Francine Lacqua: I could not be more pleased to be joined by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Prime Minister of Greece. Prime Minister, thank you for joining us. I think it’s your first and our first interview of the day here from Sharm. Are you optimistic that things will get done? I know this is not a headline COP. We’re not expecting huge pledges. We’re expecting money. Will we get the money from the richer countries to the poorer to deal with climate change?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I’m reasonably optimistic that progress will be made on this critical front. You are right to point out that the real outstanding question is the financing of the transition and to make it more affordable for low income poorer countries to move towards green energy and towards a more sustainable future.
There’s a lot of momentum, a lot of engagement by private stakeholders, big companies, NGOs and I think we are all understanding, every day that passes, there’s a new climate crisis somewhere. We know that climate change is happening much faster than we thought and this is becoming – sort of – a common knowledge which requires an urgent response.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, how difficult is it to actually give money for operational or things like that when we’re dealing with a huge energy security crisis? So of course, in Europe, coupled with the cost of living, that’s increasing. And a lot of people that have to make very difficult choices through the winter?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Difficult choices have to be made. But at the same time we know that we need to double down on the green transition. Let me give you the example of Greece. We have ten gigawatts of installed renewable power. Ten days ago it was a beautiful sunny and windy day. We ran the entire country for 5 hours in terms of our electricity consumption simply through renewables. And we understand that focusing on renewables is cheaper but also geopolitically safer. And on top of that, it contributes towards reducing our emissions. So these projects are sort of positive NPV projects and that’s why I expect a significant acceleration when it comes to renewables all over the world.
Francine Lacqua: But does energy security concerns actually change your plans? For example, for coal-powered plants?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: In the short term, yes. We intend to prolong our production from coal for maybe two, three years. But moving away from coal is a decision we have made that is not going to change. What will change is diversity of supply when it comes to natural gas. We know we will need natural gas for the foreseeable future. Greece is becoming an energy hub to bring in liquefied natural gas, not just to cover our country’s needs, but also to provide natural gas for the Balkans, for Central Europe, why not for Ukraine. So in that respect, this role for other countries is becoming very important.
Francine Lacqua: First of all, you’re trying to build also a cable, right, from Egypt to Greece that will import green energy and then at the same time this connection, for example to Germany.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We want to become a net exporter of green electricity to Central Europe. That means we need more interconnections towards Central Europe. But we can also be the intermediary country that will connect Europe to North Africa. We’re talking to the Egyptians. We’re putting forward a very ambitious three gigawatt cable that will connect Africa to Greece. And of course to have a three gigawatt cable you need ten gigawatts of installed renewables to produce the electricity.
Francine Lacqua: When you look at the crisis that we’re dealing with and going back to the coal power plants, do you believe in general, because of the war in Ukraine that the transition will take longer but then will be more aggressive into green or does it just take longer? So does it get pushed back?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Actually it needs to be faster, especially when…
Francine Lacqua: It needs to be but will it be?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It has to be. And when we’re looking at how we are deploying our capital, European money, but also private capital, we know for example, we need more infrastructure in our grids. This for us is of absolute paramount importance because at some point we won’t be able to install more renewables unless we have more investment into the grids. But security of supply is becoming a huge issue. Renewables are the safest, the cleanest and the cheapest form of energy today, especially for countries such as Greece.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, talk to me a little bit about the cost of living crisis. Actually in terms of growth, Greece is really doing quite well compared to other nations. The cost of living crisis is still real and affecting a lot of your citizens.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is and that is why we’re supporting citizens through various means. The economy has been over performing, will grow at close to 6% this year. This is giving us budget space in order to support our citizens. And of course we are probably the only country that has been able to recycle profits from energy producers to support our citizens. We have actually taxed -this may sound almost sort of socialist or communist- but we placed a 90% tax on the windfall profits of the electricity producers during the first six months of 2022. So we’re clawing back a significant amount of money from our energy producers to support the businesses and households.
Francine Lacqua: Greece went through a huge austerity program, actually also through the IMF. I don’t know whether you have advice or whether you caught up with the UK Prime Minister, as for the things that they need to do about the very difficult two months that we saw in the UK.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think what we saw in the UK is very clear: you cannot fool the markets. If you offer a program that is not well funded, the markets are going to ask questions regardless of whether you’re a small or a big country. We’ve learned our lessons in Greece. So we know that everything we do has to be fiscally sustainable. And again the reason why we’re doing well is because we’ve been able to combine high growth with a reasonable fiscal policy. I’ve refused calls, for example, for horizontal reductions of VAT, which would make a big dent in our budget without delivering necessarily low prices. So we know we need to be targeted in terms of our support and sort of very laser focused on supporting those households that are more vulnerable.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, I know there was also a lot of talk over the weekend about the spying scandal. Can you confirm what you know? Is it accurate that journalists and others were being taped and wired?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Absolutely not. I’ve made it very clear that the recent publication that saw the light of day in Greece is absolutely false. I’ve been very clear in terms of recognizing that in Europe we have a problem in terms of illegal spyware -that is not only a Greek problem, we’ve seen it in many European countries- and we need European regulation to address this. I hope that Greece will be the first country in Europe -within the next month, we will ban all illegal spyware that can be sold out of Greece. So we need to take this, which is a real problem, and turn it into an opportunity.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, I know you’re not going to talk to me about US politics, but what kind of, you know, we have the midterms, which could actually change the composition of some of the decisions on tax, the debt ceiling. So, the economic policies coming out of the US. How does that impact Europe? What kind of partner does Europe need in the United States of America?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Let me speak about the Greek American relationship, which is at an all time high, and I expect this to remain so regardless of what will happen in the US Congress. Greece is a strategic partner for the US, in a difficult part of the world. And regardless of what happens in Congress, I expect this not to change.
Francine Lacqua: Prime Minister, thank you so much, as always, for all of your time. I hope to see you in London very soon.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Thank you very much.