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Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech in the Parliamentary debate on the 2011 Budget Athens , 21 December 2010

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Main points:

·       “The total sum that the Finance Ministry is earmarking for the Foreign Ministry budget for the 2011 financial year comes to some €330 million. That is a 22% reduction from the 2010 budget, bringing us to the level of the 2002 budget.”

·       “The Foreign Ministry is showing that it can be at the forefront of rationalizing expenses, without damaging the country’s diplomatic representation in the slightest. Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen MPs, until recently the Foreign Ministry functioned on terms of the past. The modernization of our services was imperative, not just because of the economic crisis, but mainly because of the times.”

·       “Confronting the economic crisis cannot but top the Foreign Ministry’s priorities. Every Greek diplomat is the voice of Greece, striving to reverse the negative image of our country that was deliberately cultivated by the international news media and profiteers.” 

·       “The basic axes and strategic goals of Greek foreign policy are given, longstanding, and accepted by the vast majority of the country’s political powers.”

·       “Our position on the FYROM issue is well known: We want a name with a geographical qualifier for all uses, erga omnes. The resolution of the name issue is a prerequisite for Skopje’s accession to NATO and the EU.”

·       “We are pursuing a comprehensive solution on the Cyprus issue, based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and with full respect for the European acquis.”

·       “The framework for our relations with Turkey is full respect for international law, the sovereign rights and territorial integrity of Greece. And there can be no joint exploitation of the Aegean under the current circumstances.”

·       “We are not talking to Turkey about giving, as some claim. We are talking to Turkey in pursuit of consolidating our rights provided for in international law.”

·       “I will never accept the claim that the crisis has made Greece small or made Greece a state with limited capabilities. Greece has positions based on law. It has a strong deterrent capability. It has smart diplomacy.”

·       “We will not stop at monotonously repeating Greece’s self-evident positions. We will strive – with proposals, innovative ideas, initiatives.” 

·       “Such as the thought we expressed for an open discussion in the EU – even on the level of a Summit Meeting – following the June elections in Turkey, so that we put Turkey’s accession process back on the right track and bring everyone face to face with their responsibilities. So no one can hide behind the Cyprus issue or say that Turkey is so large and important that it can get round the rules. And so that Turkey can stop selectively “sampling” the European acquis, without really committing.”

Full transcript of the speech (translation):

Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,

The changes we experienced during this past year have been dramatic. Circumstances forced us to reassess decades of data. We had to take painful decisions and measures.

And I don’t think anyone inside or outside this chamber believes that there is a government that would not prefer to take more popular and pleasant measures.

But we had only two choices: Either let the country go bankrupt – leaving civil servants and pensioners unpaid – or roll up our sleeves and get down to things that were long overdue.

The criticism is legitimate and more than understandable, but can anyone claim that things went fine in previous years; that everything was done well?

Didn’t we see that we were going off course?

But as long as the accounts and wallets were full – even of borrowed money – we put off the changes for later.

As long as there were willing lenders, the reforms could wait.

And then it all ended, along with the pleasant policies. The accounts and pockets were empty. The Greek people know who is responsible.

The time has come to change the way we think and act. The time has come to change ourselves to the benefit of this land. Today, we are well aware of what needs to be done.

And if we want to have a hope for the future, we need to ignore the political cost and personal ambitions. We all know that, unfortunately, we can’t give money. In fact, cuts are unavoidable.

But we can give the citizen “state”. Not more state – the “right” state: A more functional and effective public administration that will respect citizens when they go to school, to hospital, to the tax office.

We can eradicate injustice and impunity, giving the citizen a sense of social justice and equality before the law.

We can give dignity and the belief that everything done today is done with transparency, meritocracy and a sense of responsibility.

This is so important, especially for the younger generation that is losing its faith in and hope for their homeland.

We can do this – we need to give this to the citizens as soon as we can.

Every Greek diplomat is the voice of Greece, striving to reverse the negative image of our country that was deliberately cultivated by the international news media and profiteers. 

I am well aware of the difficulties being faced today by diplomats abroad. High-level personnel, burdened with a mission of national importance, are fighting this very battle – often with self-sacrifice – to re-establish our country’s credibility.

I am aware that the cuts in the special compensation they receive when serving abroad were extremely painful in many cases. And I want to express from this floor my appreciation of the diplomatic service and all of the personnel of the Foreign Ministry for the maturity and sense of responsibility with which they handled this.

The total sum that the Finance Ministry is earmarking for the Foreign Ministry budget for the 2011 financial year comes to some €330 million.

That is a 22% reduction from the 2010 budget, bringing us to the level of the 2002 budget.

In absolute figures, the reduction comes to about €64 million.

These cuts are unavoidable, as is the Foreign Ministry’s contribution to the effort to reform the public sector.

The Foreign Ministry is showing that it can be at the forefront of rationalizing expenses, without damaging the country’s diplomatic representation in the slightest.

Nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen MPs, until recently the Foreign Ministry functioned on terms of the past. The modernization of our services was imperative, not just because of the economic crisis, but mainly because of the times.

The same goes for reorganization.

We were even forced to shut down some of our Missions abroad. But we only did so after careful study.

And I assume you will agree with me that, for example, the Consulates General in London, Paris and Brussels no longer answered to the current needs of our country.

Moreover, we are already drawing up a new Foreign Ministry organogram, new Statutes, and proceeding to the use of new systems based on cutting-edge technology for monitoring financial management, telecommunications via the Internet, digital management of documents, and the provision of e-services to citizens.

I will be submitting a relevant note on all this and the economy next year.

And allow me to repeat a phrase from my speech last year:

At the Foreign Ministry, we are always guided by the “representation of Greece with pride and dignity, but without extravagance or waste.”

Even the smallest spending cuts and reductions in waste are important.

If in this way we can save even one month’s salary for a fellow citizen, it is worth the trouble.

I firmly believe this.

Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,

Confronting the economic crisis cannot but top the Foreign Ministry’s priorities.

I remind you that at the beginning of 2010, when we proposed the founding of a economic stability mechanism that would provide immediate responses – but would at the same time be a substantial step in the deepening of the European endeavour towards a common economic governance – no one wanted to discuss it.

On Friday, however, in Brussels, what once sounded absurd became a reality, thanks in part to our proposals, our persistence and our straight talk.

Because Greece’s voice has regained its credibility, and this is the most vital weapon for confronting the crisis.

Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,

Our position on the FYROM issue is well known: We want a name with a geographical qualifier for all uses, erga omnes.

The resolution of the name issue is a prerequisite for Skopje’s accession to NATO and the EU.

We are pursuing a comprehensive solution on the Cyprus issue, based on the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and with full respect for the European acquis.

The framework for our relations with Turkey is full respect for international law, the sovereign rights and territorial integrity of Greece.

And there can be no joint exploitation of the Aegean under the current circumstances.

I clarify this once again, given that this subject seems to have come into fashion recently.

Ladies and gentlemen MPs, I briefly set out these positions on our principal national issues to avoid any misunderstandings.

Because there are those who apparently are unconvinced if they don’t hear them on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, there are many in Greece who hasten to take statements made by Turkish or FYROM officials as fact.

And, honestly, I ask myself: How can such statements be taken as more credible than the words of the Greek government?

But these Greek positions do not need daily confirmation, ladies and gentlemen MPs. Because the basic axes and strategic goals of Greek foreign policy are given, longstanding, and accepted by the vast majority of the country’s political powers.

I stress this.

But we have to talk straight at home, too.

There are those in politics and the news media who – hidden behind big words, allegations, doom-mongering or maximalism – are really pursuing stagnancy and inertia.

For these people, international law, The Hague and Turkey’s accession to the EU are bad choices – the preferred stance being inertia and defence.

These people see Greece as being too weak to talk to Turkey.

But they overlook the fact that it is their policy that would make Greece weak. These people have never found the courage to speak openly to the Greek people; to speak some truths.

They condescend, refusing to talk substance and sticking to slogans.

These people see Greece as small.

I will never accept the claim that the crisis has made Greece small or made Greece a state with limited capabilities.

Greece has positions based on law. It has a strong deterrent capability. It has smart diplomacy.

Greece has nothing to fear.

Everything is done with systematic and serious preparation, and through “aggressive diplomacy”, without fear of taking the initiative.

And we are clear on this. We are not negotiating this. We are neighbours with Turkey. We have relations. We have problems.

In the past, we have been on the brink of war. 

It is a stance of responsibility to explore whether we can get past these problems – without backing down from our positions, rights and interests.

And this is what we are doing.

And something else: We are not talking to Turkey about giving, as some claim. We are talking to Turkey in pursuit of consolidating our rights provided for in international law.

In any case, I cannot just fatefully accept that we are doomed to remain enemies. 

At long last, both sides have to tear down the myths that have been created and cultivated over time.

We will not stop at monotonously repeating Greece’s self-evident positions. We will strive – with proposals, innovative ideas, initiatives. 

Such as the thought we expressed for an open discussion in the EU – even on the level of a Summit Meeting – following the June elections in Turkey, so that we put Turkey’s accession process back on the right track and bring everyone face to face with their responsibilities.

So no one can hide behind the Cyprus issue or say that Turkey is so large and important that it can get round the rules.

And so that Turkey can stop selectively “sampling” the European acquis, without really committing.

A meeting on Turkey, with Turkey at the table as a candidate for accession – nothing more.

I look forward to the Parliamentary Debate on foreign policy issues and the meeting of the National Council on Foreign Policy that I am going to convene at the beginning of the new year, so that we can discuss all of these matters in depth.

We are facing another paradox today: Those who are responsible for this situation, those who shrank Greece, are now saying, “don’t take initiatives – the country is weak.”

So they are telling us to hide in our shells, to be absent from Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East; to abandon our country’s vital space and national interests to chance, as they did.

They are faulting us for persisting in “aggressive diplomacy” and putting forward proposals that create a more positive context for exercising foreign policy.

They are once again trying to find support in conspiracy theories, creating an atmosphere of fear and confusion.

They are hiding behind dead-end, populist catchphrases like “secret diplomacy”.

But let’s be done, ladies and gentlemen MPs, with this hypocrisy and these pretensions.

Is there anyone today who thinks there is a Greek government that wants to harm the country?

How is it that it is always the government – whatever party it is – that wants to “sell out” the country, and the opposition, and only the opposition, that is “patriotic”?

Let me say that today, as the government, I feel just as patriotic as I felt yesterday, as the opposition – always guided solely by the interests of Greece and the Greek people.

We said we are pursuing consensus, and I mean it. You all know this.

And I am glad that Dimitris Avramopoulos expressed in his speech today a similar view and will.

I hope others will follow him in this direction.

But the country’s interests come first.

And everyone has to step up to their responsibilities.

Because we cannot avoid our responsibilities. They will be put down to us either way.

We will all be judged on whether we realised how critical the situation was and on whether we rose to the occasion.

So let each of us give our answer to the questions.

Whatever the case, I prefer today’s criticism – even if it is unfair – to the look from my child, tomorrow, asking why we didn’t do what we should have when we had the opportunity and the obligation.

Thank you.

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