I would like to thank my counterparts from the three countries of the European South, Spain, Portugal, Italy. I believe that today we have taken an important step towards shaping a European response to the dramatic rise in energy prices.
Unfortunately, dear Mario, dear Pedro, dear Antonio, I had to join this meeting through a teleconference because of my illness with Covid. So I missed Mario’s excellent hospitality. But that did not prevent me at all from discussing and coordinating with my fellow Prime Ministers on an issue of fundamental importance concerning the economy and the social cohesion of our countries, as it was stressed by all three speakers before me.
And I’m talking about the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the related price increases on all products internationally, but above all the outrageous price increases in energy costs. The threat, in other words, of inflation today, but also the prospects of overcoming it and returning to growth tomorrow.
Our common belief is that tackling such a challenge, which mainly concerns the most vulnerable social groups in all the Member States of the Union, but also our businesses and especially our smaller businesses, requires a common European response. Actions that will protect our societies, at least until the end of the war and the normalization of the functioning of the markets, as no country can fully and effectively deal with such a crisis alone. Because when the prices of electricity or heating increase by five or six times, no national budget can cover them.
Therefore, our four countries agreed that the solutions can not be only national. As Pedro and Mario and Antonio have already said, each country has launched its program aiming to support businesses and households. Yesterday, we announced an additional package of measures, worth 1.1 billion euros, so that our support measures can cumulatively reach 4 billion euros.
Nonetheless, I will repeat what the other Prime Ministers have said: national initiatives are not enough. That is why we propose, in the first phase, harmonized European policy interventions against speculative trends, in order to restore the balance in the prices of gas and electricity.
We all believe in free markets, but they must follow the rules of supply and demand. And when this is clearly not the case, when the markets become the tools of speculators, then the time comes for some central regulation and that is the responsibility of the political leaderships. And this is what we – Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece – are recommending here today.
And I’m sure that at next week ‘s European Council, we must not just acknowledge the severity of the situation, but, as Pedro said, we must take immediate action. We must act in favor of Europe and the Europeans, our citizens. We cannot, on one hand, at the level of diplomacy, adopt a joint position and respond in the appropriate way towards Russian aggression, but, on the other hand, not form a common front at the level of the economy, which is hit by the Russian aggression. This is a risk that threatens the recovery after the pandemic.
But it is also a minefield against the European idea and democracy. This energy crisis can revive the nightmare of populism in our continent. And in this dimension, we have paid, especially in Greece, a heavy price the last ten years and we must never experience the same phenomena again.
That is why we must learn from the mistakes of the past and we must intervene drastically and directly when European intervention is required, and when this European intervention does not directly question, as my fellow Prime Ministers have pointed out, our central axes for a common European policy.
With more renewable energy sources -all four countries are extremely competitive in the production of electricity- with the differentiation in terms of gas supply sources, with more LNG, with emphasis on interconnections and on this we have to look at the pending interconnections of the Iberian Peninsula with France, the interconnections between Greece and Italy, to invest in our interconnections with the African continent and of course to continue to invest in savings, as the cheapest energy is the one we never consume.
Finally, a quick reference to the issues of the Strategic Compass. We have agreed that the text that we will adopt, as we believe, at the next European Council is ambitious, while there are small adjustments that still need to be made. And the events in Ukraine prove, on the one hand, the need for a strong European Union in the face of revisionism and the intrigues of third parties, but also the need for our cooperation, the cooperation of the European Union with NATO.
These are issues that will preoccupy us in the coming months, as well as, of course, the increase of national defense budgets and the way in which, at European level, we will have to deal with these significant investment costs, which will certainly place a burden on our budgets. However, they are made for a common, substantive, European purpose.
Finally, dear Mario, let me publicly express my repulsion for what is happening today in Ukraine, especially in Mariupol. As you know, there is an intense Greek interest in this city, which has become a symbol of resistance of the Ukrainian people against Russian aggression, as more than 100,000 Ukrainians of Greek origin live there.
And given that we have to think about the next day, when the hostilities are over and the restoration process begins, the Greek government will undertake the task to reconstruct the Mariupol Maternity Hospital -which was bombed in recent days- as a small tangible support to the great reconstruction effort that Ukraine will have to do, when the hostilities end, hopefully soon.
I would like to thank you again for giving me the opportunity, dear Mario, to participate -through teleconference- in this very important meeting. And I hope to meet you in person in a few days in Brussels.