Meeting

A Conversation With Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece

Tuesday, July 9, 2024
Louiza Vradi/REUTERS
Speaker

Prime Minister, Greece

Presider

President and Chief Executive Officer, Corus International; Former U.S. Ambassador to Greece (2007-2010) and Belarus (1997-2000); CFR Member

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece discusses the nation's strategic defense efforts and opportunities for security cooperation in the Mediterranean.

SPECKHARD: Well, welcome, everyone. Thank you for coming today.  

On behalf of the Council on Foreign Relations I would like to welcome the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to today’s conversation. 

I’m Daniel Speckhard, the president of Corus International, and will be presiding for today’s discussion. 

We are joined by Council members here in Washington and virtually, and the prime minister is in town for a meeting of heads of state and government for the NATO anniversary summit for its seventy-fifth anniversary year. 

In introducing the prime minister I won’t repeat your bio, which you all have, but I would add that he has carved an impressive path in Greek politics and in navigating his country through a very challenging time in European security and in the world. 

When I first met him fifteen years ago I was ambassador to Greece and he was a young parliamentarian that had already caught the attention of the United States and other diplomats as a member of parliament who was coloring outside the traditional political Greek lines and promoting good governance and an evidence-based approach to public policy. 

He represents a new generation of leaders in a world that is fundamentally led by an older generation and has successfully done what few others have been able to do and that is to hold the political center in an increasingly politicized and populist world. 

We are fortunate to have him here today. With Greece at the crossroads of Europe and a maritime country with a global reach it has a long tradition of worrying and recognizing the importance about security in the world and punching above its weight on international issues. 

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for joining us today. 

MITSOTAKIS: Thank you. Thank you, Ambassador, for having me. 

SPECKHARD: Let me kick it off today by asking you about what’s on top of everyone’s mind and that’s Ukraine.  

I’m sure there will be new pledges. I have been a NATO official and worked many of these summits in the past on the staff side and I know they’re going to come up with some great announcements, great pledges, new signs of support for Ukraine. 

But as the war drags on into its third year I know also fatigue is starting to set in and there’s a sense of malaise amongst many and that, perhaps, Putin’s strategy of waiting out the West is starting to bear fruit. 

How do you see the current situation evolving in the coming year and what impact, if any, do you think the summit is going to have and, perhaps, you could also say what implications for European security there will be if Putin feels that he can once again annex territory by the use of force? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, first of all, let me speak about Greece and then about Europe in terms of how we see this conflict evolving. 

Greece from the very beginning positioned itself in line with our allies and in full support of Ukraine, and this was not necessarily a given for a country that has had the historical, cultural, and religious ties to Russia. But we made our position very, very clear and I think we have delivered in terms of political, economic, but also military support and our position is not going to change. 

I also need to point out that the European Union, in spite of many predicted at the beginning of this war, has been remarkably united when it comes to Ukraine. We have imposed numerous rounds of sanctions in Ukraine and we were actually the ones that delivered on a significant package of fiscal support before the U.S. agreed on its support—pledging to continue to support Ukraine for as long as it takes both financially and militarily. 

And, of course, when it comes to offering Ukraine EU membership perspective we’ve also crossed that bridge and the first intergovernmental discussions, which mark the beginning of this long path towards European membership, has started this month. 

So I don’t see any signs of the European commitment towards supporting Ukraine wavering. Yes, we may have problems with one or two countries. One of them happens to be leading the European Council as we speak.  

But overall the support of Europe has been very robust and the Ukrainian crisis has also forced us to acknowledge a fact which has been painfully obvious to some of us but not to all of my European colleagues and that is that we need to take more ownership when it comes to issues of European defense and European strategic autonomy, which also brings us to the question of NATO and this important summit that is taking place in Washington. 

I think that the U.S. has been right in terms of pointing the finger at some European countries, some of them being very large in terms of not stepping up to the plate and delivering what it can to the commitments towards NATO. 

Now, I do need to point out that Greece is not in that category because Greece has been spending more than 2 percent of its GDP ever since it joined NATO. But as we recognize that we need to take more ownership when it comes to issues of European security inevitably we in Europe are also spending more in terms of our defense commitments and, of course, this brings us to the question of whether we can do more at the European level to organize our security to complement what NATO is doing. 

I believe, again, the answer needs to be affirmative. I have proposed with my good friend, the Polish prime minister, a European defense initiative which is essentially a European iron dome so how do we complement and strengthen our existing anti-air defense capabilities by committing more European resources to this project, always fully integrated with NATO command and control structures. 

But this for us is going to become a topic which we will focus more and more on as we move into the next European cycle. 

SPECKHARD: Do you feel that what you’re describing there is going to be enough to kind of stabilize the situation in Europe? And I’m thinking here whether we can look to a brighter future or whether or not we could expect further trouble as the Russians, perhaps, and what is, hopefully, their conflict there at some point in the future they’ll look to places like the Balkans or the Mediterranean or the Middle East. 

What’s your sense of the—perhaps, the stability in the wider European region and whether or not NATO is really up to the task of even going beyond not just managing the Ukraine crisis but managing what could be larger crises in the region? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, Ukraine is the number-one priority and, of course, we are all realists and I think that the message that also came out of the—you know, the peace conference that took place in Switzerland was the continuous support to Ukraine is important because whatever peace discussions take place at some point they cannot be under conditions where Ukraine is defeated and capitulates.  

This is not an acceptable premise for us in Europe and, of course, this means patience and continued support to Ukraine and to make sure that there is no drastic change when it comes to the battlefield at least, putting Ukraine in a position of significant disadvantage. 

And I don’t—again, let me repeat I do not sense that there is anyone in Europe who does not believe that this is right now, I mean, the right short-term—I stress short-term—approach to address this issue. 

Now, in terms of the remaining important strategic priorities, Greece sits on the, you know, southeastern flank of NATO—of the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re facing our own, you know, sets of challenges in the region, in particular in the Middle East.  

But I think what is important is that we should try our best to ensure that we don’t have additional problems that compound what is already a very complicated situation when it comes to Ukraine. 

As far as our relationship with Turkey is concerned, when we first came into office in 2019 we faced a situation of what I call sort of aggressive revisionism and we went through three years of difficult times with Turkey.  

Over the past year—I’d say year and a half—things have significantly improved and I think we should acknowledge that while at the same time recognizing that some of the fundamental Turkish positions when it comes to the situation in the Eastern Med have not profoundly changed.  

But the fact that we’ve had, you know, sixteen months of—you know, of quiet in terms of having no violations of Greek airspace, that we’re working better together when it comes to issues of migration, that we’ve actually done a deal with Turkey that allows Turkish citizens to travel to the islands, the Greek—the islands of the Aegean and get their visa very, very quickly, encouraging Turkish visitors to come to Greece.  

These are some positive steps that at least point to a situation of détente, and in its own right at a time when we’re faced with significant challenges within NATO this is something which I think moves the needle in a positive direction when it comes to our relations. 

Now, the Balkans, as you know, are much more complicated and Greece has always been, you know, very supportive of the European perspective of the six Western Balkan countries and in that respect we have been consistent in our policy. But the problem with the Balkans is that quite frequently sort of the ghosts of nationalism sort of emerge when you don’t necessarily expect them. 

Let me give you one example, North Macedonia. North Macedonia is a member of NATO today because Greece lifted its veto after the Prespes Agreement, which was signed and ratified by the previous government. I’ve had, you know, issues with the Prespes Agreement, but I’ve made it very clear that this is an international agreement that binds the country, and I respected it, and I do respect it. 

But one of the fundamental tenets if not the most fundamental aspect of the Prespes Agreement had to do with the name North Macedonia being used ergo omnes, which means both internally within North Macedonia and externally, and this is something which is simply nonnegotiable. It’s very clear. It’s in the Prespes Agreement and it’s nonnegotiable for Greece. 

So when I hear the new government of North Macedonia referring to the country as Republic of Macedonia within the country I have serious concerns, and this is an issue which I do intend to raise. It is not constructive. It does not help the European path of North Macedonia. It’s an unnecessary complexity at a time when we should be looking for areas of convergence. 

So it’s just one example how, you know, the situation of the Balkans can always be—  

SPECKHARD: Yeah. 

MITSOTAKIS: —complicated. But Greece is a country that remains a pillar of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, a country that has left sort of behind it the most difficult years of the financial crisis with an economy that is growing significantly faster than the rest of the eurozone and, again, ready to play an active and constructive role in promoting political stability but also economic prosperity in the Balkans. 

SPECKHARD: Well, I know from my own experience that you deserve a lot of credit for that détente in relations with Turkey and it takes a lot of political courage and will to reset those relations sometimes when they’re not on the right track and I know you took—personally took steps to do that. So you deserve a lot of credit in trying to keep security in the southern—in the southeastern flank of NATO. 

Let’s talk a little bit more globally. I mentioned Greece is a seafaring country and has a global reach around the world. On the NATO agenda is the issue of global partnerships, Indo-Pacific partnerships in particular, that of Japan, Australia, South Korea. 

And I know that 40 percent of trade goes through South China Sea and as we watch that dynamic play out there it’s not out of the realm of possibility that that could become a more troublesome place and affect global trade. 

How do you see the conversation going here in Washington on the role of China and that it’s playing particularly as it’s also not just in the South China Sea being a little more aggressive but it’s providing dual-use technology to Russia. That’s affecting the Ukraine war. 

What’s the conversation going to be like around China? What are your thoughts and views on how those interactions should be taking place with that country on the global security stage? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, first of all, we’ve had these discussions at the European Council and this is a complicated relationship with China, which can be at times, you know, a rival—an adversary. It could and should be a partner on issues such as climate change. 

But, of course, one is right to point out that all the big security issues are, in a way, interconnected and what happens in the Indo-Pacific is of great concern to us, not just as a European country. You’re right to point out that Greece is a country that plays a critical role in global shipping. 

One should not forget that more than 80 percent of global trade is trade related to shipping and that Greece controls 25 percent of the global maritime fleet. So we have a profound interest in ensuring freedom of navigation and ensuring that trade routes remain open and that global trade continues to flow and especially at a time when, you know, trade is becoming a more complicated political issue.  

You know, Greece is a country that remains in principle committed to free trade. I mean, sometimes we see the implications when you have, you know, bottlenecks or problems when it comes to trade routes.  

Look at what’s happening, for example, now closer to our home in the Red Sea, where we actually have an—where we actually have ships. We have a ship that just shut down—you know, yesterday shut down, you know, Houthi drones and that were threatening maritime vessels and, of course, at a time when the cost of living and inflation is a concern to us any disruption in trade inevitably contributes towards prices moving in the wrong direction and going up. 

So and, of course, let me add to that the fact that issues and discussions in Europe about critical dependencies are, you know, gaining steam at a time when we’re looking at, you know, how dependent we can—you know, we were historically on China and what does this mean for our own security of supply and what alternatives we can have. These are complicated discussions. 

And let me just add one final point. You know, there’s one country which is particularly important, I think, for Greece but also for Europe as a whole and that is India. I visited India on an official state visit in February.  

This idea of this in the Middle East-Europe a corridor is a long-term, very powerful concept when it comes to sort of global trade and Greece intends to play an important role as the natural entry point into the European Union if this corridor, you know, ends up becoming from what is currently a grand vision a reality and we’re looking at, you know, those infrastructure projects that can help us facilitate—play that role.  

If you just look at the position of Greece on the map we are a natural supply chain and logistics country. We have not invested in this significantly but now it’s really taking off and we’re not just talking about goods. We’re talking about energy. We are currently in the process of putting our floating storage and regasification unit into operation in northeastern Greece, which will allow us to import more LNG including American LNG. 

We have the capacity to be a provider of energy security to the Balkans, you know, coming back to breaking the dependency of these countries—historical dependency on Russian gas. But we are currently, for those of you who don’t know that, selling gas to Ukraine. So— 

SPECKHARD: Can I ask you just a little follow-up here? 

Though, you also on the economic side have pretty strong engagement with China and as you create some of these alternative routes that are going to be good for security as well—for instance, the port of Piraeus is owned two-thirds by the Chinese, which is, I think, the seventh largest port in the world, providing container goods to Europe and stuff—how do you see the dynamic of on one hand China being a little bit more aggressive on the security front but at the same time its economic engagement and investment in European countries like your own create, perhaps, potential conflicts of interest?  

MITSOTAKIS: Yeah. This is a question I get quite frequently when I visit to the U.S. and I do need to point out that the—(laughter)—the investment, of course, going to the port of Piraeus was made at a time when no one was interested to—in investing in Greece during the height of the financial crisis.  

It is a management agreement of the port. Yes, the port has done well over the past years but it’s not the only port in Greece. We’re currently privatizing many other ports. For example, the second largest port, Igoumenitsa, or Heraklion these are two ports which were actually acquired by a big Italian consortium, and if you look at the footprint of foreign direct investment into Greece for the past five years the Chinese have essentially been nonpresent. 

So as Greece has been able to attract significant FDI it was not from China so I don’t sense that in any way, shape, or form the Greek economy is overly reliant or dependent on Chinese investment and, at the end of the day, you know, the port is being regulated by the Greek authorities and I don’t sense sort of any strategic threat by the presence of China, again, in one of—in our largest port.  

But we are a country that respects international agreements. This deal was done before we came into power and we have to respect it. 

SPECKHARD: Well, thank you for that.  

Let me ask one last question in terms of security in your region and then open it up to questions from others in the room.  

As we mentioned earlier, you are at a difficult spot in the crossroads of the world there at the southern flank and it was surprising to many that Gaza was not on the agendas announced by the secretary general of NATO. 

Greece knows full well the fallout of conflicts in the wider region, having felt the weight of the migration flows from Syria and Afghanistan. As this conflict plays out in Israel and Gaza what are your thoughts on the conversation that should be taking place here in Washington about that and how to address that conflict and what is really a growing humanitarian crisis? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, first of all, let me point out that Greece sits on the external borders of the European Union so you’re right to point out it has felt the migration pressure very, very intensely over the past decade and we’ve seen various aspects of the migration problem.  

We’ve seen desperate people, you know, fleeing war and persecution in search of safety and fully entitled to international protection. We’ve seen economic migrants, you know, looking for, you know, a better future in Europe.  

We’ve seen countries instrumentalize migration to put geopolitical pressure on Greece and Europe. This is what happened on the Greek-Turkish border in March 2020. Thank God it was not repeated, and we’ve been able, I think, to manage this very, very complex problem in a tough but fair manner and we’ve made it very, very clear—and this is also the position of the European Union—that it is not up to the smugglers to decide who enters Europe. It’s up to the sovereign governments to charter their policies when it comes to migration. 

We have a new pact now on migration asylum, which was voted by the European institutions, which is the process of being implemented and at the same time we fully recognize that firm management of our borders needs to go hand in hand with offering legal pathways to—for migration in an organized and safe manner.  

So we need both sort of a, if you want to use the analogy, a big fence and a big door. Otherwise, I think this policy cannot be balanced and will not work. Look at a country such as Greece which, you know, coming out of the crisis we are already in need of, for example, agricultural workers.  

So we’ve done a deal with Egypt, and we want to bring in some Egyptians on long-term work permits. But they should come, you know, properly and safely and not necessarily jump on a boat and pay an obscene amount of money to a smuggler to bring them to, you know, a Greek island in a journey that is extremely perilous. 

Now, coming to the question of the Middle East and Gaza, I mean, we’ve been very outspoken on this issue. We need, you know, a permanent ceasefire as quickly as possible. The situation in Gaza is extremely, extremely problematic.  

We’ve made our position as Europe, you know, very, very clear, and I do think that this is a position that also eventually serves the long-term strategic interests not just of the Palestinians but also Israel, and I think this is something that we need to communicate, you know, very, very firmly.  

And we’ve had too many false starts when it comes to this ceasefire but every day that goes by we have innocent loss of life in a situation which is becoming more and more dramatic in spite of the fact that we’ve had more aid coming into Gaza.  

The situation is very, very ugly and, of course, the more this war goes on the greater the likelihood that you may have an explosion on the northern front, and if Lebanon were to collapse then you’re talking about a completely different picture when it comes to refugees, and we don’t want to go through this—another refugee crisis like the one we had to manage back in 2015. 

SPECKHARD: Understandable. Thank you for that.  

Let’s open it up to conversation here in the room. Let’s start with some questions. I want to remind you that this is on the record.  

Nick? 

Q: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador. Welcome, Mr. Prime Minister. 

If I may just shift to a bilateral relationship between Greece and the United States. It’s at an all-time high. We hear it on both sides of the aisles.  

However, can you just tell us even in a good relationship is there something more that we can—you can improve on or something more that you would like from the United States? The United States wants from you?  

How would you describe that area of your relationship today? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, thank you for your question, Nick.  

Yes, I think it’s correct to point out that the relationship is at an all-time high and I’m glad to take some credit for this in terms of the policies that we have implemented over the past five years.  

This is a strong and profound relationship and, for me, my opportunity to address the joint session of Congress back in 2022 was sort of a very, very important moment and I think also very important to the Greek-American community in the U.S.  

On the defense and military side we’re doing much together, and we can always do more in terms of ensuring that, you know, Greece has access both to access defense articles but also to modern weapon systems.  

Again, let me point out that it’s never in Greece’s interest to enter into an arms race with anyone but we do want and we insist on having credible deterrence. So we place emphasis on quality over quantity and that is also one of the reasons why we took the decision to purchase F-35 jets from the U.S. and I’m looking towards completing the necessary procedures as quickly as possible.  

But I think this is a relationship that has many dimensions. You know, in the past we’ve always focused a lot on geopolitics. I also want to highlight the economic aspect of the relationship, the fact that we have significantly more foreign direct investment from the U.S. coming into Greece as the economy is growing.  

More U.S. capital is being employed in Greece. More tech companies are interested in investing in Greece and I think this is an aspect of the relationship that we can certainly still work on.  

Greece is a different country in 2024 compared to the country it was in 2019, but because we went through this ten-year crisis there’s still a legacy of wrong perceptions about where Greece is today and we can always work on making sure that we change that and point to all the necessary data to confirm the fact that this is really a good time to invest in Greece. 

And, of course, you know, the strength between our communities and the Greek-American community being, you know, a real bridge between the U.S. and Greece and, you know, cherishing and strengthening those ties which is an issue I take great importance. 

When I, for example, look at the possibility of technology now for language learning and what we can do more in terms of making sure that the younger generation, the next generation of Greek Americans, stay connected to Greece. This is an area where we, clearly, can do much more together.  

SPECKHARD: Thank you. 

Mike? 

Q: Mike Froman, Council on Foreign Relations. 

I just wanted to build on your comment on the economy, Mr. Prime Minister. Greece went from being really quite a basket case with several rounds of crisis to returning to investment grade, growing faster than the rest of Europe, and you’ve pursued very difficult economic reforms that would generally be considered unpopular while being reelected, maintaining your popularity. 

Most employers here have a hard time getting employees back two or three days a week, including the U.S. government. You’ve just gone to a six-day work week. What’s the secret of how you succeed in difficult economic reforms while maintaining political support? Any advice to your fellow European leaders who seem to be having some difficulty in that area or to folks here in the United States?  

MITSOTAKIS: Well, let me clarify that we’re not on a six-day work week. I may be on a seven-day work week as prime minister, but that is not true. What we have done, just to clarify that, is we’ve given the possibility to those companies that actually work 24/7 to have their employees work for a six-day if they choose to do so and pay them much better if they actually want to work for a six-day. But actually making sure that you have a labor market that is flexible and that takes into account the sort of new priorities of work-life balance is, I think, an important component also of our economic success.  

So we actually also have a four-day work week for those because we respect the forty hours per week for those who actually want to work ten hours for four days, and if they can find an arrangement with their employers they can actually do that.  

But coming back to your question, yes, we have been unapologetic in terms of trying to govern from the political center and I think this has been to a great extent the success of our party winning in 2019, winning again with an increased share of the vote in 2023. 

We are a center-right party that focuses on delivering results, fiscally prudent because we have to be, but also very much focused on growth, very much when it comes to our foreign policies promoting what I call responsible patriotism which means strengthening the position of the country and making sure that we build strong alliances and, I would say, relatively socially progressive when it comes to social issues.  

So I think this has delivered for our party a—you know, a strong majority and we’re one of those countries that currently does not have any real political issues because we have a strong parliamentary majority still three years in our term and a very clear roadmap in terms of the reforms that we want to implement.  

But, at the end of the day, I think the reason why we got reelected was very simple. We did what we told people we would do. We came into power in 2019 telling them we want to cut taxes and bring the country back to a growth path.  

We want to improve public services, digitize the state, and make sure that Greece punches, again, above its weight when it comes to international affairs and we did those things, and now the beginning of our second term we want to build upon this progress, address more complicated issues when it comes to public services—you know, really improving our health care system, making structural reforms to our justice system because it simply takes too long in Greece to get to any judicial decision, and at the same time make sure that we build upon this positive economic momentum.  

We need to catch up with Europe and the only way to catch up with Europe is to grow for a long period of time much faster than the rest of the eurozone. This is what the markets seem to believe that we’re able to do. So we want to make sure that at the beginning of our second term we double down on all these reforms that will, you know, maintain us on this positive track.  

And, yes, sometimes some of these reforms are not necessarily all popular but, you know, it’s a price you have to pay in politics and, of course, if you want to do difficult reforms it also makes sense to do them at the beginning of the term and not at the end.  

It seems to me that this is smart politics and this is exactly what we have been doing because some of the reforms we have implemented were politically complicated. But so far so good.  

SPECKHARD: Congratulations on—(inaudible). 

We’re going to take one question here from our online viewers. No? I’m told no. 

We’re going to take maybe the gentleman in the blue tie. (Laughter.)  

Q: (Off mic.) (Laughter.) 

Q: Well, welcome back to Washington, D.C., Mr. Prime Minister. And since I trumped the author of the East Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Act—you alluded to the link when you were talking about selling gas to Ukraine between security and energy. 

You also—then Special Representative for Climate Change John Kerry called you the star of COP-28. You have been able to move ahead on natural gas and renewables while cutting way below or committing to cutting way below the Paris Accord.  

How are you managing your own energy security with your ambitious climate goals and also can you just give us a little preview? What do you think are the most exciting renewable projects in the region? Because Greece is leading on that, and how can that help with security? 

MITSOTAKIS: Well, energy here has been a very complex topic, not just for Greece but also for Europe, and I think we realized during the height of the Ukrainian war the price that we had to pay for being too dependent on Russian gas, and I think we moved away from Russian gas not completely but very, very quickly and it was necessary to do that both for geopolitical but also for economic reasons.  

Now, if you look at Greece’s energy mix, fifteen years ago 70 percent of our electricity production was coal. Now it’s 5 percent. So we moved away from coal almost completely. 

Today 55 percent of our electricity production is renewables—wind, solar, and hydro—and basically the rest is natural gas, and our intention is to push up renewable penetration as much as we can. And I stress “as much as we can” because when you produce so much electricity from renewables you’re beginning to face the real problems of what it means to deal with significant amount of electricity produced from intermittent sources.  

So our emphasis is very much in terms of, you know, adding renewables but in a way that balances the system, focusing on storage, and in our case it’s not just batteries but also pump storage.  

I’m a big believer in pump storage, and we—because we have big dams historically. Hydro serves the purpose, not just of producing electricity but also being essentially a big battery and focusing on interconnections. Interconnections in Europe are going to be absolutely critical to balance the system.  

If we want to have more renewables we need more interconnections, and this is not just interconnections to our neighbors but also big interconnections that, for example, can connect the wind that the North Sea produces, you know, in the winter with the sun that the Mediterranean can produce in the summer. And, of course, there’s also the additional chapter of how we can connect to North Africa the big challenges of offshore wind which, again, is opening up new possibilities. 

But, at the end of the day, we will always need base load electricity production and in the short to medium term in the case of Greece this is going to be gas, whether it’s piped gas but in particular LNG gas. That is why we need more entry points for regasifying the LNG.  

And, of course, we have not abandoned our own hydrocarbon exploration. ExxonMobil is currently engaged in very active research southwest of Peloponnesus and Crete. Again, this would be a plus for us if it were to happen. You know, so much the better. I think we’re pushing the envelope in terms of time to make these—to see if there’s anything worthwhile to commercially exploit.  

But I think we have—we at least have an obligation before we take that decision to note if there are any sort of significant gas reserves sitting within our exclusive economic zone and this is what we’re going to be doing.  

But let me make a broader point about the green transition. The green transition has been a flagship project for Europe and, indeed, it is very noble that Europe has been so aggressive in terms of setting targets regarding climate neutrality for 2050. 

But we only account for, you know, 15 percent of—you know, of global emissions and we’re beginning to realize that the global—the green transition costs a lot of money and that it cannot happen at the expense of our businesses, our citizens, our farmers.  

So I think that we will look at issues regarding the pace of how quickly this transition actually takes place and the financing tools that we need in order to actually make it happen.  

Now, when it comes to finance we actually did something very important during the height of COVID in 2020. We raised 750 billion euros for—through European borrowing. For the first time we issued a new sort of—we created a new instrument and this is money that is used to help us with the green and the digital transition as well as with issues related—regarding competitiveness.  

So for Greece this is 36 billion euros over five years in grants and loans. It’s a lot of money. For example, the pump—one of the pump storage products we—I talked to you about is funded from this facility. So we need not just private but also public money to finance this transition.  

SPECKHARD: I’m going to have to take the last question. I’ll give it to the gentleman there. 

MITSOTAKIS: With the blue shirt.  

Q: (Laughs.) Thank you. Ted Deutch from AJC. Mr. Prime Minister, good to see you again. 

Ambassador, you referenced earlier the surprise that the Gaza conflict was not on the agenda here and I would just—I wanted to pull out from there, obviously, as the administration, as the president regularly points out, the Gaza conflict is—started when Iranian-backed Hamas terrorists conducted this horrific terror attack and could end when they return the hostages and lay down their arms. 

In the north we rightfully worry about what could happen as a result of still the almost daily attacks from Iranian-backed Hezbollah. There was talk of maritime and it’s the Iranian-backed Houthis. And then—and what is on the agenda here it’s Iran that is providing drones and missiles to Russia to use in Ukraine.  

So I would just ask the question differently. Are you surprised that Iran is not firmly on the agenda? And then add to that, of course, their ongoing nuclear program, which will impact not just the Middle East but the entire region, given their threats just recently to Cyprus? 

MITSOTAKIS: Yeah. Thank you. Thank you for pointing this out because we’ve actually had—we did not talk at all about Cyprus and I do want to make this very, very quick point. It’s going to be fifty years on July 20th since the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus and this issue has still not been resolved, and the only way to resolve it is to stick to the framework of the decisions taken by the United Nations Security Council.  

So I just want to remember that and remind the audience that there’s still, you know, a European country that is, you know, partially occupied. 

Now, when it comes—and, of course, we saw threats against Cyprus which are completely unacceptable and completely condemnable and this is actually the reaction of Cyprus, Greece, the European Union, the U.S. We’re concerned about, you know, the region—you know, those regional troublemakers.  

I’m sure that the topic—you know, the topic will come up in our discussions, and, again, we mentioned the Houthis. Again, this is an issue for reasons which I explained previously which is, again, of great concern to us. 

Again, if we could, in the line of what you said, have an agreement—return of hostages, ceasefire, and at least not giving others the sort of excuse that they were looking for to continue, you know, war by proxy. I think it would only be good if that were to happen, you know, sooner rather than later and we’ll do our best to contribute towards that goal.  

SPECKHARD: Thank you. We’ll have to leave it there.  

I want to remind you that the transcript and video will be on the Council of Foreign Relations link. 

Mr. Prime Minister, we wish you great success, that of you and the other leaders here in Washington—courage, inspiration, and good insight as you deal with these global challenges over the next few days.  

Thank you for coming. 

MITSOTAKIS: Thank you. Thank you for having me. (Applause.) 

(END) 

This is an uncorrected transcript. 

Top Stories on CFR

Venezuela

The closely watched elections on July 28 will determine whether incumbent President Nicolás Maduro wins a third term or allows a democratic transition.

International Law

The high court’s decision could allow future U.S. presidents to commit grave abuses of power with impunity, with serious implications for U.S. foreign policy and national security.

Election 2024

The Ohio senator is Donald Trump’s choice as his running mate for the 2024 presidential election.