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Foreign Minister Kotzias’ interview in “Real News” with journalist Vasilis Skouris
JOURNALIST: Are you worried that the refugee crisis might even break up the European Union, at least as we know it today, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: The EU persistently promoted its enlargement. But it did not attend carefully enough to democratic processes and socially just deepening. In fact, over the past six years it has followed an austerity policy, guided by the doctrines of neoliberalism. Doctrines espoused by the leadership circles of New Democracy. The case of the EU changed from a plan for the peoples to a plan for the few and a plan of European bureaucracy. This allowed the emergence, initially, of economic nationalism and, later, in the era of the refugee crisis, an extreme right political nationalism. Both trends incline towards the dismantling of the EU, certainly giving rise to concerns.
JOURNALIST: Under what conditions would you consider a Europe of two or more speeds practicable?
N. KOTZIAS: During the crisis, despite our insistence to the contrary, a discussion on the future of the EU was not initiated. What kind of Europe do we want in the 21st century? How will this Europe be useful to its citizens and how will it respond to their democratic will? The result is that there are people who are bringing back the theory of a Europe of multiple speeds, as this theory was expressed in texts of 1992 and 1996, or they are playing with various thoughts like a “small Schengen,” an exit from a number of integration processes. These plans lead, in all likelihood, to the erosion of the EU.
JOURNALIST: How do you explain Austria’s stance?
N. KOTZIAS: There are two Austrias. The one expressed by President Fischer, a friend of Greece and of European unification. Unfortunately, the statements of this first Austria do not appear that often in the Greek news media. And there is the second Austria; the one that appeals to some in New Democracy. This is the Austria seeking simplistic solutions to complex problems. The Austria that bows to the extreme right, that does not think in European terms, but in the terms of the Austro-Hungarian empire that dominated the Balkans in the 19th century.
JOURNALIST: There are some who allege that you exercise “hardline” foreign policy.
N. KOTZIAS: The defence of the interests and needs of the country and of European integration itself are too serious a matter to be dealt with through endless yielding and concessions. I seems that, to some, anyone who is a patriot and Europeanist is a hardliner. To me, what is really harsh is the policy of neo-servility and unconditional surrender of the country to foreign interests. There are those in New Democracy who consider hiding one’s head in the sand to be the highest spiritual field of politics. They have their heads deep in the sand. They don’t see anything around them and soliloquize that there is no Foreign Ministry. In this way, they also insult the diplomats and other personnel of the Foreign Ministry, believing that if you aren’t on TV all day, you aren’t practicing politics. It is their right to have their own routines and commitments.
JOURNALIST: New Democracy alleges that, through moves like the recalling of our Ambassador to Vienna, you are leading the country into isolation. Will you really continue in this way?
N. KOTZIAS: When, a short time ago, I recalled our Ambassador from Prague, I was pilloried by a large portion of the news media and a portion of the opposition. Then they fell silent. Because we all saw public opinion shaken in the Czech Republic. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister humbly admitted, publicly, that Greece is not responsible for the economic crisis or the refugee problem. This was a major diplomatic success. But New Democracy didn’t learn anything from that move. Based on the same thinking, they are saying the same things, and worse, regarding the recalling of our Ambassador to Vienna. But they are hushing up the public criticism subsequently leveled by the Austrian President at his government and the clearly differentiated stance expressed by a number of government figures, like the Defence Minister. All of these choices of ours – and many more that aren’t caught in the spotlight – bolster Greek diplomacy. Now, if New Democracy is annoyed at our standing up to forces that want to dissolve the EU, that’s their problem.
JOURNALIST: And the isolation?
N. KOTZIAS: A year ago, they – along with the European extreme right – accused me of creating a problem by raising the refugee issue. Subsequently, they accused me of supposedly not raising it, and then they say that, because of the way of am raising the issue, I am isolating the country. Do they see as isolation the fact that the country is supported by the majority of global organizations and European powers? On the matter of the conduct of countries like Austria, we have the support of the UN, the Secretary-General himself. We have support from international organizations such as Amnesty International. Support from the European Commission and the European Parliament. From the majority of the EU member states. We recently had a meeting of Euromed countries, including Spain, Portugal, France, Italy. At this meeting, there was a unanimous decision to support Greece with regard to our stance on the refugee crisis. We are even supported by the Pope, the spiritual leader of the Austrians. All of these stances are hushed up, to the extent possible, by New Democracy media influence, so that they can then say we are isolated.
JOURNALIST: The prime minister has put the veto on the table at the Summit Meeting. Aren’t you worried that the country will be drawn into a clash with Europe?
N. KOTZIAS: The veto is a tool of European politics. It is provided for by the Treaties. We have already used it successfully a few times. The veto is an element of negotiation. A tool for promoting correct positions. It must be used prudently and without fear.
JOURNALIST: What do you think are the chances of the Cyprus issue’s being resolved within 2016? And what conditions does the Greek government set?
N. KOTZIAS: Cyprus is an independent republic and a member state of the EU and the UN. We do not intervene in the negotiations the Cypriot government is carrying out. We certainly support them. So, as Greece, we speak on matters regarding which our involvement is provided for by international and community law. On issues, that is, regarding the EU and the Republic of Cyprus., as well as with regard to the rights of the guarantor powers, in accordance with the London and Zurich agreements. The guarantees are an anachronistic, antidemocratic system the provisions of which have been violated, first of all, by the occupation of the northern section of Cyprus. An occupation that must end. Just as the guarantees system must end.
JOURNALIST: Under what conditions could FYROM joint NATO, Mr. Minister?
N. KOTZIAS: Through the implementation of the interim accord, which requires that our neighbouring country contribute to the proper resolution of the problem of its name and the ending of irredentism and any form of conduct associated with irredentism. Consequently, any discussion of FYROM’s joining NATO entails the country’s meeting its obligations.
JOURNALIST: To what extent can the refugee issue impact our relations with our neighbouring countries? Are you worried, for example, about an international incident?
N. KOTZIAS: No, I’m not worried about anything like that right now. At the same time, we need to be cautious, because certain third parties seem to think that the agitation of inter-state relations in our region doesn’t create a problem. That is why those neighbours who put blind trust in these third parties will be making a big mistake. There will be repercussions. On the other hand, in the midst of difficulties, hope and conditions are created for more trust. This is the case, for example, in our relations with Bulgaria.
JOURNALIST: What is your assessment of the foreign policy stance of the new leadership of the main opposition party?
N. KOTZIAS: They feel that, as a government, we have achieved a great deal in this sector. This bothers them. They are looking to criticize us, but for the time being they are limited to personal attacks. It is no coincidence that, in the dispute between Austria and Greece, a number of New Democracy politicians supported the extremists in Vienna. Finally, they want a Greece tied to extreme neoliberal and conservative powers. This would be anything but good.
JOURNALIST: Do you think the effort to unify the space between New Democracy and Syriza can succeed, with the Democratic Coalition, Potami and other movements? And what would be the political physiognomy of such a space.
N. KOTZIAS: There are those who believe in such a unification. Others – special interests, in particular – dream of manipulating it. Some want to strengthen New Democracy. They are eager to get on the wrong boat, despite already having seen the film of its sinking. Finally, there are those who hope for cooperation with the forces of the current government. Allow me to make a more general comment: Efforts to create political organizations succeed only if they express the needs of society, and not personal egotism. That is, they fail when they express, one-dimensionally, the desire of former prime ministers and ministers to regain a role.
JOURNALIST: If the government loses its majority on the difficult measures, a new government under the current parliament, or elections?
N. KOTZIAS: You know that I respond to real questions, no matter how difficult they are. To the midsummer night’s dream of special interests, what can I say? The government has a majority: democratic, constitutional, stable and determined.
JOURNALIST: The Syriza convention is coming up. Is “Pratto”, which you lead, talking about joining Syriza?
N. KOTZIAS: I respect and appreciate Syriza, and above all its charismatic leader and prime minister. We are working together effectively, to the country’s benefit. We, as “Pratto”, are moving ahead together with Syriza, maintaining our autonomy and distinctive characteristics. Besides, we have a unique political culture. This diversity we represent is an element of power for the country’s salvation government under Alexis Tsipras.
JOURNALIST: Might the presence of NATO in the Aegean, for the refugee issue, lead to the consolidation of Turkish claims, mainly in the grey zones? And what does our country need to watch out for from NATO’s presence?
N. KOTZIAS: I think that NATO has to identify and eradicate illegal activities of the rings active in Turkey. Turkey, and its military in particular, showed a certain apprehension regarding this agreement, precisely because it does not lead to the strengthening or consolidation of Turkish claims. Of course, as there is always a battle for changes and amendments, one needs to be very measured, cautious and reticent.
JOURNALIST: With everything that is happening in our region, do you think that Turkey can step up its provocations in the Aegean?
N. KOTZIAS: The conflicts in Syria and Iraq – particularly the clashes with the Kurdish element – resulted in a de facto strengthening of the position of the military in Turkey’s institutional system. I hope that the country’s politicians will keep them in line.