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tv   Greek Prime Minister at Atlantic Council  CSPAN  January 7, 2020 8:03pm-9:13pm EST

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>> the prime minister of greece discussed relations with the u.s. and the rest of europe at the atlantic council in washington, d.c. he also talked about nato and the u.s. drone strike on the iranian general.
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(applause) >> mr. prime minister, we have a standing room-only crowd. they're also out in the lobby. we've got we're live streaming also in the lobby. so i think there's a lot of interest in hearing what you have to say today. so good morning, everyone. happy new year. i'm fred kemp, i'm president and c.e.o. of the atlantic council. and i'm delighted you could join us here today. mr. prime minister, a warm welcome and thank you for coming to the atlantic council. we're delighted you're starting your washington agenda here with us before you meet with the i.m.f. and with president trump at the white house. it's an honor to host you here at our d.c.
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headquarters, after you met with our international advisory board in september on the sidelines of the u.n. general assembly. the prime minister joins us this morning as part of the future europe initiative's leadership series. in this series we welcome key european heads of government, heads of states, ministers to discuss political developments in their home countries and across europe. challenges facing the trans-atlantic community and opportunities for deeper engagement. this series advances the core mission of the future europe initiative, to promote leadership and strategies that shape and secure a strong trans-atlantic alliance for the future. the atlantic council is sometimes considered an american organization. it's really a trans-atlantic and a global organization that brings together friends and allies to shape the global future. mr. prime minister in your first six months in mr. prime minister, in your first six months in office,, and what a
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six months it has been, you're pushing an ambitious agenda of structural reform to the economy and investors are taking note. and we hope more and more u.s. investigators will take more and more note. by the end of 2019, greece's borrowing costs had fallen tremendously. cuts on property taxes and corporate taxes are on the horizon. and unemployment has fallen to 18%, with the influx of capital. this is an incredible turn-around from even five years ago when unemployment was hovering around 25% and the g.d.p. deficit was at 5%. greece is a country that spends 2% of its g.d.p. on defense, so the nato standard. it is a key strategic ally of the united states. and you have basketball a strong voice, mr. have been a strong voice, mr. prime minister, for nato and european defense, leading by example. in that same vein, your commitment to reforming renewal in the european union is vital from pushing for eurozone reform with the new commission, to standing behind north macedonia and albania as they seek to join the european union. in
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december, just before the nato leaders meeting in london, you rightly said, and i love quotes that just capture a moment. quote, we should not forget about eurozone reform simply because we're not faced with a crisis. you build a roof when it's not raining. i think this is the exact attitude we should carry with us we start this new year, which is already shaping uper to a complicated one up to be a complicated one. we face many challenges ahead. escalating conflicts and tensions in the middle east, return to great power, competition with china and russia, and the immediate and global threat of climate change. and of course the spread of information operations and rising authoritarianism targets the weigh way of life we've worked the way of life we've worked so hard to protect. some of the problems in our past are crises, but some of them have not yet spilled over. you, we have the
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opportunity to build the roof before the storm, and we know greece will be key in this endeavor. the atlantic council itself has invested on greece and in greece. when others were only looking and observing the crisis. we look to the future. under your leadership, greece establishing itself as a pillar of stability in southeastern europe, a dedicated e.u. member state, an esteemed nato member, a key ally of the u.s. washington and athens now share enduring an enduring common agenda of working together to bolster prosperity and security in southeast europe. including kick-starting bilateral economic ties and integrating the remainder of the western balkans in the trans-atlantic community. that's very important. much of that work has been undertaken by close friends of the atlantic council, ambassador jeff pyatt, assistant secretary of state, who are both here this morning, and it's wonderful to have you with us, gentlemen. thank you,
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ambassadors, for your dedication to the u.s.-greek relationship. it's extremely encouraging to see that hard work paying off as it is. to our colleagues at state, the administration and congress, the united states is by your side in this endeavor, mr. prime minister. president trump last month signed the initiative to facilitate energy cooperation among the u.s. israel, greece and cyprus, and back in october, secretary of state pompeo traveled to athens to update the mutual defense cooperation agreement. the atlantic council is also a friend here in washington of athens. our future europe initiative, which organized this event, leads the charge by building relations with your government and business leaders, to encourage mutual economic, political, social group and security. in 2019 we sent a high level delegation to the economic forum in february,
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stopping in athens for high-level meetings with local leaders and decision makers. the director of this initiative and the executive president for programs and strategy have spoken at events about greece's vital strategic role in the region and the broader trans-atlantic relationship. we hosted three of your ministers in november for conversations on the future of greek economic investment, including a minister who has joined the prime minister this morning. mr. minister, welcome back. we have an excellent counsel team leading our work in greece and both don't knows. we have members from our board of directors from greece and international advisory board, where they provide valuable thought leadership and support for our work in greece. even though i don't think they're here, i want to salute the board members and international advisory board members. we also have a standout nonresident
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senior fellow with the agreement, who is driving our work in d.c. and was instrumental in organizing the event today. so we've got a small village of our own people working on this relationship. we're thrilled to announce today, going beyond that, that through our future europe initiative and global energy center led by ambassador morningstar, the council will partner with the american chamber of commerce on an initiative monitoring the energy developments and political implications of the southern gas corridor in the easted me region. the east med region. a center has signed a letter of intent with the city of athens and an m.o.u. as part of their cooler cities action initiative, working toward one billion resilient people. so we're also working with greece on this issue. mr. prime minister, you've established your strength of conviction and iron will in a tumultuous six months for the trans-atlantic community and we're honored you're here today to share your perspective on the role of europe and the trans-atlantic
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partnership. with that, i'll turn this over to damon, our executive vice president, and the prime minister for a discussion on the future of the u.s.-greek relationship. please join me again in giving a very warm welcome to the prime minister of greece. >> prime minister, let me echo fred and welcome you. i want to welcome the entire delegation, all the ministers who have joined you, to underscore the breadth of the agenda we'll discuss in a few minutes. and of course the ambassador who has been such a great partner of ours here in washington. as well as those who have come from the american hole inic chamber of commerce. to all of our guests here and all of those watching live, i want to encourage you to join this
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conversation on u.s.-greece, a vision for the new decade, by using #stronger j within j an lies. mr. prime minister, you're here strongerwithallies. mr. prime minister, you're here almost exactly six months to the date on your new term. tell us a little bit about what you hope to achieve with this visit to washington. what are your objectives here? >> first of all, thank you for your kind words and that introduction. thank you to the atlantic council for its commitment to the trans-atlantic relationship and for the work that quvee done in greece and i'm very happy that you're broadening the agenda of your interventions. by looking at issues which are also very much at the center of our priorities, issues such as climate change, resilient cities. they're very much related to the new agenda that we want to pursue as the country is coming out of a crisis. i'm here literally six months to the day when we received a very clear mandate by the greek people to change the country. to leave the crisis behind tooned drive a path towards and to drive a path towards growth. we're coming to washington with a broad delegation, at a time when there are already some very clear results in terms of
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us being able to actually implement our strategy. we're also coming at a time of great geopolitical turbulence, but also at a time when the greek-american relationship is, in my mind, the best it's ever been. it's an opportunity to take stock of what we have been able to achieve, but also to set a new sort of more ambitious target in terms of what we can achieve vis-a-vis our bilateral relationship, talking about i'm sure we'll discuss this, issues, strategic and defense priorities. the breadth of our economic cooperation, where i think we can do much more. cooperation on corporation where i think we can do much more cooperation where i think we can do much, more. this is an important relationship to greece and to the u.s. and i think it will be an opportunity, in my discussions with president trump, to reaffirm this mutual commitment to a relationship that has strategic depth and to look at how we can take it
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further. we've always been and i think we have an additional reason to claim that in these turbulent times, i think we are very, very reliable and dependable partner of the united states in an admittedly complicated region. >> we'll unpack some of the issues you mentioned there. when we began putting this together, we talked about the theme greece's bank. so you're here in washington after a decade of depression in a country that lost over a quarter of its output. over 450,000 greeks left the driveway seek employment. unemployment was over 27%, over 50% youth unemployment. three austerity programs. yet the country's emerged from this with democracy and its institutions in tact, society
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coherent, cohesive. you're in budget surplus, restored growth. the center is in power. a sense of political stability and increase in confidence. you were remarkably elected on a platform, a clear platform, of structural reforms for greece. something that hadn't been popular in the past. how is that going? what you have been able to achieve so far in the first six months? and what comes next as you seek to transform the economy? >> first of all, i think it's important to point out that our election was i think an important turning point after a decade of intense economic but also social crisis. because at some point greeks, having experimented with populism and its leftist but also in its right wing form, we cannot forget that the previous government was a coalition government between a leftist radical party and a party that is clearly to the right of new democracy. they clearly failed
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to deliver. so we made a very clear case to the greek public that we need to change, we need to embrace reforms. we need to do reforms because they're good for the country and because we believe in them. not because they're imposed upon us by the i.m.f. or by our european creditors. and we received a very strong mandate to push down that path. we're one of the few governments in europe today that has an absolute majority in parliament. which is a huge bonus, i can tell you, if you look at how complicated coalition building has been no other european countries. this is a huge has been in other european countries. this is a huge advantage for us to make decisions very quickly and then implement them. and i think also at a time when greek society is broadly in support of policies which were viewed with skepticism even a few years ago. so we have a mandate, we have a good team. we have
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the will to deliver and this is exactly what we've done so far. we've passed 32 pieces of legislation in six months. including amending our constitution. the economy's reacting very positively. as fred pointed out, our borrowing costs are there are days when they're lowered than lower than italies. we've repaid italy's. we've repaid the i.m.f. we've tapped the capital markets. we are able to deliver on a growth strategy that is actually making a real difference for people in the country. we've started lowering our taxes, we lower taxes on real estate and corporations. starting january 1 of this year. and i think there's a general sense in greece that we are open for business, we're looking to aggressively attract foreign direct investment and it's already beginning to happen. so if you look at our performance over the first six months, i
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think we have every reason to be pretty pleased with what we have achieved. there is always this advice that other heads of state in government gave me when i was in the opposition. they told me, make sure you do the reforms very quickly. and then when you look at how other governments have perform, usually that is not the case. we're going against the trend and we've also sid that for twebt we will continue said that for 2020 we'll continue with this aggressive reform agenda. i'm sure the economy is going to react very positively. i expect growth rates close to 3% for 2020. and this will give us also the breathing space to address some of the more complicated issues regarding reforms that take time to really show clear results such as public administration, justice or education.
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>> mr. prime minister, you used the adjective aggressive. you set aggressive benchmarks for 2023. 4% growth. $100 billion in euros in new investment in greece. one of the things that you've made a point of pointing out is concern about what had been a straitjacket, if you will, of greece's requirement, 3.5% of g.d.p. surplus as a result of the austerity posterity programs. and a desire to sort of renegotiate this. you'll see the i.m.f. you're talking to your european partners. how do you see the flexibility that you might have in making some of these decisions about investment going forward? >> the 3.5% restriction on our primary surpluses is a policy that comes from a different era. it was agreed at a time when there were real concerns about our debt sustainability. but i think it was also a necessary instrument at a time when our creditors did not have enough trust in the greek political elites to actually deliver reforms. the idea was
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very simple. we keep greece on a very tight fiscal leash. because if we give them more fiscal space, they'll start doing the same things that brought the crisis about in the first place. i think we have every reason to argue that this is no longer the case today. so we need to change the 3.5% primary surplus starting in 2021. this is what i said when i first got elected. i said, i don't want to change the surplus targets for 2019 or 2020. why? because i need time to establish my credibility. so we're starting this discussion in you are nest earnest with our creditors. with the euro group. we will have the support of the i.m.f. i will see them immediately after our discussion. the i.m.f. has argued very convincingly why the primary surpluses need to be lowered and i expect to have their support as we continue these discussions with our
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european partners. and it's also very important to point out that we want to use the additional fiscal space in order to further cut taxes. and use only 20% of the additional fiscal space, so 80% will be directed toward further cutting taxes and 20% will be used towards targeted social spending to address extremely inequality and extreme poverty in extreme inequality and extreme poverty in greece. the stage is set for to us make a convincing case why we need to change the primary surplus targets. because we need this additional fiscal space to really turbo charge the growth that is already being demonstrated in greece today. >> how do you see american companies factoring in? your message in september when you were in the united states was beginning to lay out the case greece is open for business. you're reinforcing that now. we've heard that from the
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ambassador. what do you see as the opportunities for increased u.s.-greek trade and investment? >> the opportunities are clearly numerous. when i looked at the foreign direct investment numbers, clearly the u.s. is punching below its weight. in terms of how many companies have actually invested in greece. we want to change that and the already beginning to change. you're all aware of the fact that we are trying to unblock the old airport project and we've really worked very, very hard with our ministers to make sure that we remove all the unnecessary bureaucratic impediments in order for this investment to take place. we have two american companies bidding for the casino license. it's important that for the first time serious money will be invested in this project by american companies. but really the opportunities are numerous in various sectors. just look at the sectors where greece is a natural has a natural comparative advantage. anything that surrounds tourism, real
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estate, renewable energy, greece as a logistic center, greece is a center for high-tech excellence. this is is that may surprise some of you. but greece is a country that has excellent human capital. highly trained engineers and companies such as cisco and pfizer are already looking to set up research centers in greece. so it's important to convince american companies to take a new look at this part of the world. to the extent that we have removed the political risk of the country. i think the case for investing
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in greece really makes a lot of sense and i would like to thank the ambassador for the work he has done with ambassador pyatt and lakos on our end. i've worked really very hard to improve the economic aspect of our relationships. i'm looking for more u.s. investment in greece and i'm sure it will happen very soon. >> on the issue of u.s.-greek relations, you said and we heard from secretary pompeo that the united states and greece have among the closest relationships they've had historically right now. it's a pretty significant statement. at a time of some divisions across the atlantic, of some rhetorical food fights occasionally among trans-atlantic leaders, why are u.s.-greek relations, how are they at a high point? we've heard americans american officials say, not for attribution, but we've gotten the past era of instinctive and reflective anti-americanism in greece, we've gotten over that
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and have opened this new chapter. what has made that possible? >> first of all, it's important to point out that a country which was very anti-american during the 1970's, 1980's, 1990's, that's no longer the case. so people to people tacts have contacts have really strengthened the foundations of this relationship. on the political level, the also important to point out that there is a cross-party consensus regarding the importance of this particular relationship. now, for the party i have the privilege of leading, this was pretty obvious. it was not necessarily obvious for the previous government. which made 180-degree turn in terms of their policies and actually supported the deepening of the u.s.-greek relation. and there were clear and very important benchmarks, one can point to. we signed the new defense cooperation agreement that enhances u.s. presence on the ground. our defense cooperation is clearly moving in the right direction. we have a big
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program to upgrade our f-16's. we're looking and we'll start the discussions to explore the possibility of greece joining the f-35 program, this is an important priority for me. and the government wants the f-16 program once the f-16 program is completed in 2024, we feel we'll have the fiscal space and hopefully our american friends can help us by taking into consideration the fact that we are not still in a situation where we can spend as much as we would like on our defense. but i think it's also related the state of the relationship to the fact that when you really look at the map of the eastern mediterranean and you look at the fundamental realignments, greece is a country that has been a nato member since the 1950's. a member of the european economic
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community since 1979. a member of the eurozone. a member. we share the same values. we fought together in wars. we sometimes keep forgetting all that. but it is very important. so when you look at this part of the world, we are a very reliable partner and of course the whole concept of the trilateral frameworks of cooperation, greece, cyprus, israel, greece, cyprus, egypt, with the addition of the united states, gives a new impetus to the presence of the united states in the eastern mediterranean. i should also point out, you mentioned it in your introductory comments that the signed into law by president trump is a milestone legislation that very clearly
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lays out while the eastern mediterranean is important for the united states, who the partners are, and how these partners should be supported, given the context of a highly volatile region. >> let me ask first about nato on the defense side. but then come to the east med issue. you attended the london leaders meeting at a time when there were some pretty sharp words exchanged, whether between president macron, president erled began, president trump, erdogan, president trump, and yet the security defense relationship between the united states and greece is bedrock. what was your sense of the state of the alliance coming out of your first leaders meeting in london, how does greece see the role of the alliance, particularly given some of the uncertainty in your region, in the eastern med, with turkey itself and with the western balkans? >> the alliance continues to be
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the bedrock of the trans-atlantic relationship and that is not going to change. regardless of the fact that europe probably for a coalition of the willing is going to look to strengthen its own defense capabilities. so i've always been a big supporter of nato and i think the alliance today is meaningful as it has ever been. having said that, i made it very, very clear during my remarks that it is unacceptable within the context of an alliance to have one ally member clearly provoke another ally, i'm clearly referring to turkey and the activities by president erdogan, and that this is something which, within the context of an alliance, should not be brushed aside.
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because the general approach of nato has also been, ok, we have two ally members. they have their issues, let them sort it out. but i think we have a clear case to make that now the situation is rather different and that we're faced with turkey, which is behaving in an extremely aggressive manner, but at the same time it remains an ally member. so these issues should be raised and discussed within the alliance. they also have very clear security implications. i think it's very obvious also to the united states administration that one cannot sell f-35 airplanes to a country that is procuring at the same time 400 anti-aircraft missile systems, the two cannot go together. i think also within the context of the relationship regarding the united states and turkey, these are important points that were raised by me during the nato leaders meeting. >> turkey may come up again but i want to pick up on the east med act and some of the issues represented to that represented to related to. that greece has already played a pretty fundamental role in
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diversifying europe's energy supplies. whether through new l&g exports, through grease l.n.g. exports, through the greece import, you've just hosted in athens, prime minister netanyahu of israel, the president of cyprus. to sign the east med project, the idea of a pipeline that would bring eastern med gas to europe. i don't think this is tomorrow. this is a bit off in the future. but talk a little bit about how you see your strategy in the eastern med on the energy side, and the role the united states is playing in helping to realize that vision. >> i think this is a very, very important angle of our relationship with the united states. for a long time we have been talking, certainly in the interest of europe, but also in the interest of the united
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states, to diversify our energy sources. and greece has been at the forefront of this effort. and we are actually in a position to deliver on our commitments. tap is going to become operational within 2020. the i.g.b. interconnecter is being built. we're really looking to strengthen our ability to import l.n.g. we've expanded the l.n.g. capacity of our main l.n.g. terminal outside athens. but we're also looking to complete a floating storage and reclassification unit and s.f. sfru outside of the port. i consider this project absolutely critical for greece. i've given it my full personal support. it will be an additional source, entry point for l.n.g. also american l.n.g. into the european market. and
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of course, as you pointed out, we have also signed the east med pipeline, which is an ambitious long-term project that will bring gas from the eastern mediterranean into the european markets. this is an important project for europe, not just for greece. the eastern mediterranean is the only proven source of natural gas, new proven source of natural gas, that europe has access to. for the next 30 years at least, natural gas is going to be the transition fuel that will allow to us move toward as carbon-neutral europe. this is also important for greece and our energy transition. and i think the countries of the region have taken the important geopolitical decision that the best way to get this gas out of the region is through a pipeline that will go through cyprus, greece and up in italy. so this is an important
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statement of intent and we're very, very happy that we signed the project in athens a few days ago. >> it seems as if some of of your neighbors have also noticed this activity. and this agreement was preceded by a pretty remarkable agreement between ankara and tripoli which also perhaps infringes on some greek claims around crete. tomorrow i think many of you are aware that president putin will be at turkey to trumpet the opening of turkstream. how do you see your neighbors and these actions responding to what you've been doing with your israeli and cyprus and egyptian counterparts? >> let me point out and i made this point also in my remarks during the east med ceremony. that we don't seek to exclude anyone from energy cooperation in the eastern mediterranean. provided they respect international law and play by the rules of the game. so this is not an agreement that goes against turkey or any other country. we have a framework of
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cooperation, of countries that think in the same way. turkey clearly does not think along those lines. i would be very, very happy if turkey were to reconsider its overall approach. you mentioned the two agreements with libya. as far as the agreement regarding the delimitation of maritime zones is concerned, it's clearly null and void but it's also geographically ridiculous. you need to look at the map to understand that there's no connection between turkey and libya. and of course the agreement assumes that the islands, including our biggest island, crete, does not have an exclusive economic zone, which goes against everything we know in international law. and it has the additional problem that it does it has not been ratified by the libyan house of
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representatives. so it's an agreement that clearly has no legal basis. we don't consider it to produce any legal ramifications vis-a-vis turkey's concerned. but it is an indication of how turkey thinks in terms of the eastern mediterranean. we have our differences. with turkey. but at the same time we're very open to keeping the terms of communication channels of communication open. there is a political dialogue that's taking place between the secretary generals of our ministries. it will start again in a couple of days. and as far as our differences regarding the delimitation of maritime zones, which we consider to be our main difference with turkey, i've publicly stated that if we cannot sort out our differences, we're open to discuss going to the hague and having the court decide on our behalf. but in order to reach this which i think is a very fair and
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logical approach to solve our differences, assuming that we all believe in international law, but in order to get to that point, we need to refrain from any activities that clearly add degrees of escalation and regional tensions. so i think we've been extremely reasonable in terms of addressing the situation. we've also made it very clear that we will not accept any infringement upon greece's sovereign rights within our exclusive economic zone. >> let me turn, if i might, to the western balkans. as an opposition leader, you expressed opposition and skepticism about the agreement that resolved the name dispute between athens and scopia. and yet as prime minister you've been supportive of the aspirations of north macedonia and albania, to begin talks. you've even described president macron's decision to veto the
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opening of negotiations as a mistake and you've pointed to perhaps the irony of a french president in the late 1970's really standing by greece at an early moment in its development to join the european economic community. how do you see the next steps here? what is greece's role going to be with the vision of how the western balkans is integrated into the european union? is this going to be a stalled, perhaps longer term, project? how do or do you see an ability to get to yes on opening negotiations sooner rather than later? >> first of all, let me clarify that i did oppose the agreement for very, very specific reasons at the beginning. i also did everything i could within my capacity to make sure that this agreement was not ratified in parliament. i also publicly stated that once the agreement
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is ratified, then there is very little we can do to change it and that i have to respect it. once i come into power, should the and this is exactly what i have done. we still have issues with the agreement. and we're working on them. we have issues, important issues, regarding trademarks, regarding the ownership of what we consider to be the greek brand, which is the macedonian brand. we're helping our companies, making sure that they protect their trademarks and we will be working on that very, very systemically. at the same time, we're also publicly said that it is in our interest to anchor the western balkans to the european union. and also if we want to have, in terms of the bilateral relationship, if we also want to have leverage over our northern neighbor in terms
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of making sure that our interests are fully taken into consideration, we need a process that is open. we don't need to slam the door shut into their face. so we support it, the decision, at the last council, to give a day to both countries to start ac session negotiations and we're disappointed by the results. but also vis-a-vis albania, we also made it very clear that also there we have very specific preconditions. preconditions have to do with the fact that in albania we have a national greek minority, recognized national greek minority, and the rights of the national greek minority need to be respected. property rights, be it their ability to participate in the civic and economic life of the country. so i've also made it very clear to the prime minister that we
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support you, but we will not accept that the rights of the greek minority are not fully protected. when there was an earthquake, we sent our special teams. we are by far the largest economy in the region. we are the oldest. oldest member of the european union. for years we worked on our problems. it's about time to go with a forward looking agenda and go above our waringt and discussions we had regarding the european union. it was very frustrating for me to see past greek leaders only talk about own problems and only tried to defend why greek needed bailout packages. i think we are leaving this behind us. this is
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a new, very confident country that intends to play a role in the region and role in europe. >> do you feel you are making progress with putting proposals on the table? >> i think progress has been made and whether we can make changes to the process and when we get there in may, the french, and also the dutch will reconsider their position. >> let me pick up in some broader strategic issues in middle east before i turn to the audience for your questions. you are here in a tum you will tueous time in the
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wake of the drone strike that took out soleimani. this is dominating the debate here. what comes next, what would be the iranian moves and greece had strong ties throughout the middle east. how are you seeing what is unfolding in iraq and iran? what does it mean for iraq. what are you bringing to president trump on this? >> we are allies of the u.s. and we stand by our allies through difficult times and and this particular decision was a decision which was taken by taking into consideration what is the u.s. national interests and we stand by that decision. at the same time, one needs to be fully aware there is broader concern about a possible
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escalation and i think efforts should be made. a statement was made by the united states regarding the red lines that it is willing to draw to move towards a move that will de-escalate the tension and i hope this is a move by everyone. yes, we had close ties and we still have close ties with the arab world and consider ourselves an honest power broker but we don't forget who our allies are and where we belong geo politically. and you pointed out in the introductory comments, a lot of things were taken as granted, as constant are no longer there in this highly and very complicated world. but what i can say is that the fundamental foundation of the post world war ii global economic miracle and also a miracle of peace and stability was the transatlantic
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relationship. and no matter what happens, the dialogue between europe and the u.s. need to be kept open. we may have our occasional disagreements, but don't forget how important this relationship has been for everything that has happened since the end of the second world war. i'm always a big believer in the transatlantic relationship and we are looking at how to re-invent the relationship in very complicated times. will always play an important role. >> have our work cut out for us. and the thrans atlantic relationship is the rise of china. china has played a significant role in your country and you had the opportunity to visit china as prime minister and a country, trade expo in china and hosted
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president xi in athens and will be going to china, 17-plus-one and meeting with leaders from eastern europe and northeast europe. how do you think china in the context of the european union and the transatlantic relationship where there are great opportunities on the economic and trade front where the chinese have talked greece as a door to the rest of europe and yet at the same time, issues of how to manage solidarity across the atlantic in dealing with china and how to mitigate risks to the critical infrastructure investments, how has this played out for you? how are you managing the opportunity and risks of china in europe? >> with flexibility and dexterity. >> what i mean by that. we have
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an important economic relationship. they are big investors in our port and we have done a good job in taking over a port that was essentially a nonplayer in the mediterranean and transforming it into the biggest port and cre it lots of jobs and why not become the biggest port in europe. you can't argue with gee oggra if i. it is the natural point for goods coming from eastern asian africa. that's not going to change. it would be naive for us not to take advantage of that position. i'm a big believer in
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free trade. if you are a big believer in free trade you have to acknowledge ta you are going to facilitate. greece is a natural entry point for this part of the world. we are not overly exposed to chinese investment. and my goal is always to have foreign sources of capital as possible. there will be new opportunities, if you look at ports, looking for also american and european interests in participating in these investments opportunities. greece and china have important cultural ties with big civilizations. this is important within the context of the people-to-people narrative between our two countries and china is a big market for greek goods. and agreement signed between the european union and china regarding the protection of geographical origins is important for greece. are we concerned about critical
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infrastructure? we are concerned. greece is one of the few european countries that is that at its core is concerned regarding 5g. and doesn't have any suppliers? its network. we are setting very clear benchmarks regarding the protection of our critical infrastructure and on that issue, i am sure we will take into very concerns voiced by the united states on these issues. >> let me open it up to our audience and take a few questions at a time. let me start with these two over here, kathy, and this gentleman over here. please use the mic.
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>> kathy and i lead the rockefeller foundation here at the atlantic council. and mr. prime minister, you mentioned climate change as one of the key issues you are facing and talked about your new energy and climate strategy and attracting renewable energy companies and at the same time have had heat and fires and the fire and i wonder if you could say a word or two both about the risks and opportunities that climate change poses for greece. >> this gentleman here. >> i am from the institute from national economics. my question is about the former greek who has been prosecuted over now nearly a decade. in a recent interview, you said that this matter had to be brought to an end and this had
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>> what your government will restore greece on that matter and give proper tribute to him? >> take these two. >> regarding climate change, we live with climate change. they are already there. they are affecting us, the droughts, the wildfires, rising sea levels on our biodiversity. something that is happening today isn't going to happen in a few years. look at the horrible fires in australia. the magnitude and scale of destruction is mind-boggling and sending our elite teams to australia today in response to a call for help made by the australian
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government. but we have seen what these wildfires can actually do. and we need to protect ourselves the best possible way in terms of revamping our protection and making sure we contain the damage. but if we don't have an aggressive approach vis-a-vis climate change in general, things will get much, much worse. and i have been at the forefront of pushing for a growth model that puts sustainability and addressing climate change at the very center of what we want to do with the country. we have put forward a very aggressive plan to move away from
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>> which is the most polluting form of fossil fuel. so we are shutting those plants down by the latest at 2028 and later by 2023. we are looking for european assistance to make sure the one region of greece which is dependent on that mining is not faced with severe economic implications for this decision. we have set up a fund within the european union to support regions that will be faced with the challenge of making this transition sooner rather than later and we have a vision of a country where renewable energy is going to be the main source of energy production. we have the advantage of access to unlimited wind and in particular solar power. and we will very, very aggressively push towards that direction at the same time we are partially privatize our distribution grids because we need investment to support this. we have a very complete plan regarding energy transition. and of course, a very clear vision of where we want to take the country going forward on
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this topic and i have been a big supporter of the new green deal proposed by the new president of the commission. it's an ambitious plan and we need to make sure we have the proper financing tools to implement. one of the most difficult discussions at the european union level we will have in 2020 regards the next european budget and i made it very, very clear that you cannot implement these policies without the necessary financial tools. the big countries need to step up to the plate and accept the fact that we need a bigger budget at the european level. if we want to do climate
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policy in the right way and at the same time maintain agricultural policy and cohesion policy which are the nonnegotiable pillars as far as the european budget is concerned. expect some interesting discussions regarding the budget in 2020. we are stepping up to the plate. and by stepping up to the plate, we also publicly state our claim that we want to be one of the first countries to be on the transition front. other countries want to keep their minds open forever. i don't see they should benefit if they still want to burn coal. a country that is taking to shut down its coal mines should be supported by the european union as we manage that transition. >> second question. >> i have spoken many times. it's an shoe to be addressed by justice. i will repeat what i said. it will be good when this
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issue comes to an end and give closure >> and go to turkey. and has allowed refugees to go west to europe. is greece ready, capable to handle these refugees? how would you stop them? you have all these islands could you talk about the refugee issue. >> take this gentleman here. please go ahead. >> good morning. i work for general electric. i wanted to know if you could address brain drain and the young greeks that have left and what you are doing to bring them back. and it would be nice to hear what your plans are for the future. >> thank you very much for your
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remarks. and for us at this moment, it is beautiful to see the washington with the european secretary which is greece. my question is related to the middle east crisis mentioned by the colleague. clearly this is something you face and one of the critical issues we have to deal with. we are feeling the pressure on the
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front line. what are and what may be the specific policies of greece which to pursue and enact policies in a that regard because this is a clear case. >> we'll take those three. >> let me address the refugee question because it is a very important one. and this is clearly a problem with a global and clearly a european dimension. it cannot be solved by greece alone. and will be making the claim repeatedly that unless europe gets its act
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together, there is going to be a new fault line that will rip europe apart on the migration issue and something we should not accept. you cannot have a zone, a free movement of people while not at the same time not have common asylum policies and coherent policy on how to protect europe's external borders. i'm looking forward to the commission its views on how we can reach the common asylum rules and how we manage our external borders and unfair to place all the burden on the countries that constitute the external border of the european union and then pretend as if this problem relates to italy or greece or spain or cyprus. we have not been very good at showing the necessary european solidarity on that front. having said that, i look forward to wait for the european union to come up with a coherent answer to this
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problem. so we need to look at the situation we are facing on the ground and make sure that we take all the necessary initiatives at all levels. what have we done? we changed our asylum policy and changed the aseal lum legislation and as of january 1, we tightend the process for all of those applications have been declined, need to be sent back to turkey according to the e.u. turkey statement, in spite of its problems, it is the only
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coherent we have with turkey and we need to build upon it and we need to improve it. we are facing pressure on our islands. we have to take the decision, and this is not my first choice, but to move some people off the island and into the mainland but at the same time, we are also increasing the capacity of the islands to welcome refugees and migrant by building new facilities where we will monitor who comes in and who comes out. we're looking at the role of the n.g.o.'s. most of the ngos have been supportive in terms of what we do. some of them have not been particularly supportive and are sort of undermining the policies implemented by the greek government and of course we are also strenghthening our coast guard. they are doing a great
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job, very difficult situation in protecting our borders but also in saving lives at sea. we are adding additional boats and strengthening our presence on the frontier. and we will make it very, very clear that our coast guard will save anyone who is at risk of drowning at sea but we are not a welcoming committee. we're not a tourist agency. the job of the coast guard is to protect the borders of a country and i made that very, very clear and i'm sending a very clear signal to the smugglers and to those who take advantage of the pain and suffering of these people. this is a different ball game starting the beginning of this year. if you come, if you send people to greece who you know do not have refugee status, be assured these people will be sent back so you're wasting your money. and i'm talking
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about people who actually pay the smugglers to come to greece, knowing that they don't have refugee status. and do everything in our capacity to send them back to turkey. the question that is dear to my heart and thank you very much about brain drain. 450,000 approximately young greeks left the country during the crisis in search for better jobs or in search for jobs abroad. and it was very painful, very painful for the people who had to leave and there are always people who choose to leave. in a globalized world, that's good. a lot of people had to leave because they couldn't find a job in greece. brain drain needs to be reversed. two
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points on how this will happen. first of all, the brain drain will be reversed once we have more jobs, better-paying jobs. you work for g.e. i'm sure you would be happy to return to greece and greece offers you a decent good-paying job. we need jobs and lower taxation on higher incomes because a lot of these jobs are good paying jobs which were massacred by the policies of previous governments in terms of taxation and social security. my commitment, once i gain additional fiscal space and i will be able to do it in 2020, start reducing the solidarity surcharge which was another additional tax that is imposed on high-income earners and revamping ou...", we will also reduce social issues for employees in greece, to find a job. the other opportunity that is open now agrees, which is very interesting, is a career in entrepreneurship.
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one of the fastest thing in the crisis was emergence of a new entrepreneurial culture where young grease -- wreaks realized at a time when they could not get a job with the state and ban on the doors of politicians to help them, the old traditional rules of patronage politics, starting a business makes actually lots of sense, so we have seen a lot of interest and people sitting up there on companies, with a vibrant start-up culture. in greece, we are doing everything in our path capacity to support it, and of course for those people who have succeeded abroad, this is a point i would make to them, especially to the vibrant greek american community here. why have you succeeded here? because you have culturally free entrepreneurship, relatively low taxes and regulation which is not too intrusive. we want to replicate the same culture and greece. the other aspect which i consider very important and relevant to your generation, is the fact that we have finally succeeded in giving you the right to vote from where
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you actually live, and that is very, very important because it connects the diaspora with greece. we have not been able to do it to the extent that we wanted, but because of necessary compromises we have to get the super majority of 200 mps in order to introduce this legislation, the constitutional constraint which we have but what we have managed to legislate is the end to the brain drain so you will be able to vote for you actually live, without having to return to greece to do so. this will increase, i, think the level of political participation. and finally, you will return degrees, not just when you get a good job, but also when you believe that the country is turned the corner, so there is a case to be made for the long term prospects of the country. no, one myself, i made this decision set to return, it was not about the
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jobs, it was about my belief that the country was moving in the right direction, and had the crisis behind us for good. nobody in the right frame of mind we return degrees wanting to believe that they will find themselves in the situation where they will have to leave again after a couple of years so, that is why i insist in all of us sharing the narrative that we leave the crisis behind a for good, and better years are ahead of us in the long term, and that i think will give us the possibility to attract talented people who have left and i'm not return to greece. i will also stress here, one aspect which is a fantastic growth we are doing in education and research and development, opening up new partnerships, educational partnerships with top american universities, create new opportunities for research in greece. we have all the
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abilities to make this a regional educational center for the first time, the greek public universities are offering english speaking courses in areas where i think everyone will be excited to start increase, yet these courses were never offered, so there is a small revolution taking place also within our universities, and that will be particularly important. >> mister prime minister, this is an optimistic note and on, so before, i let me say two quick things. i think you made a compelling case but this is turning, has turned the corner. i'm going to ask everybody remain seated while the prime minister leads with his delegation, but i want to just close by saying we have had a very measured conversation, a serious conversation about important issues, and it is against the backdrop, as red began with of really turbulent, sometimes chaotic times, and i think your leadership, mr. prime minister, has been one of
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reassurance, and it is making the case of greece turning the corner and it is quite remarkable, against the context yourself mention, of backlashes and democracies all across the west. you have had a sweeping victory in the ballot box on a platform of structural reform and political stability, and i think we want to thank you here at the atlantic council from our family for being a champion of the u.s. relationship, for our party, and the athletic, council we will be a champion of building that relationship in the future. please join me and thank the prime minister i wish you luck on your visit, thank you so much. thank you for a remarkable conversation. let me ask (inaudible).
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