On the first day of his visit to the U.S., Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis previewed his upcoming meetings with U.S. President Joe Biden and his Joint Address to Congress and offered candid takes on the war in Ukraine, the resiliency of Greek democracy and tensions with Turkey during a live event at Georgetown on May 16.
The prime minister spoke with Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius before an audience of students, faculty, staff and members of the Greek government and diplomatic corps, including Alexandra Papadopoulou, the ambassador of Greece to the U.S.
After the event, Mitsotakis met with President Biden at the White House. On May 17, he will address a joint session of Congress to discuss U.S.-Greece relations and to commemorate the bicentennial of Greek independence, a 2021 milestone that was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mitsotakis will be the first Greek prime minister to do so.
“It is a real pleasure to be back at Georgetown,” Mitsotakis said, sharing how he had visited the campus while interning in DC at age 19. “It’s a great honor for me personally but also for Greece to be able to address the joint session of Congress … I believe it will be an opportunity for me to speak about these parallel paths of our two democracies.”
In his opening remarks, Georgetown President John J. DeGioia underscored the democratic ideals of liberty and self-governance that the U.S. and Greece share.
“We are especially grateful that the prime minister joins us during this historic official state visit to the United States,” DeGioia said. “As we welcome the prime minister to share with us this morning, we are reminded of the transformative power of these ideals and the ongoing work to protect and preserve our democratic institutions around the world.”
In Advance of His Joint Address to Congress
Mitsotakis was elected prime minister of Greece in 2019. He has served in the Greek parliament since 2004 and was elected president of Greece’s New Democracy party in 2016. His four-year term ends in 2023.
As he shared at the Gaston Hall event, during his May 17 address to Congress, Mitsotakis plans to discuss the U.S. and Greece’s strategic partnership, which he said is at its “strongest point ever,” and takeaways from Greece’s “resilient democracy,” over the course of its history. These lessons include holding leaders accountable in a democratic system of checks and balances and listening to and addressing the root causes of inequality.
“Greece has gone through a lot over the past decade,” he said. “We struggled with the demons of populism, we suffered the consequences of a profound economic crisis, but we ended up emerging stronger. So how did this actually happen? I think this is a relevant story for all democracies.”
Mitsotakis also shared his ongoing mission to move his conservative political party to a more moderate position and rebuild the center of Greek politics — a governing style that can help address political polarization, he says.
In Advance of His Meeting With Biden
In his meeting with President Biden, Mitsotakis plans to address the war in Ukraine, its impact on energy and rising gas prices, Greece’s partnership with the U.S. and American investments in Greece. The purpose of the meeting is not, he said, to discuss rising tensions with Turkey, particularly after recent maritime disputes, adding, “I’m not defining Greece’s interests against anybody else.”
Mitsotakis underscored that Greece offers a natural entry point for funneling natural gas into Europe, and he hopes to discuss with President Biden how the U.S. and Greece can partner to diversify gas sources away from Russia.
“What this crisis has taught us is that the energy transition is not just an obligation toward the next generation in terms of climate policy, it is an absolute geopolitical priority,” he says. “Every time we install an additional gigawatt of renewable energy in Greece, we reduce our dependence essentially on Russian gas
“This is a wake-up call to accelerate the green transition, especially for a country such as Greece which is endowed with wind and sun, but also to make sure that in the short-to-medium term, we get gas from different sources,” he says. “And there I think we can do much more to work with the U.S. together.”
On the War in Ukraine
Mitsotakis reinforced his support of European sanctions on Russia and of Greece’s support for Ukrainians — a decision, he says, many may have found unusual.
“Many may think this was not necessarily the obvious decision,” he says. “We have no animus against the Russian people. We have very strong cultural and religious ties with Russia. But as a country that has fought the war of independence, we know that you have to stand up to a bully in case your sovereignty is being compromised. This is exactly what the Ukrainians did. And we offered them the support.”
“We know that you have to stand up to a bully when your sovereignty is being compromised. This is exactly what the Ukrainians did. And we offered them the support.”
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
Copley Crypt Chapel Visit
After his conversation in Gaston Hall, Mitsotakis visited Georgetown’s newly renovated Copley Crypt Chapel, Georgetown’s home for Orthodox Christian liturgical services, with his family and Papadopoulou, the ambassador of Greece to the U.S.
He was joined by Fr. Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president of Mission & Ministry at Georgetown, Fr. David Pratt, Georgetown’s Orthodox Christian chaplain, and Mike Psaros, a member of the Georgetown Board of Directors.
“I am so proud of Georgetown’s ecumenical embrace of the Holy Orthodox Church and the genuine warmth, affection and respect that was given to his All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew during his historic visit to Georgetown in October 2021,” Mike Psaros, a member of Georgetown’s Board of Directors, said during his introductory remarks at Gaston Hall. “And now Georgetown can say in one year it has hosted the prime minister of the Hellenic Republic and the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople.”
Georgetown Students React to Mitsotakis
Sophia Yphantides (SFS’22) visited Greece her sophomore year at Georgetown with the American Hellenic Institute in Washington, DC. As a Greek American, she said she was hopeful about Greece’s progress in the years since and impressed by Mitsotakis’ diplomatic, candid responses and strong stances.
“It made me really proud to be a Greek American and a Georgetown student,” she said. “To hear how he’s made Greece more central and brought conversation on both sides of the aisle, I think the U.S has a lot to learn from that, especially during a time when there’s issues that should be transcending political divides.”
Elena Iliadis (C’23), a Greek American, and Samantha Deutsch (SFS’25) both were excited to hear a preview of Mitsotakis’ political meetings on the Hill before many policymakers did, they said.
“It was great that we as students got to be the first to hear some of the things that he finds most pressing and will be bringing up later, probably before even the people in Capitol Hill and the White House will be hearing later this week,” Deutsch said.
“My family was so excited that he was going to be speaking,” Iliadis said. “It’s something you don’t get to see as a student anywhere; it’s something specific to Georgetown, especially a free event right on campus. It’s a huge honor as a Greek American.”
4 More Takes From Mitsotakis
On the Rising Costs of Energy Prices:
“We need to pool our European resources as we did with COVID-19 to offer in the short-term relief to our citizens. Otherwise we will be placed in a position where our citizens will get angrier and angrier, and they won’t see the logic and the importance behind defending Ukraine because they will be concerned with the cost of living. So it will be an opportunity to also discuss with the president how we can work together, and I’m speaking as a European here, not just as prime minister of Greece, how Europe and the U.S. can work together to alleviate what I consider to be a gas market that is essentially not functioning properly.”
On Whether He Will Discuss Turkey With Biden:
“This is a meeting to strengthen our bilateral relationship. I’m not defining Greece’s interests against anybody else. I’m here to speak about Greece and about how Greece can work with the U.S. to further strengthen what I think is an exceptionally strong partnership … Our goal is never to exclude or to isolate Turkey. I want to be very clear on that … The more we find ways of constructively engaging with Turkey and bringing them along, provided they follow the rules, the better it will be for everyone.”
On Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s Dissent of Sweden and Finland Joining NATO:
“I expect this issue to be resolved sooner rather than later. I do not see any momentum from any country to block the entrance of Sweden and Finland into the alliance. One needs to realize what a momentous change this is for the architecture of Europe … I don’t think this is really the time to use NATO membership of two friendly countries as a bargaining chip. I think this is going to backfire if Turkey goes down that path. I think it is wrong as a matter of principle. I think it’s also wrong in terms of tactics. So I just don’t see this happening.”
On Lessons Learned from Greece’s Economic Crisis
“The one lesson that I drew is to make sure that we should not live in our little intellectual elite bubble. The grievances that fuel the resentment of societies are very real. We cannot afford to just ignore them or not to assign the proper degree of attention to them. Inequality is a real issue. The cost of living now is a real issue that needs to be addressed. As long as we don’t address the underlying root causes that lead to this resentment and toxicity of the public debate, we will have failed to have addressed what is causing this intensity in the public debate in the first place.”