Greek Prime Minister to BTA: Relations with Bulgaria Are Really of Strategic Nature

Greece’s relations with Bulgaria have been particularly strong in recent years and are really of strategic nature, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an exclusive interview for BTA on the occasion of the 87th Thessaloniki International Trade Fair, where Bulgaria is the Honoured Country.

Mitsotakis expressed sympathy with the families of the victims of last week’s floods in Greece and Bulgaria. “The climate crisis is here,” he observed. “It is necessary for all of us, including at the European level, to lay more emphasis on adapting to climate change. It is not some scenario of the future, it is our present day.” He pledged to try to persuade his counterparts in the European Council that the resources of the EU Solidarity Fund should be increased.

The Greek government leader reiterated his full support for Bulgaria’s and Romania’s accession to the Schengen border-free area. He said: “A fully functioning and complete Schengen area is of pivotal importance for Europe’s stability, resilience and growth.”

He listed the benefits which Bulgaria’s and Romania’s planned accession to Schengen will bring for Europe’s society, economy and security. “I hope that the hesitation and the reservations of some of our partners will wane soon and Bulgaria and Romania will become full members of the Schengen area,” he said.

Taking a question about Greece’s experience as an eurozone member during the economic crisis, Mitsotakis was adamant that thanks to the euro the country overcame the crisis more quickly than it could have done without it. He voiced Athens’ unceasing support for Sofia’s efforts to meet the convergence criteria as soon as possible, because the adoption of the single European currency will benefit Bulgarian citizens and will bolster the economic and political stability of the EU, including Southeastern Europe.

Mitsotakis recalled the recent talks in Athens between him and Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolay Denkov and between delegations of the two countries’ governments, which focused on joint infrastructure projects. The Greek leader emphasized the importance of the projects for the Alexandroupolis-Burgas oil pipeline and for expanding the natural gas storage facility at Chiren, Northwestern Bulgaria in the context of geopolitics, environmental protection and energy security. He noted Bulgaria’s interest in a concession for the Aegean port of Kavala. He said such projects contribute “to the further strengthening of our remarkable relations”.

Among other factors determining the strategic nature of Athens’ ties with Sofia, he singled out the Greece-Bulgaria natural gas interconnector, whose completion, he said, represents the first step towards the functioning of the Vertical Gas Corridor to Romania and Hungary, and to Ukraine and Moldova. Mitsotakis also spoke about the significance of the development of the multimodal transport corridor Thessaloniki-Kavala-Alexandroupolis-Burgas-Varna-Ruse for upgrading transport connectivity and invigorating two-way trade and tourist flows. He discussed bilateral cooperation in managing transborder water resources and the two neighbours’ shared views on handling migratory pressure.

“As EU member states bonded by a close bilateral relationship, [Greece and Bulgaria] are guarantors and providers of security in the wider region. The rapport between Greece and Bulgaria is even more valuable in today’s volatile geopolitical situation, with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and the shocks it is causing in our region,” Mitsotakis said.

Discussing the two countries’ role vis-à-vis the European path of the Western Balkans, the prime minister said that Athens and Sofia share a common vision about the region and “agree that the European perspective of our partners is the best investment in the stability of the Balkans”. Asked specifically to comment on the tension between Greece and Albania over the election of an ethnic Greek, Fredi Beleri, as mayor of Himara in Albania, Mitsotakis said this is not a bilateral dispute between Greece and Albania. He described it as “a case which raises important questions about the rule of law and the conduct of fair and honest elections in the country which is our neighbour.” Therefore, he added, the case creates “a risk of a stalemate on Tirana’s European path”.

BTA also asked the prime minister to comment on recent positive steps in EU-Turkiye relations. He said: “Greece maintains a lasting stance in favour of Turkiye’s prospect of joining the EU.” He warned, however, that “cooperation in Europe is not a blank cheque”, and “a better relationship between Turkiye and the EU presupposes a better relationship between Turkiye and Greece”.

Greece’s support for Ukraine was brought up in the interview as well. Mitsotakis said that since the very beginning of the Russian invasion Greece has held a clear stance based on international law and rejecting all forms of revisionism. He recalled that during his recent meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Athens he reaffirmed Greece’s staunch support for Ukraine and discussed ways to expand and deepen Athens’ assistance. Mitsotakis declined to elaborate on the further defence assistance Greece could provide to Ukraine, but noted that, in helping Kyiv, Athens will make sure its own defence capabilities are not compromised.

Finally, BTA asked the Greek prime minister how he and the New Democracy party managed to gain the confidence of Greek voters for the second time in a row at this year’s elections. Mitsotakis said his government delivered on its promises and did not resort to easy populist solutions. It learns from its mistakes, and while working for progress, it tries to ensure that every citizen holds a stake in it.