Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis appeared optimistic about the prospects of the Greek economy, in the light of the upward revision of the growth estimate for 2021, in an interview given to Bloomberg, during his visit to New York for the work of the 76th General Assembly of the United Nations.
In particular, the Greek Prime Minister noted that "we have revised upwards the growth forecast to 5,9% - and this new forecast may be pessimistic - for 2021" and noted speaking to journalists Tom Keene and Lisa Abramowicz, that " "There is great interest in foreign direct investment in Greece by American and European companies."
This year's course of tourism
Regarding the course of tourism this year, Mr. Mitsotakis stated that "we manage to upgrade our product. So this year, we had a higher per capita expenditure compared to last year. We had a very good tourist season, much better than we expected. I expect that, fortunately, next year we will not be as concerned about the Covid issue as we are today. Therefore, I expect that 2022 will be the year that Greek tourism will be launched ".
The issue of rising gas prices
Regarding the issue of rising gas prices throughout Europe and the pressure it causes, the Prime Minister stressed: "We are committed to supporting electricity consumers in Greece. We do this by providing state funding but also by encouraging energy providers to absorb some of the costs. We expect that we will not see a significant increase in electricity bills in the next 3 to 6 months. We have also put forward a proposal at European level to find a European solution to what we consider to be a short-term phenomenon. "This is a real problem for Europe and I think we need a European response that goes beyond what the individual Member States do at national level."
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
Mr. Mitsotakis also referred to the contribution of Greece in achieving the European goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030: "Initially, we are closing all lignite power plants. We initially said that we could do it by 2028. I believe that it will be possible to achieve our goal by 2025 ", he stressed.
The Prime Minister also appeared "a strong supporter of the idea of a European strategy of autonomy, because there are issues especially in our region, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in the Sahara where Europe needs a presence. "And if Europe becomes stronger militarily, if we work together more, I think that is for the benefit of the Alliance and for the benefit of NATO."
On the front of Greek-Turkish relations, Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted that "we had great tensions last year. The situation is better this year. I have always been very open and honest about our relationship with Turkey. We have complex issues, very difficult legal issues related to the demarcation of maritime zones. There is only one framework. And this is the faithful application of the rules of international law. "
Regarding the way Greece is dealing with a possible new wave of migration at its borders due to Afghanistan, Mr. Mitsotakis said: "I think the risk is lower this year compared to 2015. I am committed and I am absolutely clear that we will protect our borders ".
"If you look at the flows, they have decreased by 90% compared to 2019," the prime minister underlined.
The following is the detailed interview of the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis in the Bloomberg agency:
Tom Keene: Congratulations, first of all to you and to those who are part of the Greek political scene, even to the opposition, for this absolutely impressive recovery of Greece. What did you think when the country was at the worst point of this economic disaster? What did you think to help the country recover as it finally happened?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We took power in July 2019 with a clear mandate to lead the economy back to growth. Our country was hit by the pandemic but we managed to implement very important reforms and we used whatever budget we had to support the real economy. The recent data is really encouraging. The economy recorded growth of 16,2% in the second quarter of the year. We have revised upwards the growth forecast to 5,9% and this new forecast may be pessimistic for 2021. We see great interest in foreign direct investment from American companies, from European companies. We have made significant progress in digitizing the state. We have a very ambitious plan for a green transition and overall I believe that the climate in the country, after ten years of crisis, has changed significantly.
Tom Keene: I would like to point out that the Greek GDP has moved positively as everyone - except John Farrow and me from the team of the Bloomberg Surveillance show - has visited Greece in the last six months. I want to clarify this…
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: So one more reason to visit Greece and see for yourself what is really happening.
Tom Keene: People are talking about climate change. We have seen fires in the forests of America that are far from Greece, but also fires in your country that occurred recently, just 20 to 30 kilometers from Athens. You experienced record temperatures. What do you need from Europe? What do you need from world leaders to start the debate on climate change?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, the phenomenon is already here. I no longer use the term climate change. I'm talking about a real climate crisis.
Tom Keene: But also the issue of energy that is part of all this.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: The climate crisis is affecting the Mediterranean to a very significant degree. We have implemented a very ambitious plan aimed at getting rid of carbon emissions very soon. Europe is at the forefront of this effort. As you know, we are committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55% by 2030. What are we doing in Greece? Initially, we close all lignite power plants. We initially said that we could do it by 2028. I believe that it will be possible to achieve our goal by 2025. Therefore, we are making a significant contribution to carbon emissions by changing our energy mix. Obviously, we are constantly adding renewable energy sources, while in the meantime we will rely on natural gas. We are also modernizing our buildings energetically at a very fast pace. We are implementing a very ambitious plan that aims to encourage citizens to buy electric cars and all this is supported by European funding. As you know, we agreed last July on a package called NextGenerationEU. We are talking about 32 billion euros in grants and loans that will be available in Greece over the next six years. A significant percentage of these will be channeled into green investment projects.
Lisa Abramowicz: Much of what you are saying, Mr Prime Minister, is extremely important. However, there is a pressing, immediate concern associated with rising gas prices across Europe. What would you like to see from some of your partners, some of the Member States, to deal with the pressure of rising prices that seems to be on the rise?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, Lisa, we are committed to supporting electricity consumers in Greece. We do this by providing state funding but also by encouraging energy providers to absorb some of the costs. We expect that we will not see a significant increase in electricity bills in the next 3 to 6 months. We have also put forward a proposal at European level to find a European solution to what we consider to be a short-term phenomenon. This is a real problem for Europe and I think we need a European response that goes beyond what the individual Member States do at national level.
Lisa Abramowicz: Mr. Prime Minister, as Tom mentioned, I was one of the people who supported the Greek economy and I visited Greece this summer. It was amazing. I also noticed that it closed, in terms of tourism, a little later as the cases increased. How much do you care about this effort to revitalize the tourism industry, as shops are closing and many infrastructures have faced significant problems due to the extended period without tourists.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: First of all, Lisa, let me point out that we did support the tourism sector and we managed to protect the jobs. And not only that. If you look at the unemployment rates, you will see that we did better this year than last year. We had a very good tourist season, much better than we expected. As you may know, Greece in January 2021 pioneered the introduction of the European Digital Certificate, which made travel to Europe much easier this summer. We are very encouraged by the performance of our tourism industry. I believe that we manage to upgrade our product. So this year, we had a higher per capita expenditure compared to last year. That was our intention. And of course we have a long-term plan to ensure that our tourism will continue to grow in a sustainable way. We have very sensitive ecosystems, as you know, in Greece, mainly our islands. We must protect them. We have to turn them into "green islands" at a very, very fast pace. At the end of the day, tourists visiting Greece want a unique experience and are interested in the issue of sustainable tourism. I am really encouraged by what we have achieved this summer. I expect that with good luck next year we will not worry as much as today about the issue of Covid. Therefore, I expect that 2022 will be the year that Greek tourism will launch.
Tom Keene: I'm the "bad" American here. I'm sorry for that… All the knowledge of Greek I have comes from Maria Loi and her famous restaurant on 58th Street. And Maria is constantly returning to tension with Turkey. What's up with that? I know that you and your government are dealing with Turkey's only experiment, not exactly with the devaluation, but with a much weaker Turkish pound today. How are things today in your relationship with President Erdogan?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It was not always easy, as you can imagine. We had great tensions last year. The situation is better this year. I have always been very open and honest about our relationship with Turkey. We have complex issues, very difficult legal issues related to the demarcation of maritime zones. There is only one framework. And this is the faithful application of the rules of international law. We had similar problems with Italy. We had similar problems with Egypt. And we signed demarcation agreements with both countries after we all made the necessary compromises.
We therefore show Turkey that there is a way to resolve this issue, without having to resort to aggressive rhetoric or unnecessary tension in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. And of course, we can, and must, work with Turkey on immigration. I think that what Europe will not tolerate is the repetition of what we saw in 2015. The uncontrollable immigration pressure.
Tom Keene: Do you see a risk from Afghanistan?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: I think the risk is lower this year compared to 2015. I am committed and I am absolutely clear that we will protect our borders. We do it with great respect for human rights. We save people at sea every day. We provide refugee status to tens of thousands of people who make Greece their permanent home. At the same time, we are sending a clear message to everyone. We want to break the networks of smugglers in the Aegean. We have done it successfully, if you look at the flows, they have decreased by 90% compared to 2019.
And we want to work with Turkey to tackle the immigration issue and make sure that these people stay closer to Afghanistan and do not move to Iran, Turkey and then to Europe.
Lisa Abramowicz: For your part, do you think that President Biden is significantly different from President Trump in terms of his actions, in relation to the EU, Afghanistan, Turkey, and how does all this affect you?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: There are some important policy issues, and we really look to the United States for leadership issues. Of course climate change is one of them. We will meet in Glasgow in 5 weeks and it is time to move from the fine rhetoric, which is always present here at the United Nations, to coordinated action. We as Greece, a medium-sized country, try to do our part. And of course, we are always working with the United States to strengthen the transatlantic alliance. At the same time, I have always been a strong supporter of the idea of a European strategy of autonomy, because there are issues especially in our region, in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the Middle East, in the Sahara where Europe needs a presence. And if Europe becomes stronger militarily, if we work together more, I think that is for the benefit of the Alliance and for the benefit of NATO.
Tom Keene: I want to tell you something with immense respect to your father and Greece of another era. You are the only one who can say this: What does it mean to be a refugee?
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: It is too difficult. And when we meet people, especially children, unaccompanied minors, it is shocking when we hear their stories and I can tell you…
Tom Keene: You were one of those kids…
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: Look, we had to leave but it was not the same situation…
Tom Keene: Certainly
Kyriakos Mitsotakis: We had to leave the junta in 1968 and we lived in Paris. But there is no comparison between this and the stories we hear today. And what we really did successfully, Tom, was tackle the issue of unaccompanied minors. When we came to power, there was a shocking reality. These children, these teenagers lived in these structures, completely vulnerable. We have addressed this issue. There is not a single unaccompanied child in a structure. They are all in places where they can feel safe, progress. And I can tell you that Greece is a country that is traditionally open to refugees. And you know something? There is an important success story. If we talk about the NBA, Giannis Antetokounbo is a Greek, originally from Nigeria. Is true. He is really Greek. It sells CDs on the streets and is a great example of integration.