“We are returning to Athens with a total package of over 70 billion euros, an unprecedented figure for our country”, said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the end of the European Union marathon Summit in Brussels, and added that “having now regained its credibility at European level, Greece was invited to participate – and did actively participate – in all negotiations that took place during the past four days”.
“We finally achieved a very significant result for both Europe and Greece”, said the Prime Minister. He stressed that the overall package will be used to support employment and to accelerate the exit from the “deep recession caused by the coronavirus” affecting the whole of Europe. Special emphasis will be placed on important initiatives to tackle climate change, green economy, as well as digital skills which will play a leading role in the plan that Greece will submit.
“What has happened over the past four days in terms of the structure of the funds at our disposal, especially the ability to borrow at European level, is a major leap forward, a great legacy for the future of Europe,” said Kyriakos Mitsotakis. “If we had met three months ago and discussed the possibility of Europe borrowing centrally and providing grants rather than loans, most would have said that this was a science fiction scenario”, he added.
Explaining “the significance of this total package of approximately 72 billion for Greece”, Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out that grants “from the additional programme approved, essentially correspond to an additional NSRF, and amount to just over 19 billion, plus approximately 12.5 billion in loans which add up to the total amount of 32 billion, a figure that had been heavily discussed two months ago”.
“The funds will, ultimately, be disbursed on terms that are more flexible than the existing NSRF”, the Prime Minister noted, explaining among others that “we have the possibility to use this framework to retroactively finance expenses already incurred since February 2020”.
Regarding the Multiannual Financial Framework, Mr. Mitsotakis said the country achieved two things: “Firstly, an increase in the funds that Greece will receive from the Cohesion Fund and, at the same time, there will be no change in the funds from the Common Agricultural Policy for our farmers”.
“So, we have the tools, we have the plan, we know what we want to do. We have no intention of squandering the money with the frivolousness of nouveu riche. We will work responsibly, wisely. We will soon present a detailed productive reconstruction plan that will transform the country”, stressed Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
“This is a great, unique opportunity for Greece and Europe to take a big leap forward. We have no intention of leaving it untapped”, said the Prime Minister from Brussels.
Ahead of the submission of the overall plan to the Commission on October 15th, Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted that the Government will finalise the priorities of the new national plan taking into account the Pissaridis Commission’s plan and the parties’ proposals. “This is a debate that concerns the entire political system”, he stressed.
The Prime Minister’s full interview:
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: As you may have realised, this was an exhausting negotiation. We came very close to the Nice record 20 years ago, which has been the longest Summit in history. This Summit also lasted four days. Personally, I don’t remember having stayed awake for two days in a row since probably my 20s, but I think we finally reached a very significant outcome for both Europe and Greece.
I would like to remind you, if I may offer some background information, that right from the outset, our country was one of the first to ask for a large, ambitious and flexible response to the coronavirus crisis, at the European level. And I remember that on 25 March, nine Heads of State or Government, including myself, sent a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, asking him that Europe dare to borrow at European level and make such funds available directly to Member States, to enable them to finance their economic recovery.
When we made that request, this seemed like a very distant target. But I think that after much effort and mutual compromise, we have finally agreed today on a very ambitious response. A response to the symmetrical shock that the pandemic has caused to all economies. I believe it is a reaction which shows, ultimately, that Europe is listening to the rumbling of imminent events.
Circumstances guide us and choices ultimately define us. And today, Europe has shown that it can rise to the occasion. It responds with a 750-billion-euro Recovery Fund and a budget for the next seven years of 1.074 trillion euros. And for the first time, our Country has access to such ambitious financing instruments.
We are returning to Athens with a total package of over 70 billion euros. A figure that is unprecedented for our country. And we have finally managed, through a process of mutual concessions and compromise – which is very common at European level – to protect, above all, plans with significant national allocations. And of course, having now regained its credibility at European level, Greece was invited to participate – and actively participated – in all negotiations that took place during the past four days.
I believe that we, too, were involved in jointly shaping European decisions benefiting the citizens, which led to a response put forward by a united Europe. A Europe that shows solidarity, supports the economy and its citizens in these exceptional circumstances. Allow me to elaborate a little more on the figures, I will try to explain the significance of this total package of approximately 72 billion for Greece.
Grants from the additional programme approved, essentially correspond to an additional NSRF, and amount to just over 19 billion, plus approximately 12.5 billion in loans which add up to the total amount of 32 billion, a figure that had been heavily discussed two months ago. I must also say that the funds will, ultimately, be disbursed with terms that are more flexible than the existing NSRF. There will be quicker disbursements, but also retroactive eligibility from the beginning of 2020.
Regarding the European budget, the Multiannual Financial Framework, despite its reduction, we have achieved two things: Firstly, an increase in the funds that Greece will receive from the Cohesion Fund and, at the same time, there will be no change in the funds from the Common Agricultural Policy for our farmers. So, we have the tools, we have the plan, we know what we want to do. Let me reiterate that we have no intention of squandering the money with the frivolousness of nouveu riche. We will work responsibly, wisely. We will soon present a detailed productive reconstruction plan that will transform the country.
We have no intention of squandering these considerable European funds now at our disposal. We will invest them for the benefit of all Greeks, support employment, support bold green transition policies, digital modernisation, skills development. This is a great, unique, I would say, opportunity for Greece and Europe to take a big leap forward. We have no intention of leaving it untapped.
Concluding, after this exhausting four-day period, I would like to thank everyone who has worked tirelessly to help us attain this national success. Associates, the staff here at Permanent Delegation. It was, as you know, a negotiation which started long ago and now reached a successful end, and I owe my heartfelt thanks to all those who have supported our endeavour, my endeavour, because in the Council, as you know, we are always alone, to be able to serve both the interests of Europe and the interests of our country in the best possible way.
I shall stop here, Mrs Peloni, and give you the floor to moderate the debate.
Ar. Peloni: Thank you very much, Mr President. Now please ask your questions.
Zarkadoula (Athens News Agency): Mr President, as you said, four months ago no one could have imagined that the European Union would borrow from the financial markets to address this pandemic that caught us all off guard. Now, after this exhausting Summit, the results reached and what Greece has secured, do you think that it is enough to address the immediate needs that have arisen in our country because of this pandemic?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I spoke to you in numbers. We have considerable funds at our disposal. We have the possibility to use this framework to finance expenses already incurred since February 2020. And of course, we now can respond to this unprecedented recession which will hit all European economies, including the Greek economy, in 2020.
But I think, as I told you, we have the potential to do more. For the next three years, in addition to the funds at our disposal from the Multiannual Financial Framework, we have a very important additional financing instrument. I stress again, this financing instrument will be used to finance investments and reforms. It will disburse funds for the next six years and enable us to implement a transformation project in the country with much greater consistency.
So, one could say that, despite it being tragic, the coronavirus was the trigger for all of us, as Europe, to take a step which, until three months ago – as you said – seemed unthinkable. I think this is also an indication of how Europe works and how European solidarity is translated into practice.
You know, Europe often seems to be stationary and then suddenly takes a big leap forward. I believe that what has happened over the past four days in terms of the structure of the funds at our disposal, especially the ability to borrow at European level, is such an important leap forward. A great legacy for the future of Europe.
Palaeologos («Kathimerini» and SKAI): Good morning, Mr President, two questions if I may. The first concerns this much-discussed “emergency brake” established under pressure, especially from the Netherlands. We saw in the wording that it is not quite clear if a country insists on taking the debate to the Council, because it disagrees with the way the funds are spent, how exactly the deadlock will be resolved; and I wanted to know if you have anything to share to us on this and if you are concerned that it will lead to a paralysis in the process, and we also saw that the price for reaching the deal was that there had to be drastic cuts or even elimination of some programmes that are supposed to concern the future of the European Union. We saw a drastic cut in the Just Transition Fund, and the elimination of the EU4Health, the new health programme. Also, there are no extra funds for Horizon. Does this concern you? Was it too steep a price to pay? Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me start with your first question. What is absolutely clear is that no one has a veto at Council level. So, no one country can block a disbursement. It would also be absurd if this could happen, because theoretically each country could block the disbursement of another country. Obviously, these rights apply equally to all 27 countries. There is no country that has any advantage or any other country that is at a disadvantage.
It is an additional process, which simply adds a little time, Mr Paleologos, in case it is activated. I do not think it is a process that will be triggered, or, in any case, it will not be triggered often, for this I am quite certain. Consequently, I do not believe that it raises any concern whatsoever as to the absorption of funds from this important new financing instrument.
Look, you are right that some concessions were made. I said right from the beginning that we all have to make compromises. To be perfectly honest, the price to be able to persuade the so-called frugal countries to accept in principle a very important package of grants – may I remind you that we agreed to 390 billion euros in grants and 360 billion euros in loans – the price to get the frugals to accept this package, was obviously that they get some more refunds.
But de facto, when the sum drops from 500 billion to 390 billion, some programmes will be cut. We chose – and we struggled for this – to protect plans with national allocations. Why? Because it is countries themselves that need the plans and the money at this juncture to emerge from the deep coronavirus recession. Of course, in an ideal world, we would also like more funds for the basic European programmes. But I would stress that Horizon, which is a flagship programme, ends up with approximately 80 billion euros. In other words, they are programmes which, by the very structure of the multiannual programme, have considerable funds at their disposal.
I would say that overall, it was a reasonable, fair compromise. Considering once again – and I wish to stress this – that if we had met three months ago and discussed the possibility of Europe borrowing centrally and providing grants rather than loans, most would say that this scenario is science fiction.
Gatsios (ERT): Mr President, good morning. The Government’s logic, as you yourself described it a moment ago, is that the money that will flow into Greece will go to reforms and investments that will define the country’s transition to growth after a period of recession due to the coronavirus pandemic. I would like to ask what are your priorities in this direction and where do you think this money should go in the first place?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Allow me not to elaborate on this. Besides, in the coming weeks, in the coming months, until the plan that we have to submit to the European Commission on 15 October is finalised, we will have the opportunity to discuss the national priorities at length.
What I can tell you is that I have already seen the first draft of the Pissaridis Commission’s findings, which sets out a central framework of bold reforms and changes that the country needs to make in order to transform the organisation of our economy. And this framework will certainly be a guide in developing the specifics of the plan that we will be submitting to the European Commission. I can also tell you that flagship initiatives on tackling climate change, green economy, as well as digital skills should play an important role in the plan that we will be tabling, because these are also the Commission’s flagship initiatives.
Having said that, however, there are many other aspects of this plan and other investments that can be financed. I stress that it is a very important financing instrument and we have a great responsibility as a country to manage it transparently, efficiently and with the greatest possible consensus.
This is a debate that concerns the entire political system. And obviously we will take into account proposals and considerations from the political parties to come up with a national plan that reflects, in the best possible way, the priorities that we believe the country should have, but also those priorities – I recall – that will be approved by the European Commission as well. Because this is a plan which must be approved by the Commission and which must also fall within the framework of the European Semester, namely, it must also be in line with the proposals and recommendations that the Commission is making to our country – as, and I stress to avoid any misunderstanding, it does to all countries – to help improve the performance and competitiveness of their economy.
Michalopoulos (MEGA): Mr President, good morning. Structural reforms will be needed. Are the fiscal measures part of these reforms? And if so, when are they due for implementation, over the three years of the Recovery Fund’s duration?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, let us not confuse fiscal measures with reforms, they are not the same thing. We have a three-year fiscal plan. At the Thessaloniki International Fair, I will have the opportunity to elaborate on how we will restructure our initiatives on the fiscal side.
I would like to stress, however, that the country has already taken far too many measures in fiscal terms. It has taken such measures by borrowing, as have all European countries, from the financial markets, inter alia, so that we can support first those in greater need. Primarily workers, those potentially at risk from the spectrum of unemployment, the real economy, and the liquidity of businesses.
So, these short-term measures that we have taken, some of which are already financed by the European Union, such as the SURE programme which backs employment-support schemes, are programmes that are already being implemented. But this is a reform and investment plan which in essence will start to be implemented in early 2021. As I told you, we have three years to make the allocations and six years to make the disbursements. It is a much more medium- to long-term plan.
Psara (OPEN and “Ethnos”): Hello, Mr President. You told us what Greece is gaining and indeed it seems to be one of the most favoured countries from this agreement. What is unclear is on what terms we will get this money. Are there conditions attached to the grants and the loans? At the end of the day, who won this tug-of-war among the frugals?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, there’s practically no change in the conditions. The conditions are those already laid down by the European Commission. A plan is submitted to and approved by the Commission, and, as I said earlier, it must be relevant to the Commission’s proposals for the European Semester. And in case any country objects, there is this emergency brake process, where any issue will be brought before the Council for discussion, but without – and I stress this – any country having the right to veto and block a disbursement.
Therefore, conditions are the same as those described. But you know, I’ll say it again, and to avoid misunderstandings, no one hands us money unconditionally. The NSRF is not unconditional either. The NSRF has specific procedures. I would even say that the Recovery Fund procedures are rather more flexible than those in the NSRF. But the NSRF also has specific procedures, which we cannot circumvent and with which we are now completely familiar. So, I don’t see any particular problem with that.
As an administration, we certainly have an administrative and organisational obligation to redeploy our forces in such a way so as to ensure that we can absorb these funds as quickly as possible. And we know what we have done well in the past seeing the absorption of EU funds, where we need to improve, what governance structure should govern the setting of priorities and the implementation of the Recovery Fund. These are all things that we are already planning.
Psara (OPEN and “Ethnos”): Let me ask you one more question. Although it has been a difficult four days, we have put it in the back of our minds, but we have not really forgotten about it, the issue of Turkey. I would like to bring it up again and ask you, will there finally be an extraordinary Summit on Turkey in September? And furthermore, have you asked your counterparts for clear choices and severe sanctions for Turkey? Do we have allies in this? Will there be cuts in the migration funds?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, I will not talk much today about foreign policy issues. I will just say that the issue of Turkey was discussed at the beginning of the Summit, and both myself and the President of Cyprus expressed our respective positions, in the direction you imagine. I expect there will be a statement from the President of the European Council in this regard.
And it was agreed that at the next Summit, which could be held in September, in other words, it would be an extraordinary Summit, we will have a detailed discussion on how Europe should deal with the problem of Turkey. I say Turkey in particular, because Turkey is a problem for Europe as a whole today and not just for Greece and Cyprus.
Syriopoulos (ERT): Good morning, Mr President. I would like you to tell us whether this concession made by many countries regarding the Just Transition Fund could cause any problems, if you will, with the target set for de-lignitisation in Greece by 2028 and whether these amounts are sufficient to implement the policies and to address the social consequences resulting from this transition.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, there was a cut in the Just Transition Fund, a significant one. But, on the other hand, many of the actions related to de-lignitisation can be financed by our main instrument, the RRF, Recovery and Resilience Fund. Consequently, I do not feel that we risk in any way not having enough funds to finance the lignite phase-out process.
I would like to remind you that very serious work has been done by the Government and by Mr. Mousouroulis, who is head of the relevant Committee. And the plan that we have is very bold, and I think it gives the inhabitants of Western Macedonia and Megalopolis, a real hope that the future after lignite will be better than the present with lignite. And that is our aim, and I can assure you that we have enough funds at our disposal to finance this transition, both from the Just Transition Fund – which still has considerable funds – and from the main fund.
Ar. Peloni: There are no more questions, as I recall. Thank you very much, Mr President. Thank you all. Good morning and have a good rest.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you. Good morning and have a safe trip home.