Good evening and happy anniversary for this great day for Greece and Hellenism.
A long Summit with rather difficult discussions, throughout the day, has just ended, concerning the major issue of energy. Fortunately, it was successfully concluded by a mutual agreement on the text of the conclusions.
Yesterday was dedicated to developments in Ukraine. We had the opportunity to officially receive a US President to the European Council – for the first time as far as I know – and we had a substantial discussion with Joe Biden.
We reaffirmed, once again, our full coordination in our response to the unacceptable Russian invasion of Ukraine.
We also reiterated our persistence to follow the path of sanctions, our common ascertainment that these sanctions imposed by Europe and the Transatlantic allies are extremely severe and already have substantial effects on the Russian economy.
And of course, we also expressed our dissatisfaction with the fact that some countries, some of which are also members of NATO, are not currently aligned with the rest of the West on the imposition of sanctions. In this way they reduce their effectiveness.
This morning I had the opportunity to talk once again to President Zelenskyy. I thanked him for his wishes for our national holiday. I reminded him of the important role that Odessa and the wider region of the Black Sea played in the history of the Greek Revolution.
I invited him to address the Parliament and I believe that this is something we will be able to organize in the coming days. I think that it is important for this message to be heard in the Parliament. The message of a President who defends, himself as well as his country, against a barbaric and illegal invasion.
And I also offered, in coordination with other countries, starting with France, to examine whether we could organize a humanitarian mission to Mariupol, which is being tested by an unprecedented Russian attack which, unfortunately, makes no distinction between the Ukrainians troops and civilians.
We have included in the European Council conclusions an explicit reference to Mariupol, and it would be a good thing if Russia realizes that this practice of indiscriminate attacks, resulting to innocent victims, isolates Russia even further and makes it even more difficult to achieve primarily a ceasefire, in order to put an end to hostilities.
On energy issues – as I told you – we had a rather difficult debate today. We have come to this European Council without having yet a common ground on how Europe should react to this phenomenon of the explosion of natural gas prices. But we have managed, with a lot of persistence, to include in the European Council conclusions an explicit reference to the caps on the natural gas prices, among other options that we have urged the European Commission to consider, in order to compress natural gas prices.
And, I believe, there is a much better understanding in the European Council, but also in the European Commission, of how the wholesale natural gas market works, of how it has become speculative and how that market no longer really reflects the real forces of supply and demand. We have asked the President of the Commission to talk with all the important “players” of the market and to propose solutions, interventions. And one of the available options is a cap in the wholesale market of natural gas, as soon as possible.
It is a step forward compared with the point where we started. And I think that what is very important is the fact that many market participants, with the most important one probably being the European Power Supplies Manufacturers’ Association, have already expressed their support to this solution, with official announcements that they issued. I believe this is something that the European Commission should also take into account in the discussions and consultations it will have.
At the same time, there is one more complicated issue that remains pending: the way in which the price of natural gas affects the price of electricity. The European Commission is committed to submitting proposals by May for the electricity market in Europe and how to correct this distortion; meaning a very high, marginal natural gas price effectively sets the price of electricity, regardless of whether it is produced from much cheaper sources, such as hydroelectric, from Renewable Energy Sources.
This is also an important initiative. When the electricity market was designed, no one imagined that natural gas prices would be at the level where they are today. It is clear that this market was designed with normal conditions in mind and not war. Therefore, interventions should be made in that field as well.
Finally, we were pleased to hear the President of the European Commission announce that Europe, at the Commission level, will now be able to negotiate with large US natural gas suppliers, in this case the United States, on long-term liquefied natural gas purchases.
It is very important to be able to make these purchases at European level and not at national level. We have much more bargaining power as Europe than as member states separately. Just consider the fact that 75% of the world’s natural gas goes through pipelines from Russia to Europe, and you will understand how much power this gives us in our negotiation with natural gas suppliers.
So, this is a very important first step that Greece supported from the first moment, a debate that will mature and a debate that, of course, brings to mind a similar initiative taken by the European Union regarding vaccines, where we, EU Member States, granted the European Commission the capacity to buy vaccines and it did get more quantities and better prices. I think that this will also be the case with natural gas.
So, I believe that despite the difficulties and the small tensions that emerged today during the debate -cases like these are sometimes dramatized by the media – but I can tell you that they are quite common. Within the European Council, the atmosphere is always courteous and I believe our disagreements can be expressed in a well-justified manner.
We have reached common conclusions, which I consider to be satisfactory and I believe that these conclusions will be taken into account by the markets that see, hear, monitor and realize that we, as a European Union, are now willing to intervene and use our power, as major buyers of natural gas, in order to disrupt this game of speculators. So that we will not allow, we will not enable, in the end we will not finance – by the prices we pay – Russia’s war, because this is exactly what is happening right now.
Russia has very high revenues from prices that are outrageously high and for which, in one way or another, European consumers are called upon to shoulder the burden.
And let me conclude by saying that all European countries have made national interventions to keep prices down. No European country is able to fully absorb the increases of prices due to inflation. The prices we see today, either in the energy market or passed on to other markets, such as the food markets, are the result of the war. These are prices that are solely the fault of President Putin and the absurd, illegal invasion he has chosen to launch in Ukraine.
Finally, an issue that will surely preoccupy us in the coming months concerns the eventual global food crisis. I have convened a meeting on Monday with all the competent bodies of the Ministry of Rural Development to ensure food safety in our country.
Greece is not currently facing an issue. But there is a big problem for countries like Egypt, for example, which imports 80% of its wheat. 100,000,000 Egyptians import 80% of their wheat from Russia and Ukraine. That’s why President Macron’s initiative was so positive, so that we can see globally how we can prepare, starting from now, for an impending crisis, in the face of which we must be prepared.
It would be a real tragedy if, after Covid-19, after the energy crisis, in a year from now, we had a global food crisis. In a year from now because this is when we will see the outcome of an insemination that would not take place in Ukraine or Russia.
Let me stop here. I am ready for your questions.
Giannis Kantelis (SKAI): Good evening, Mr. Prime Minister. I would like to ask you a question about energy. Following what happened in Versailles, there were three major issues on the agenda of the Summit that you have already mentioned, concerning the correlation of the price of electricity with the price of natural gas. The cap. And here is the question: It seems as if Europe has delayed decisions. And what is crucial is whether doing so, it will be able to reach an agreement on these decisions. How will the problem of energy, and of bills paid by consumers, will be handled? Besides, this is an immediate issue.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Your question is a reasonable one, Mr. Kantelis. Let me answer by saying that Europe never makes decisions overnight. We needed five months of intense deliberation for the Recovery Fund. These are very important issues. Very complex ones. And there are still conflicting views within the European Council on these issues. But we took a step in the right direction. And let me point out that these steps may not have a direct regulatory effect, but they do have an impact on the function of markets.
Ever since the public debate over the imposition of a cap started, natural gas prices have fallen sharply. Today they closed below 100 euros per megawatt-hour. So, this will be a gradual process before Europe makes a European decision. But we are not waiting for Europe. The set of measures announced by the Greek government is funded by national resources. And it is our obligation today to stand by the consumers, to stand by our most vulnerable fellow citizens first and foremost and to support them, absorbing – as far as possible – these very important increases. And that is what we will continue to do. We will do it every month for electricity bills. And this additional national aid is the national response to a global crisis.
But to be fully effective, we need to combine this national response with a European response. But the national response does not depend on what happens in Europe.
We continue to exhaust the full range of possibilities that the budget gives us in order to support in a socially equitable way – and I insist on this – our fellow citizens who are most in need.
Spyros Mourelatos (ANT1 and APE): Mr. President, we heard you refer to the distance that has been covered, from the beginning of the Summit all the way to the conclusions. I understand that progress has been reported, but the problems and needs of citizens and businesses in both Greece and Europe still require many steps forward. There was a specific agreement between Mrs Von der Leyen and Mr Biden on the supply of European countries with 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas. And I would like you to explain to us – since Greek citizens are listening to us right now – what kind of positive impact this will have on our country. Thank you very much.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, our country is currently covered in terms of its natural gas needs. This deal is about Russian LNG contracts that are to expire within 2022.
In other words, Europe can ensure that it will purchase at good prices what it will not purchase from Russia. So, there is no direct impact in the Greek market, because – as I told you – the Greek market is completely covered in terms of natural gas needs, whether this comes from pipelines or – through Revythousa in the form of LNG.
We will witness the positive impact along the way. Because as I told you, when European countries join their forces and collectively purchase natural gas, they can achieve better prices compared with what each country would get separately. Because this is what is happening right now, which is wrong. We, thus, undermine one another and, of course, bigger countries have more power than medium and small-sized ones. So this decision will not have a direct impact, but it is a very important first step for the future. This crisis will not end in a week or a month. This is why we should make medium-term and not short-term plans.
Immediately, what Greek citizens will see is the 200 euros in the bank accounts of the low-income pensioners, which will be disbursed in April. They will see the subsidy in the electricity bill, they will see the reduction in the prices of diesel that concerns the entire supply chain, the subsidy at 60 liters of oil per month, as it has been determined by the Ministry, the increased child allowance.
They will see all these within April. And let me stress that these are the national policies for the relief of citizens, against this global energy storm.
Dimitris Gatsios (ERT): Mr. President, I would like to ask you whether the proposal to impose a cap on gas prices is still on the table and what were the counter-arguments of those who reacted to such a prospect. In fact, what did they say in their speeches in the European Council?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The proposal is included in the conclusions and I think it is completely understandable that the European Commission – while there is a range of proposals that it is considering – I think that this is where it will focus today, following today’s discussion, to see how this proposal can be implemented.
There are countries that believe in the function of markets in a dogmatic way. I do not belong to this category. I believe that when the markets do not function for the benefit of the citizens, then the regulator must intervene – the European regulator. So, countries that believe that “markets are always right” joined the front claiming that there should be no intervention.
But the majority of countries – and I think that this is why the coordination we launched with countries of the South, with Spain, Portugal, Italy paid off – generated a level of pressure. We openly said that we will have no Conclusion, unless we have a reference to the issue of caps, unless there is a clear direction for the European Commission to consider this matter further.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA): Mr. President, you said, at the NATO Summit and also today, that there was discussion about sanctions against Russia, which should be imposed by all countries so that they can be effective. Turkey is one of the countries that does not impose sanctions against Russia. Has there been a discussion on this in the European Council?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes. There has been a specific reference in the conclusions. We express our concern over countries that have not aligned with the rest, which have imposed sanctions. Because it is clear that for sanctions to be effective, they should be imposed by as many as possible. And Turkey does not belong to this category. This is its own choice. But it is our choice to decry this choice of Turkey.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Mr. President. In your last speech in the Parliament you said that the country will launch explorations in order to locate possible reserves in the west of Crete and the Ionian. How close are we to this? You said that we are waiting for announcements on this issue.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Yes, you must wait for the announcements that will be made probably in two weeks. What I can tell you is that Greece has the obligation to know whether there are, within the Greek territory, reserves of natural gas. Let me stress this: reserves of natural gas which can be commercially exploitable. We don’t know that yet, for the simple reason that there has been no such exploration. And there are many to blame for this fact, though there have been certain in the past who focused on this direction of our energy policy. At the moment it is still something that we do not know.
The direction of the Government is that we want to get to know it. And for this to happen as soon as possible, given that the exploration will not be held by the government, but by companies, we need to make sure that we have the framework of the companies that have a real interest to explore whether there are economically exploitable deposits in Western Greece. And we are going to move in this direction.