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Interview: Foreign Minister Droutsas on Real FM, with journalist N. Hatzinikolaou

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Main points:

•    The EU is currently facing a new, unprecedented situation, and all the partners are working together to deal with it.

•    The position the Prime Minister expressed in Paris is the one he has supported from the very outset: it is a position of responsibility not only for Greece and the other countries facing difficulties, but also for the whole of the eurozone and the euro.

•    In this difficult state of affairs, we all need to be very careful in the statements we make. What’s more, the Austrian Finance Minister took back his statement.

•    Greece, the Greek government, the Greek people have met the obligations and commitments they made, and then some. And we are continuing on this course with determination and seriousness. 

•    Greece and Germany, Greece and all our partners, are not opponents. We are partners working towards the same end: the strengthening of the eurozone and the credibility of our common currency. The fact that there are different views and approaches doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work together towards this goal.

Full transcript of the interview (translation):

Journalist: Let’s go briefly to Foreign Minister Droutsas, who has stolen a few moments to talk to us. Good morning, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Droutsas: Good morning, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, from Sofia. Good morning to your listeners.

Journalist: I wanted to ask where we stand with this verbal clash that has occurred between Greece and Germany; between Prime Minister Papandreou and Chancellor Merkel.

Mr. Droutsas: Mr. Hatzinikolaou, allow me to go beyond impressions – although impressions and the climate are important, so that we can look at the substance of the matter, which is that today in the European Union we are experiencing circumstances that I would say are completely new to us and require some answers. The thing is, there is no precedent, so we can’t draw on our experience. Therefore, we need to be very cautious. This is a challenge for Europe. We are in the midst of negotiations right now – ahead if the December European Council – on how the European Union will deal with this challenge, and different views and stances are certainly being expressed.

Journalist: The Prime Minister said that Ms. Merkel and Germany – with her stance – is pushing some European countries towards bankruptcy. And the question is whether we have a counterproposal for another European policy.

Mr. Droutsas: Mr. Hatzinikolaou, the Prime Minister didn’t say anything in Paris that he hadn’t said before. He expressed the stance that he has supported from the very outset and at the most recent European Council. And the Prime Minister will reiterate this position whenever and wherever necessary, because it is a responsible position. It is a responsible position not only for Greece or the other countries facing difficulties at this time, but it is also a responsible position for the whole of the eurozone and the euro. The Prime Minister is expressing a stance that reflects the reality of the situation. And there may be those who don’t like to hear it – who don’t like the fact that someone has the courage to tell it like it is. But I would like to stress that this doesn’t mean we are on a collision course with Germany; or Mr. Papandreou with Ms. Merkel. Of course you set out your arguments – sometimes in a more forceful manner. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that we are in conflict.

Journalist: Well, as soon as Mr. Papandreou made the statement, the Austrian Finance Minister threatened us with regard to the third instalment.

Mr. Droutsas: Look, on this just allow me to repeat that these are difficult moments. It is a challenge not just for Greece and other countries, but for all of Europe, the eurozone, the euro, and each of us needs to be careful about the statements we make. Let’s just say – so that your listeners can hear this, too – that the Austrian Finance Minister made another statement overturning the first one. I would like to take this opportunity, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, to say this: Greece has done a lot in recent months. The Greek people agreed to make great sacrifices, showing great maturity. The Greek people gave back to Greece the credibility it deserves to have, and allow me to express, for what it’s worth, my gratitude to all of our fellow citizens who are really putting their backs into this and giving Greece back its credibility. Because – and I stress this, Mr. Hatzinikolaou – it is precisely this credibility that we regained that is giving us the strength and ability to tell it like it is and defend Greece’s interests, as well as the interests of the European Union as a whole. But we still have work ahead of us. We have laid the right, strong foundations to move ahead, and it is on this that we will focus our attention and effort, and we will not allow …

Journalist: Now, you are painting me …

Mr. Droutsas: Excuse me, Mr. Hatzinikolaou. And we will not allow anyone, in any statements they make, to divert us from the course we have charted.

Journalist: You are painting me a picture that is not the one I see in today’s headlines. I read in the headlines that we are receiving threats regarding the third instalment; that Germany and Austria are warning us, that they don’t think we have achieve the goals set in the memorandum and that we are difficult course of negotiations with the Troika, trying to gain some time – to extend the time, that is, for repaying our debts. The picture you are painting, more or less, is that Europe is cheering us on and that we have regained our credibility and that we are in calm waters – and at the same time, the citizens here in Greece are expressing concern as to whether Ms. Merkel is trying to push us out of the eurozone, out of the euro.

Mr. Droutsas: That is precisely the issue, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, and please allow me to go beyond impressions to the substance of the matter. First, all of us share the concerns of the Greek people, and that is why we are fighting this battle. Second – and I said this already, but allow me to repeat it – the fact that some people are stating views and making statements that are upsetting doesn’t mean that these statements change the reality of the situation. The reality, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, is that Greece, the Greek government, the Greek people have met the obligations and commitments they made, and then some. And we are continuing on this course with determination and seriousness. That is our message to everyone, and I repeat once again that we will not allow any statements, in any direction, to disorient us or make us abandon the course we have charted.

Journalist: Mr. Droutsas, Ms. Merkel isn’t just anybody. She is the strongest voice in Europe right now. Germany is the strongest economic power and appears to be the motor force for coming developments. And, I ask again, is there the sense that there are some who are trying to push us out of the eurozone? Do you feel this is the case?

Mr. Droutsas: Once again, anyone can attempt anything. And Ms. Merkel and Germany – you are absolutely right, and we have said this many times and recognized it from the very outset – on economic matters, they are the motor force in Europe. No one is denying this. We are bearing this in mind, of course. But, Mr. Hatzinikolaou, precisely the fact that for many months now Greece has been meeting these obligations it has undertaken, the programme that has been agreed upon with our partners, that it is meeting these obligations with extreme care and in a very serious manner – this has given us the credibility we need so that we can still express – to Ms. Merkel, if you will – our positions. But I would like to finish up with this phrase, Mr. Hatzinikolaou – and again, I am talking substance rather than impressions: Greece and Germany, Greece and all our partners, are not opponents. We are partners working towards the same end: the strengthening of the eurozone and the credibility of our common currency. The fact that there are different views and approaches doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work together towards this goal. If there are attacks – I’ll call them that – against Greece, we will deflect them. Because we have shown everyone that we are credible, serious – everyone has to take us into account.

Journalist: Thank you, Mr. Minister.

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