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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Katrougalos’ Interview on “News 24/7 Radio” with journalist V. Skouris

Friday, 04 January 2019

V. SKOURIS: We have Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos on the phone with us. Minister, good morning and Happy New Year!

G. KATROUGALOS: Happy New Year! Good morning to your listeners, also.

V. SKOURIS: What do you respond to Mr. Çavuşoğlu who implicates the Greek Minister of Defence in a possible heated incident in the Aegean?

G. KATROUGALOS: We all know the politics of both countries. From our part we are a peace-loving country and our rights are based on International Law. Therefore, for us there is no need for a bellicose rhetoric, nor for attacks, even less so with personal attacks and we expect the other side as well to act accordingly. As we are well aware that it bears a stamp of revisionism in its politics, which is precisely due to the calling into question of International Law on its part, it is often pushed to make similar moves and statements.

But I shall remind that such actions lead to isolation. The US Assistant Secretary of State, during a recent interview, said that, especially regarding issues related to exclusive economic zones, Turkey is isolated in a minority of one. And, naturally, I think that such a position is obviously a weak position, not a strong one.

V. SKOURIS: But does this perhaps also render it more dangerous? For example, do you fear a heated incident in the Aegean? And indeed a heated incident in order for the Prespa Agreement not to come before the Hellenic Parliament, as was recently rumoured?

G. KATROUGALOS: These two things are in no way related. I have said many times that we fear nothing, while we always remain vigilant. Why? On the one hand we have managed for our country to currently enjoy the strongest international standing that it has ever had on the international scene. We have a significant deterrent force, which are our Armed Forces. On the other hand, I don’t believe that the other side has a heated incident in mind at all, because it is well aware that a war in the Aegean is a lose-lose situation; it cannot be won.

Precisely for this reason, I don’t believe that we will have a heated incident. But this does not mean that we must not exhibit the necessary vigilance at all times, though accompanied by sobriety.

V. SKOURIS: Do your fear the Aegean being turned into a grey zone, which many insist is Turkey's objective? Does this concern you? Do you see something like this being promoted?

G. KATROUGALOS: The revisionism I spoke about is related to an effort to turn certain regions of the Aegean into grey zones. But when you are a minority of one, to revisit the phrase of the American Officer, it is obvious that you fail in your efforts. I therefore believe that it is exactly this that we have succeeded in obtaining through systematic diplomatic effort on both a multilateral and trilateral level - and I watched carefully the very interesting interview with my friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides. When you have developed this whole network of diplomatic efforts, you have done so because you clearly wish to stabilise the region and to stand out as a country which is a stabilising factor, as well as to render useless the efforts of others to turn into grey zones what International Law has demarcated with bright colours and safeguarded in our region, and especially the Aegean.

V. SKOURIS: Since we mentioned Mr. Christodoulides’ interview, with regard to the Cyprus issue, do you feel that talks can in fact resume in this coming year? And which are the red lines for Athens?

G. KATROUGALOS: It is our objective to resolve the Cyprus issue. And what we succeeded in doing last year, and I wish again to refer to that which is self-evident, to the leading role that the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, played, is precisely to present the Cyprus issue in its true dimensions, its international dimensions, as a problem of illegal invasion and occupation troops. For Greece the crucial thing, therefore, is for the issue of guarantees and security to be highlighted, and, on this, we concur, as you have heard, with the Republic of Cyprus.

We feel that this completely anachronistic system of guarantees must end, which grants interventional “rights” to one country against another one, which is indeed a sovereign country and a member of the European Union, and also for a clear timetable to exist for the definitive withdrawal of all foreign troops. This is the institutional acquis from the previous period, and we wish to continue it, and we feel that in order for the Cyprus issue to be resolved, a forceful response must exist to this end.

V. SKOURIS: But you have heard the counterarguments, Minister. That it is preferable for the situation to remain as it stands, as opposed to providing a solution that does not benefit the Greek Cypriots.

G. KATROUGALOS: Obviously we are not seeking just any solution. We seek a solution to the Cyprus issue that will satisfy the parameters I outlined to you as regards its international dimension - which is the only one about which Greece is negotiating - and clearly its domestic dimension as well. We can neither have an ungoverned state nor a downgrading of its rights and European acquis.

V. SKOURIS: You are correct, because I did not phrase the question properly. I mean to say that there are certain people who believe that it is preferable for the Cyprus issue not to be resolved.

G. KATROUGALOS: This means acceptance, on our part, of the status quo, of invasion and division, for de facto division to become de jure division. I don’t think this represents a solution.

V. SKOURIS: Now, Minister, is Mr. Stoltenberg indeed asking for ratification of the Agreement and the Protocol of Accession of fYROM to NATO, provided that the problem is resolved, by 15 February?

G. KATROUGALOS: I have received no such letter. It is self-evident that we seek immediate ratification of the Prespa Agreement, as is our contractual obligation arising from the Agreement, but also because we believe that it is beneficial on a national level as well.

V. SKOURIS: As part of a different voting procedure than for ratification itself?

G. KATROUGALOS: Obviously. These are two different things. In other words, from the day after completion of the constitutional process in the neighbouring country and when - as it seems - this constitutional process is completed as we wish, a period commences within which we too must ratify the Agreement, from the following day, as you have heard many times, until March.

And immediately after, because this is a condition for ratification of the Agreement, the issue of accession of the neighbouring country to NATO will also come to the Hellenic Parliament.  And this has always been, at least since Bucharest, the position that was supported by the vast array of political parties: First the solution with regard to the name  - we provided a broader solution, not only for the name, but on the whole, as regards irredentist issues - and then accession to international organisations.

V. SKOURIS: But many say that you are holding two different voting procedures in order to make it difficult for New Democracy. Because what will this party say, which is in favour of accession, in favour of Euroatlantic Institutions? For the neighbouring country not to enter NATO? Is that what you are seeking for?

G. KATROUGALOS: But in any case, New Democracy has won a prize for regression with regard to the Macedonia issue. Weren’t they always in favour of the compound name erga omnes? Ms. Bakoyianni is still saying it. Others who believe this don’t say it loudly, but it is common knowledge that this was New Democracy's position until January 2018. Thankfully ours is a digital age and Statements are recorded, especially the statements of the leadership of New Democracy, where oftentimes they are interesting to note.

Moreover, how is it possible for a vote to take place at the same time if we are talking about two separate things, and mainly if the Agreement must first be ratified in order to be able to have a Protocol of Accession? This is the main acquis that we have achieved, one of the main acquis, the procedural matter, that a Protocol of Accession cannot exist, that the process of accession to NATO cannot commence if the Agreement has not been fully ratified. Which means that the other side must have fully undertaken the obligations arising from it.

V. SKOURIS: I would like to ask you about with regard to this topic, does ratification of the Prespa Agreement require a majority for you - 151 votes - on a political level always? Because institutionally you can achieve it with much fewer votes than those present.

G. KATROUGALOS: Constitutionally, I have told you, we have already had this discussion, an absolute majority is not required.

V. SKOURIS: We have resolved this. I mean, politically, are 151 votes required?

G. KATROUGALOS: Politically, I feel that such a major issue needs to have an absolute majority.

V. SKOURIS: Otherwise?

G. KATROUGALOS: Otherwise, those MPs who have stated in the past that they support the Agreement and have failed to show the required posture of national responsibility and personal dignity shall have a very serious problem.

V. SKOURIS: In what way? I mean, will you ratify it or not? So that we are in agreement with regard to reliability. Will you ratify it or not?

G. KATROUGALOS: Not in agreement with regard to reliability, reliability is in fact the main issue.

V. SKOURIS: We shall not discuss that, we shall go beyond it. I consider that to be self-evident. Therefore, you will not ratify it with less than 151 votes.

G. KATROUGALOS: I told you that constitutionally, ratification does not require more than 151 votes.

V. SKOURIS:  I concur, but I asked what it is you will do?

G. KATROUGALOS: I am telling you that I am not willing to even discuss this issue because I am certain that we shall have more than 151 votes. In other words, this does not only result from the real data; everyone knows that political parties exist, let us refer to them by name: POTAMI which, first of all, has a positive take with regard to the Agreement. And so that I am again open and clear, I was referring to it when I spoke of the need for their reliability to be safeguarded, as well as the responsibility that we must show, all MPs, with regard to national issues. But I am also certain that it will be passed because it is a beneficial agreement on a national level, and I am certain that Parliament will not abandon a historic opportunity to end this conflict which has lasted for decades, and which could have been resolved in 1990 if Mr Samaras had not undermined Konstantinos Mitsotakis.

V. SKOURIS: With regard to this issue, yesterday, Mr Tzanakopoulos told us that if Mr Kammenos leaves the government, as well as ANEL, we shall be led to a minority government, like in Spain. Ms Spyraki says that this cannot exist, that this cannot occur, and that the government needs to seek a vote of confidence. The Prime Minister must seek a vote of confidence from Parliament if ANEL leave.

G. KATROUGALOS: What matters is what the Constitution says. The government continues to have the Parliament's confidence, except if the Government withdraws its confidence and, if New Democracy indeed believe this, it possesses, according to the Constitution, the “weapon” to impose it with a motion of no confidence. I say, let them try.

V. SKOURIS:  You seem certain that it is a motion of no confidence that cannot be passed by the Parliament. I imagine that you also heard Mr Koutsoumpas, who said yesterday that this is a ridiculous issue. But the question is, can a motion for a vote of confidence be passed by the current Parliament? Is this required first of all in order for the government to be consolidated?

G. KATROUGALOS: Clearly a motion of confidence is not required when we have a change in Ministers. During previous reshuffles, did we have votes of confidence? No difference exists from a constitutional point of view. Politically, there is a difference. We shall discuss that shortly.

V. SKOURIS: At the same time, Mr Kammenos says that he will not vote for a motion for a vote of confidence and says that he is abandoning the parliamentary majority.

G. KATROUGALOS: We shall see what he will do in the event that a motion of no confidence is submitted, because at that stage of our discussion, we will be speaking about the Constitution, and not about politics. Of course, I shall also answer political questions, but I am telling you that, constitutionally, a government in which a Minister resigns, even if he is an important Minister, even if he is a Minister who is a leader of a minor party in a coalition government, is not required to proceed with a vote of confidence. A vote of confidence is required when there is a change of Prime Minister, not when the Prime Minister changes his Ministers.

V. SKOURIS: Indeed. And politically now: can a government remain in power until the end of the four-year period - and certain people are wondering until May even - without a vote of confidence?

G. KATROUGALOS: This depends on the government's ability to govern, and I assure you that we have displayed this ability of ours given very difficult conditions. There is a precedent where countries, such as Spain, can govern without an absolute majority in the Parliament, and indeed with much less power than SYRIZA has at the moment.

V. SKOURIS: Now back to our topic, the topic of the Prespa Agreement, which we shall find before us. Has what Mr Zaev has done to date with the Constitutional Revision fully satisfied you?  If more actions are required for political parties such as POTAMI to be convinced, will you take them?

G. KATROUGALOS: To date, as regards implementation of the Agreement, we feel that the constitutional amendments respond to the obligation that the other side had. Beyond that, both governments wish to do everything possible to make it clear to our peoples that this is a mutually beneficial agreement. This will not cease at the moment of ratification but, during the entire course of its implementation, we shall display this diligence.

V. SKOURIS: Agreed, but I asked if something will be required until it is ratified by the Hellenic Parliament.

G. KATROUGALOS: I don’t understand the question. I told you that we shall do everything possible on both sides, not only for it to be passed by Parliament - I consider this to be a given - but for all citizens to be convinced that it is something that is correct, something that is good for both countries.

V. SKOURIS: Indeed. Now, territorial waters: Is what Mr Kotzias said at the time of his departure still valid, that we will have an extension to 12 miles?

G. KATROUGALOS: Of course it is valid. I announced it to the National Council on Foreign Policy, starting from the Ionian Sea.

V. SKOURIS: Should we expect this during 2019?

G. KATROUGALOS: Yes, obviously, during 2019. During the present government term.

V. SKOURIS: In other words, by summer.


V. SKOURIS: I can’t get a direct answer to this, either. Let me ask you about the issue of Albania. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has changed. What does this signify?

G. KATROUGALOS: Listen, our approach with that country had advanced a great deal on all issues open to negotiation. And indeed, when we expected to reach the pinnacle of this great progress, the celebration for the 28th of October, when essentially, beyond the National Holiday, we would also honour those fallen on the Albanian front who, for the first time, had found peace, had been buried, we had the very sad Katsifas incident.

Beyond that, for reasons relating mainly to the domestic political scene of the neighbouring country, in my opinion, we had a chilling of the climate, which I feel is fully reversible, though. Our effort is precisely to bring the level of talks back up to the point they were at, and to proceed with definitive settlement of the issues.

V. SKOURIS: A short while ago, the Greek EU Commissioner, Mr Dimitris Avramopoulos, speaking here on our station, declared that Europe must withstand the European elections. He said that if the forces of populism dominate in the European Parliament and, by extension, in national political issues, then I am afraid that soon Europe will return to its negative past, and he requested that the democratic pro-European powers find a way to reach an understanding. I would like your comment on that.

G. KATROUGALOS: The Commissioner is absolutely right about that. I would add of course, to the aspect of democracy and the need for us to protect the open society which we have in Europe, I would also add the dimension that we also protect social rights and the identity of citizens against the attack by neoliberalism. But this year is crucial with regard to all aspects.

And for me to link this to the previous topic which we were discussing, that of Albania, for example, we are in favour of the European perspective of all Western Balkan countries. But on what condition? That they will precisely respect that European acquis that we wish to also protect for “old” Europe.

For Albania, this does not just mean changes in its rule of law, it also means protection of our Minority. Subsequently, phenomena such as the recent one, essentially confiscation of the property of our nationals in the Himarë region, are some of the things that the neighbouring country must again take a look at.

It is obvious that, in Europe, a negative front is taking shape at the moment, a strange marriage between neoliberalism and the far right. To counter this negative front, a coalition must indeed exist, of Europeans who wish for Europe to retain its soul. Freedoms, rights, as well as the social state constitute the soul of Europe.

V. SKOURIS: Before concluding, Minister, I would like to ask you if you have any news with regard to what happened with the Greek consul in Venezuela?

G. KATROUGALOS: You are well informed. To date this does not seem to be a matter of criminal activity, but one cannot proceed with final statements or determinations until we have the final report by the authorities.

V. SKOURIS: Thank you very much.

G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you.