ATHENS - The nomination of judge Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou "makes me happy because it appears to have been met with wide consensus," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in an interview to Alpha TV on Thursday night, who expressed the belief the first nominee for the Greek presidency would be elected directly in the first round of Parliament voting on January 22.
"She is a non-party-affiliated person, but that doesn't mean she is apolitical. She has handled serious political decisions, and has a well-founded opinion on political circumstances in the country," Mitsotakis said, noting that Sakellaropoulou, who is also the first female head of the Council of State, "can represent Greece adequately and stands for something beyond that. She is a wonderful, warm, normal human being."
He brushed aside criticism by main opposition SYRIZA that he had shown disrespect for the institution by not declaring his intention earlier, and said that "Ms. Sakellaropoulou will be an excellent president and will be identified with Greece's new, great leap into the future."
Migration Ministry and policy
Speaking of the re-establishment of the Ministry of Migration Policy, a ministry he had abolished when he came to office, he said, "If I knew six months ago what I know now, I would not have abolished the ministry. This is the reason I rushed to re-establish it." He also defended the government's migration policy as correct but as beset with implementation issues.
"We are making a correctional move. (Migration Minister Notis) Mitarachi will be responsible for the domestic aspect and (Alternate Minister George) Koumoutsakos for the international one," he said of the two ministers sworn in on Wednesday. "Our planning is different from that of the previous government. A government that produces a lot of policies has the courage to correct the mistakes and omissions it identifies."
Among other issues related to migration, the premier also spoke of better guarding of the borders at Evros region and at sea, of the changes of the law in requesting asylum that will be reviewed within two months, and of those who will be returned to Turkey if their applications are rejected. He also criticised the previous, SYRIZA, government of "turning Greece into a magnet" for migrants. As he explained, "We don't want Greece to be a magnet, we want to protect those who have a right to asylum, the refugees" and to highlight the European aspect of the issue.
Local communities hosting refugees will be supported and new facilities are necessary to replace old ones, something "everyone will understand when Moria shuts down," he said, referring to the over-capacity hotspot on Lesvos island.
Turkey and Libya
Asked of his thoughts on the evaluation of his ministers, he said the government was still in the first round. "I can say there is no cabinet reshuffle in the horizon, but when it occurs, the evaluation results will be taken into account," he clarified, noting however that "a reshuffle is not my intention - you will not see a reshuffle any time soon."
Mitsotakis criticized the fact that Greece, a factor of stability in the region, was not invited to the Berlin Conference on Libya and blamed the previous government for that. Mitsotakis said he had sent letters to the EU to inform them about Greece's stance and spoken with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, with whom he would speak again on Friday as well.
The premier reiterated that the Turkey-Libya memorandums of understanding on maritime zones are illegal and unacceptable and noted that "at EU Summit level, Greece will never accept any political solution for Libya that does not include the abolition of the memoranda. We will veto (such a solution) at EU Foreign Ministers level as well."
The issue, he pointed out, relates to Europe as a whole, as the EastMed natural gas pipeline - a project signed recently by Greece, Cyprus and Israel - is significant. "Turkey didn't like it because it wants to be a geopolitical player. It's in Europe's interests to have such a pipeline," however, he added. In addition, the memorandums between Turkey and the Tripoli government were explicitly condemned by the United States, which said that Greek islands have exclusive economic zones (EEZs), while US Secretary General Mike Pompeo said that the US is guaranteeing Greece's security.
"We have never had such strong expressions of support of Greek interests," Mitsotakis pointed out. Asked what he would do if Turkey sends out a seismographic ship, as it threatens, the premier said, "Whatever is necessary. We will do whatever we can not to get to the point of having to do whatever is necessary," he said. "Neither the US, nor we, nor Turkey stand to gain anything by escalating tension in the East Mediterranean," the Greek premier underlined.
Referring to his recent visit to the United States and his meeting with President Donald Trump, Mitsotakis told Alpha TV that he had been explicit with Trump about the Greek government's 'red lines', or how far Greece was willing to go in accepting conditionalities. He felt he had 'good chemistry' with both Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, he said.
Despite the rhetoric of the Turkish president, Greece's communications channels with Turkey remain open, Mitsotakis asserted, adding that there is a roadmap on how to reduce tension. In addition, "There is no chance that Greece takes recourse to the International Court at Hague for anything else but the EEZ and the continental shelf."
Speaking of foreign affairs, Mitsotakis also publicly thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his support and said Greece has strong allies in the area.
In terms of development, he assessed it at 3 percent, and said the government was credited with "being absolutely consistent in our obligations."
Asked if he had lessons to impart on being prime minister, Mitsotakis said that "it's a great school," and "nobody is born a prime minister." Referring to his father, the late veteran politician and premier, he said he remembered him at his office in Maximos Mansion. "I didn't take it for granted that I would enter politics in order to become a prime minister. I will take advantage of the opportunity offered me by the Greek people."
He noted that he has learned how necessary it is to follow up systematically on the government's work and how important not to lose touch with society. "Every prime minister's office is like a golden cage, and how you leave it is important. I'm not permanent here - I got in, and one day I'll need to leave it. Throughout this process I don't want to be affected by the virus of arrogance and conceit," he said, adding that he intends to continue with his tours of the country.
Reiterating there are no thoughts on having snap elections, he said that "I have complete confidence in our ability to apply our government program and win the elections at the end of the four-year term." He said he did not underestimate any of his politicial opponents. "I have the opportunity with others to leap into the future together - I have ambitious plans for Greece," he concluded.