Good afternoon. The most important result of the June European Council was the unanimous decision of the EU Member States to grant candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, with a view to granting candidate status also to Georgia and, subject to conditions, to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I believe this is a very important decision, which sends a message to Ukraine, to the suffering Ukrainian people, that Ukraine’s position is in a united Europe, provided that Ukraine implements a series of important reforms that will bring the country closer to the European family.
However, I think that in the current difficult situation that President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people face, the European Union is in this manner sending to Ukraine a very important message of optimism, without -I emphasize this- distorting the complicated process of a country approaching the European family.
At the same time as the debate on Ukraine yesterday, we had the European Summit with the leaders of the Western Balkans. On this issue, as I had the opportunity to say in Thessaloniki, when I hosted them a few weeks ago, there is, I think, a justified suspicion concerning the delays that are observed in the process of rapprochement of the Western Balkans with the European family. I reiterated the country’s firm position that the Western Balkans are part of Europe, they belong to the geographical heart of Europe and we must, in parallel, show a real interest in approaching the Western Balkans, whereas the Western Balkans must move with greater courage towards realizing the necessary reforms, so that they can come closer to the European acquis.
And of course it is very important, as it was pointed out, to overcome the difficulties that have arisen in the relations between Sofia and Skopje, in order to unblock the accession process of Northern Macedonia and Albania and to start, as soon as possible, the substantive negotiations between these two countries and the European Union. It is possible that, in this field, after some decisions that are being taken in Bulgaria, we may have – I hope – possibly next week some encouraging developments.
On the issues regarding Turkey, I do not have much to say, but to reiterate that we are fully covered by the Conclusions, as they were adopted unanimously and without – I would say – much debate by the European Council, which expresses its strong concern about the Turkish provocation. The need for Turkey to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all the Member States of the European Union and the call to Turkey, always with respect to International Law, to reduce tensions in the eastern Mediterranean in order to promote, in this way, regional peace and stability.
Today, we had a long debate on economic issues, where again we all expressed strong concern about the rise in inflation. Inflation which to a large extent – as we have said many times and I have said many times also from this podium – is fueled by high energy prices and especially natural gas prices. And I believe that the debate in the European Council has now matured to speed up the process even more so that the European Commission proposes changes in the way the European Union’s electricity market is organized.
That is to say, there should be this much discussed disconnection between gas prices and electricity prices. I believe that this task of the European Commission, which – I emphasize – is extremely complex, will be ready by the end of the summer, in order to be discussed as soon as possible, at the next European Council, so that we can make some final decisions.
I will repeat once again, it is evident that Greece will not wait for the European Union to give a European answer to this problem. And it will continue to support households and businesses, as it has done in recent months, with a series of interventions, whether they relate to electricity prices, or they relate to fuel, or they relate to the reduction of electricity bills through electrical appliances’ programs.
We will continue to stand by the citizens so that, to the extent that our budgetary capacity allows us, we can mitigate the effects of this global price increase, which is due to exogenous factors and should be handled by all European countries.
Nadin Hardalia (SKAI): Mr President, good afternoon. I would like to ask you, what reactions did you receive from European leaders regarding Turkish aggression and whether you think that, if Ankara continues to escalate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the threats, if they are prepared to proceed with an even harsher response, possibly with sanctions against Turkey.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I want to see the glass half full and not half empty, Mrs. Hardalia. I think that the messages that the European Council has sent, not only through the Conclusions that it has adopted today, but throughout the last few years that we have been discussing these issues, are very clear.
There are two paths for Turkey: There is the path of de-escalation, of productive dialogue with respect for International Law, and there is, unfortunately, the path of escalation, which will obviously lead Turkey further away from the European family, always leaving the door open to the possibility of taking additional measures.
What is important at the moment – as I have said many times – is to finally put an end to this extreme aggressive rhetoric of questioning Greek sovereignty. A rhetoric that has absolutely no legal basis. Besides, Greece has responded to all the international fora very thoroughly, canceling all “Turkish arguments” and I will continue to invite Turkey in a bona fide dialogue, so that as neighbors we can discuss and resolve, based on rules of good neighborliness , the issues we have.
Therefore, I have nothing more to add on this issue and I will repeat once again that I personally, as well as the Greek Government, are not going to play the game of rhetorical tension which is often aimed at the internal audience.
We will act calmly, responsibly and decisively and we will always distinguish between the issues of foreign policy and the issues of domestic consumption.
Spiros Mourelatos (ANT1): Mr President, in a few days we will have a very crucial Summit, the NATO Summit in Madrid next week, and I want to ask which is Athens’ strategy. What will you do if Tayyip Erdoğan materializes his threat and raises the issue of demilitarization of the Greek islands at the NATO Summit and if in this environment it would be useful and what would be the purpose of a possible meeting between you and Mr. Erdogan? Thank you.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: On the second question, I am not the one who has cut off communication channels with Mr Erdoğan. He is the one you should ask. I have said that we should be able to meet and talk anytime. Beyond that, as you know, the agenda of the NATO Summit is different. And obviously, if any question arises regarding the relations between Greece and Turkey, the appropriate answers will be given in the strictest way.
Maria Psara (STAR): Mr President, I will take you back to domestic news and ask you about early elections. Everyone is talking about early elections on the occasion of what you said, that we must avoid a long, toxic pre-election period. Are you worried about the fact that the ministers may just put down their pencils? And also, the escalation due to the Turkish provocation allows for elections, even double elections?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I have nothing to add on this subject, Mrs Psara. I think I have given adequate answers to my interviews in recent weeks. I will only say that the government continues its work with even greater reform intensity and willingness. No minister has put down his or her pencils and we still have a lot of work to do. I mention, as an example, the Higher Education Bill, which will be voted -as I estimate- in the coming weeks, but also a series of interventions in many policy fields. The Government continues its work normally, undistracted by all the rhetoric that is being developed around us.
After all, we will soon be entering the fourth year of our governance. I am now experienced enough to acknowledge that it is very difficult to convince you that there will be no elections or that there will be no reshuffle, as I know very well that these are the two favorite topics that you keep coming back to, when you have nothing else to ask me.
Maria Psara (STAR): What about Turkey?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I have already answered that.
Sofia Fasoulaki (OPEN): Good evening, Mr President. A few days ago, in an interview you gave you said that Greece is ready to deal with the most difficult scenario, the worst-case scenario, if Russia stops natural gas supplies, as it has been threatening for the last few days.
I wanted to ask you how Greece is going to achieve that. How is it ensured that Greece will be sufficient energy-wise during the winter and whether there will be some actions between Greece and other countries, which we do not yet know, at this level.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, it is our obligation, Mrs Fasoulaki, to prepare for the worst-case scenario. And indeed the worst-case scenario for Europe would be the total shutdown of natural gas supplies from Russia towards the European markets.
Of course, it takes European coordination to deal with such a scenario. Countries cannot act on their own separately and this is one of the issues that we have been discussing at a European level. As you realize, in interconnected markets we have an obligation to work together and coordinate, so that we can handle the overall impact of such a negative scenario.
Let me cite one example. Greece is currently helping Bulgaria a lot. As the supply of natural gas to Bulgaria from Russia has been cut off, Greece – as a country that receives liquified natural gas, can cover a part of Bulgaria’s needs. And once the IGB Project- Gas Interconnector is completed, it will be able to supply Bulgaria with natural gas from Azerbaijan.
And of course, let me remind you that 70% of the natural gas that is imported in the country is directed to the production of electricity. We have already elaborated – along with the Regulatory Authority for Energy and under the supervision of the Ministry in charge – scenarios, so that we will be able to produce electric power also from different sources, which means to raise the production of electricity from plants that consume lignite, before we reach –let’s say- more extreme scenarios of limiting the demand of electricity.
We need to be ready for the worst-case scenario. And of course, if this happens, have no doubt. There will be an overall impact on the economic activity of the Eurozone.
Our country – as I have repeatedly said – must be ready for the worst-case scenario. I want to say once again, I do not think that this will happen. Let me be precise on this. As you understand, this would have a major economic cost for Russia as well. But even if there are slight chances for this scenario to take place, we still need to be ready.
Nikos Armenis (MEGA and AMNA): Mr President, the desired European response to high prices, when will it come? Will it be in October’s Summit or will we have an extraordinary Summit in July?
Also, the European Council has confirmed that Greece is exiting the enhanced supervision regime. If tourism has a positive course, will we have at a national level something more than what we already know, while scenarios over possible elections multiply and Alexis Tsipras urged his MEPs to be ready?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I have repeatedly said, Mr Armenis, that there is no European response to the problem of high prices. Of course, the national budgets of all European countries, each country on its own, based on the choices it makes, supports European societies against this unprecedented rise of prices.
From that point on, I do not need to repeat the measures that we have already taken. Let me just point out that we are able to take these measures, which are extremely important, especially in the field of electricity, due to the fact that we have restored fiscal balance. And because our economy reported a performance that exceeded our expectations. And indeed, the higher the growth of the Greek economy, the more margin we have to provide support.
However, we will continue to adopt targeted measures that provide support mainly to those who are most in need. And even today, Mrs Lagarde’s recommendation, who is representing the European Central Bank, was precisely that horizontal measures often do not work.
It has also been said by my colleagues that very often VAT reductions on fuel are not passed on, ultimately, to consumers. Other countries have tried this and have found out that they did not actually achieve the desired result. So we will continue to move in the direction we have set.
And Greek citizens are well aware today that the Government is on their side: the “Power Pass” which will enable citizens to get significant amounts back to their account, up to 600 euros, for the excessive charges they had to pay, in recent months, in electricity bills.
The “Fuel Pass”, within our capabilities. We significantly reduce fuel prices for 60 liters per month. It is a relief for our fellow citizens, at least for those who may move around in the summer and spend their holidays using their car.
And of course I would like to repeat that in total, the disposable income of Greeks has been supported by interventions, such as the increase of the minimum wage and the reduction of taxes, the ENFIA tax reduction offers an indirect support to the disposable income.
I do not underestimate the difficulties and I know that it is difficult for many of our fellow citizens to make ends meet. This is exactly the reason why we want to focus primarily on them and that is why, as I told you, we are not implementing horizontal measures that would have a high budgetary cost and an uncertain result.
And one last thing, we will be very strict concerning market controls. In recent days, for example, we have seen a de-escalation in oil prices. This de-escalation must be passed on to the pump. I want to be very clear. We have the ability to control and impose the necessary fines in case this does not happen.
Unfortunately, the dollar-euro exchange rate does not work in our favor, but in any case prices should not rise too fast when the international price of crude oil rises and de-escalate slowly when prices fall.
I think everyone should comprehend this message and be aware of the fact that the state has the regulatory capacity to intervene whenever it considers that there are market distortions that harm the consumers.
Georgia Skintzi (ERT): Mr President, I would like to ask you about your joint proposal with Italy for a ceiling on the wholesale price of natural gas which was apparently embraced by the Belgian Prime Minister, what was the reaction of your European counterparts, what were the objections and the concerns and whether there was an alternative proposal to finally put a brake on these frantic gas prices.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I have said many times that reaching an agreement at the European level on energy market issues is extremely complex, because each country has its own peculiarities.
And one country alone can block, as you know, a European decision. You see how volatile the gas markets are. Small disturbances can cause large fluctuations in the price of natural gas.
We will continue to insist on this proposal, as a possible option. But again we will focus, at the same time, on how to disconnect the market and the natural gas prices from the prices of electricity. We are more interested in this, because I will repeat that 70% of the natural gas we import in our country is directed to electricity generation.
So if we manage to “unlock” this problem, then we will see a de-escalation of electricity prices, without having to intervene to the extent that we have already done. And this will, ultimately, pose a lower burden on our budgets.