as not to let this economic crisis remind us of bad times of the past.

I am now moving on, ladies and gentlemen, to the main subject of the forum, an economic forum aimed at promoting business cooperation between our two countries. And when this forum was designed by the Chancellor and me, over my first visit in September, we already saw that the narrative in Greek-German relations was changing from a relationship based on the creditor-borrower relationship into a relationship of equal partners, which will be able to launch investments for the benefit of both parties. And I want to speak to you wholeheartedly by saying that the economic crisis that we are facing is forcing us to act even faster with regard to our own major stakes, the investments and reforms. Crisis is not an alibi that may stop our reform work. If anything, it forces us to move even faster so that we can absorb its impact as soon as possible. Because the situation in Greece, notwithstanding the extraordinary circumstances that we went through over the course of the recent weeks, is a very positive one in the scope of global economy.
In February, Greece’s economic climate index was the highest since 2000, and the exports are historically high, despite uncertainty in international trade. Greek businesses are now taxed at less than 24%. A new development law has eliminated many of the bureaucratic hurdles that prevented investment in the past. In this context, contemporary Greece is a country open to investment and able to cope with crises and difficulties of the past. We have passed 52 bills and a new Constitution within 7 months. We have a very strong one-party government, which enables us to implement our central political decisions very quickly and very effectively. And, of course, on Friday the first Greek woman, the first female President of the Republic, who was elected by a very large majority in the Greek Parliament will assume her duties. We will have the first female President of the Hellenic Republic to take on her duties on Friday.
And in this new path, we look forward to cooperating with Germany as strategic partners. We want much more than the 162 German companies operating in our country today. They employ almost 30,000 workers; I would like to address the fact that German businesses have sustained and supported the country and have maintained all job positions during the 10 difficult years of the crisis. The opportunity has now come for them to take advantage of the growth of the Greek economy. Seeing that we have here with us today representatives from many Greek Regions, we would naturally like to increase the 4.5 million Germans who come to Greece, mainly during the summer. We welcome you in Greece during other seasons. Not only over the summer for our Greek islands, but also to discover the other beauties of our country. In addition to the beaches, we have some very nice mountain landscapes to be discovered, we are happy to do many things to support tourism.
But most importantly, our wish is that our cooperation will grow and move to new areas that are much more dynamic, such as the subject of today’s conference; green energy, pharmaceutical technology, the new agricultural economy, and waste management, an area where we still have very important steps to take and Germany has a very important know-how to offer. And we are already counting on some of the first initiatives, which are extremely encouraging.
The Government, for example, has been considering for some months, together with Volkswagen, a feasibility study for a cutting-edge technology project that will ultimately result in turning a Greek island into not just a green island, but a centre of innovation for the transition to electric driving, and especially autonomous driving, two future prospects that will soon become reality.
Germany is also involved in another project signed a few days ago, namely the construction of one of Europe’s five largest photovoltaic parks in Kozani Region. I can see that Regional Governor of Western Macedonia is also present here. It applies to just over 200 MW. Hellenic Petroleum and Juwi will invest a total of 130 millions euros, creating new job positions and helping us carry out the transition to green economy, by fulfilling the extremely ambitious goals we have set. We have a new National Energy and Climate Plan that envisions investments exceeding 40 billion euros over the next decade and the creation of more than 60,000 permanent job positions. Moreover, we have dared to make very critical, important and difficult decisions, such as our commitment to a rapid delignification process. It concerns primarily the region of Eastern Macedonia and a municipality in the Peloponnese, Megalopoli. We have affirmed that by 2028 we will attempt to abandon lignite completely. By 2023, all lignite plants will have been shut down, except for one in Western Macedonia. I know how difficult this transition is, Germany is also called to follow the same path under a different schedule. But in Greece, we are at the forefront of this rapid transition to the post-lignite era and that is why we claim a large share of the European Fair Energy Transition Fund. Even more so since entire regions, like the region of Western Macedonia and Megalopoli, base the greater part of their economic activity on the exploitation of lignite.
These regions, like many other regions in Germany or Poland, have to change their direction and production model. They need to set the example and make use of other comparative advantages like the green energy, since these regions are not only in the centre of the energy distribution networks, they also have specialized personnel. They need to become centres of new industrial activities and utilize other comparative advantages that have remained untapped. The Greek government has already established an intergovernmental committee for the phasing out of lignite plants and will provide very specific incentives to these areas, including tax incentives for new production investments, so that the transition out of lignite plants will not be perceived only as a threat, but also as an opportunity to create a better future without lignite and without the pollution that comes with it. Lignite mining has been linked not only to increased carbon dioxide levels, but also to the deterioration of the quality of life in areas that have been gravely affected for many decades environmentally wise. An important axis of this transition out of lignite production is, of course, the Public Power Corporation (PPC), the largest company in Greece, which was on the verge of bankruptcy when our administration took over, 8 months ago on the. We proceeded to a very quick turnaround; today, PPC is a company that views future of green economy with optimism. It aspires to play a decisive role in the phasing out of lignite, in the sector of green energy and, of course, in the sector of electromobility. With regard to the latter, PPC has the major comparative advantage of being able to quickly develop a network of charging stations, which need to exceed 10,000 in number in the short term.
For that reason, the signing of the agreement between the PPC and RWE here in Berlin is very important for the phasing out of lignite, as well as for the development of renewable energy sources.
PPC has volume and expansive land areas; it has the environment, the land, the sun, the wind, and the exceptional human resources for many joint green actions. RWE on the other hand has a long tradition and important knowhow in the construction of energy production plants based on RES. It is a cooperation that can truly be extremely profitable and important for both companies and both countries.
Ladies and gentlemen, dear Chancellor,
I would like to close by stating, once again, how much I believe in the importance of this new chapter in the relations between the two countries, that we are called to write jointly. Our relations have been through trials, they were wounded during the crisis, but, in the end, they stood their ground. They stood their ground and we now have the capacity to reinforce them even further and to look at the future with optimism and confidence. The crisis that we are faced with, especially the Coronavirus crisis, will eventually end. We hope that the end is near. Here, today, we are setting the foundations for the next day and the day after. And we want you to be our allies, investors and supporters of this joint effort that we now undertaking. And since Germany will be the country of honour in the International Exhibition of Thessaloniki this year, we hope that the Chancellor will honour us with her presence and we will have the opportunity to inaugurate it together to mark the beginning of this new chapter in the Greek-German relations, not only in Berlin but also in Greece.
Thank you very much for your presence.