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Foreign Minister Kotzias’ interview in the Athens daily “Efimerida ton Syntakton,” with journalist N. Zirganos (Athens, 16 April 2016)
JOURNALIST: Is the climate in Europe starting to change for Greece with regard to the refugee issue?
N. KOTZIAS: At this time last year, I tried to convince my European colleagues that, with the policy they were making, they didn’t see the waves of refugees that were coming. For example, they cut the money for the refugee camps in the region around Syria. Today, at long last, the EU is shaping a policy for supporting Jordan and Lebanon. I am asking that this be upgraded to a strategic relationship. They now see that we have better knowledge than many of the region and its states. And they are clearer on the fact that we are not the cause or agents of the war. I think that, in the end, life imposes corrections. The more work we have done previously, the faster and more successfully it imposes these corrections.
JOURNALIST: Is the refugee crisis – beyond being a major problem – an opportunity for closer cooperation between Athens and Berlin, Paris and Brussels?
N. KOTZIAS: The contradictoriness of life necessitates our “discovering” its contradictions: our looking without fear at the risks, as well as at the opportunities. As long as economic aspects of the crisis were dominant, relations with geo-economically powerful EU countries were extremely difficult. Some wanted and want us to be a debt colony. On the refugee crisis, the power relations are different, as it is an issue dominated by geopolitics and flows of people.
JOURNALIST: Do the recent developments in Idomeni make relations with FYROM more difficult, and how much more difficult?
N. KOTZIAS: FYROM used disproportionate means to deal with the refugees. It violated international law on multiple counts. We recommended that it reflect on what it is doing and the consequence this will have for its future relations with the European institutional system. Also bearing responsibility are those EU member state that, despite their presence in FYROM, did not avert this conduct.
For our part, we are dealing with such matters soberly and responsibly. Those who think we will stop taking initiatives and exercising a proactive foreign policy are fools. Those who can’t bear the difficulties of foreign policy and lose their composure need to take a good look at themselves.
JOURNALIST: What is the Foreign Ministry’s assessment of the implementation of the EU-Turkey agreement?
N. KOTZIAS: Time is needed to assess the implementation. In any case, it has to be promoted on the basis of international law and human rights. Of course, for the rights to exist, a democratically structured society – rather than a disorganized one – has to be present.
History has shown that there are no rights where the sovereignty of the nation state is not safeguarded outwardly and the sovereignty of society is not ensured domestically. Let’s not forget that the refugees are refugees precisely because these two sovereignties were lost in their homeland. Thus, rights and sovereignty are not antithetical.
JOURNALIST: What are the conclusions thus far from the NATO action? Is the plan being implemented? Is it getting results?
N. KOTZIAS: First, so far NATO has not fulfilled the duties assigned to it. While, second, it was shown that we were dealing with the matter correctly, without fear syndromes. Our national sovereignty wasn’t abolished, nor was control of the Aegean lost. The ones who exhibited fear syndromes were the Turkish military, who impeded the implementation of the agreement in a variety of ways. Perhaps our neighbour’s military considered the agreement to be a negative choice of the politicians, and that’s why they seem “anxious”.
JOURNALIST: The main opposition party is leveling accusations with regard to your policy on Turkey.
N. KOTZIAS: The main opposition party is unable to think and to confront Turkish challenges with composure. The worst? In order to oppose patriotic foreign policy, they excuse every Turkish challenge. It is a natural extension of the support they provided for the IMF’s blackmailing of Greece and for anyone who closed their borders in Europe. It is no coincidence that the main oppositions party’s people extol the president of FYROM for his anti-Greek rants. Perhaps they like the fact that he gave amnesty to corrupt politicians and other criminals.
JOURNALIST: The prime minister has said that leaks regarding the IMF on WikiLeaks create a geopolitical issue. What is your assessment of them?
N. KOTZIAS: The more general position of the Left was proven to be correct; a position also believed in by Athenian democracy: that there are no apolitical technocrats. Behind the “technocratic numbers” and proposals there are interests. The leaking of the discussions among IMF personnel showed that there are those who want to destroy Greece, to lead the U.K. out of the EU. To create an atmosphere of conflict between the European capitals. It was also shown that, here in Greece, there are forces that not only consider the IMF the end-all and be-all, but have also chosen to see the extremists within the IMF as new evangelists.
JOURNALIST: The leak about the IMF brings back the major issue of the role of supranational decision centers, non-elected, that influence, if not determine, our lives.
N. KOTZIAS: In the Athens of Pericles, specialists contributed to the drawing up of proposals. But they didn’t choose them. They implemented the democratic decisions. Since then, a fundamental problem of democracy is whether there are sectors outside of democracy. Today these sectors are multiplying and concern, above all, the core of life and of power. And we need to fight back against this.
JOURNALIST: What is Greek diplomacy planning, implementing and expecting in 2016?
N. KOTZIAS: We are promoting a package of solutions on the pending issues with Albania. We put together a special relationship with Bulgaria, and we are promoting the confidence-building measures with FYROM. We set out a new doctrine with regard to the Cyprus issue. We developed multiple facet and levels of our trilateral relations with Bulgaria and Romania, with Cyprus and Jordan, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon. We want to do this with Palestine as well. After the summer we will sign a number of agreements with Italy. With the latter, as with China, Germany, France, Russia, we are in the process of agreeing on the putting together of an “action programme” in all possible sectors. We created new Joint Interministerial Committees (JICs) on economic cooperation with third countries, and we activated older ones that had been dormant for as long as two decades. We now have JICs with a total of 32 states.
On 14 April we held the first trilateral meeting on the refugee issue with Albania and Italy. On 21 and 22 April, in Thessaloniki, we are hosting a quadrilateral meeting with the Foreign and Interior Ministers of Bulgaria, FYROM and Albania, on cross-border cooperation. In the first week of September, following an initiative from us, a big meeting is being held of five European states (Slovakia, as the Presidency of the Council of the EU, Bulgaria, Italy, Greece and Cyprus) and five Arab countries of the Eastern Mediterranean. The goal is to shape a structure of stability and security in the region. We are promoting a number of legislative initiatives. We are planning the intensification of our proposals on the European stage, as well as regarding the Gulf countries. I mention all of these as examples, because it would take at least a dedicated interview to set down all of our initiatives, if only in outline form.
JOURNALIST: Is there a realistic prospect of the Cyprus issue’s being resolved?
N. KOTZIAS: We are working steadily and in depth for the resolution of the Cyprus issue. We are helping and supporting the Republic of Cyprus in this effort it is making. A realistic effort, on condition of the end of the system of guarantees and the withdrawal of all of the occupation force. The occupation is the essence of the Cyprus problem, and there is no solution without removal of the cause that created the problem.
With regard to the guarantees, I reiterate: Our government, like the majority of the Cypriot people, considers them to be a decisive criterion in the evaluation of any agreement. We will not participate in any agreement that does not provide for their irrevocable elimination. Anyone who thinks that everything else can be agreed first, and afterwards, at the end, we can by blackmailed into maintaining the status of guarantees is mistaken.
JOURNALIST: The main opposition party has asked for elections. Will the governing coalition last? Is it in our national interest to go to elections now?
N. KOTZIAS: We will certainly last. We need to last. It is our patriotic duty to last.
As for the main opposition party, one day its leader proposes the extension of the term of governments from four to five years, and the next day he asks for elections. The reason? The leadership of the main opposition party is suffering from a policy impasse, prisoner to the depraved past of a system of decadence that it serves and to which it belongs.