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Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech at the 78th UN General Assembly

The theme of this year’s General Assembly asks us to “accelerate action towards peace, prosperity, progress and sustainability for all”, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said late on Thursday addressing the the 78th UN General Assembly.

“It is a laudable goal, and one I would argue matters more now than ever before,” he added.

“Nowhere is that clearer to me than in two core areas, tackling climate change and managing migration, both of which will be at the heart of Greece’s Security Council candidacy for 2025/2026,” he said noting that if successful, Greece will make climate and migration central tenets on the Security Council, together with respect for Ιnternational Law and maritime security.

Mitsotakis stressed that “we must work harder collectively” to change things. “When we have lived through a summer like the one in 2023, the hottest on record, and when we talk rather than act on tackling the main drivers of irregular migration, or even the implementation of existing trans-national agreements, we are in fact failing.”

As he said, this summer floods, fires, heatwaves, and landslides have gripped the European South, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, bringing unprecedented destruction to the region from Slovenia to Libya, from Italy to Greece.

As for Greece, he said that nowhere was this more apparent than across Evros. “Here, the largest blaze ever recorded in the European Union burnt continuously for almost two weeks. In all 20 people were killed, hundreds lost homes and livelihoods, and an area greater in size than this city, New York, was raised to ashes. 700 firefighters from across Europe fought valiantly to contain this devastating megafire, but they couldn’t tame it. And as if that was not enough, ten days later Greece was struck by storm Daniel.

The Thessaly region in the centre of the country saw twice as much rainfall in one day than falls in London in an entire year. It was the worst storm to hit Greece in over a century. Daniel carved its destructive path not only through my country, but through Libya too, landing upon the coastal city Derna, where the death toll now stands in the tens of thousands.”

The Greek Prime Minister underlined that the impact of these events across the Mediterranean is unprecedented. Lives lost, businesses destroyed, communities upended, social cohesion undermined, the fragile ecology of our most precious natural habitats severely compromised. He accepted that the climate crisis is not an alibi for everything, but noted that the science is clear: unprecedented temperatures, fuelled by global warming, are creating the conditions that drive these catastrophic events.

“This is no longer a crisis of the poorest, or of the Global South. Our own very unequal battle with nature is now being fought out across the European South, and the Mediterranean in particular.” The new reality of climate change, he stressed and added: “Greece, and our many friends and neighbours who ring the Mediterranean, now face similar challenges to those countries which have been at the sharp end of the climate crisis. And, like those countries, we need a much more coordinated response.”

He explained that earlier this week he wrote to the Leaders of Croatia, Cyprus, France, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – who along with Greece make up the EU Med 9 group of countries suggesting two solutions to the short-term adaptation issue. First, that we recognize that the circumstances now demand that we act outside the EU’s long-term budget framework and state subsidy rules. And second, that we lead EU wide efforts to define and implement a comprehensive, properly resourced strategic plan, that addresses the new challenges we are now facing.

Only by working together can we make a real difference; learning lessons from one another but sharing best practice and solutions too, Mitsotakis stated.

On the issue of illegal migration, he said: “My country is at the forefront of the global migration crisis. Greece has, over the last decade, provided shelter and protection to hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers. Our coastguard has gone above and beyond to save tens of thousands of lives at sea. Greece will always be an open and welcoming country for those fleeing persecution and violence, as well as those economic migrants who however seek a new future accessed via legal pathways.

After all, our economy is growing again, we are attracting significant foreign investment and there are many job opportunities in my country. But we also need to fill those vacancies on our own terms, not those set by the criminal gangs.That is why it is critical that the international community works together to establish a far more comprehensive and coordinated approach. One that addresses the root causes of migration. One that more effectively counters human trafficking and migrant smuggling. And fosters legal pathways to mobility.”

Regarding relations with Eastern neighbour, Turkey. “Rather than looking at the past I want today to look to the future,” Mitsotakis said and added: “I told President Erdoğan just that when we met yesterday. Don’t get me wrong. Our main difference over the delimitation of our maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean is extremely important, it remains, but it can be resolved in accordance with International Law, and in particular the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas and in the spirit of good neighbourly relations. We have made good progress over the past months in terms of normalizing our relationships and it is in our mutual interest to continue down that path.”

Turning to Cyprus, this remains, unfortunately, at its core, an issue of an illegal invasion and occupation, in violation of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, the prime minister noted.

“Our commitment to Cyprus’ sovereignty, territorial integrity and the solution of one state based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation is steadfast. It is a matter of credibility and determination to defend the core values and principles upon which the United Nations are based. Finding a fair, viable and mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus issue remains a top priority for Greece, and we will continue to fully support the UN-led efforts to facilitate the resumption of negotiations, always on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.”