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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis’ interview, in ‘K’ magazine of the ‘Sunday Kathimerini’, on the 200 years of Greek-French friendship, with journalist Giannis Paleologos (5 April 2021)
“The modern history of Greece and France has been marked by strong relationships between Greek and French leaders, with Europe as the common point of reference”, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis stated to the magazine ‘K’ of the ‘Sunday Kathimerini’.
The interview of the Greek Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs is published alongside that of the French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, under the title ‘A European Affair’ in the magazine ‘K’ of the ‘Sunday Kathimerini’, which is dedicated to the 200 years of Greek-French friendship and the two countries’ long-standing ties through personages and history.
More specifically, in his interview with journalist Giannis Paleologos, Mr Varvitsiotis welcomed France’s clear stance on Turkey's provocations last year. “During a critical juncture in Greek-Turkish relations and amidst increased Turkish aggressiveness in the Eastern Mediterranean, France maintained an active position of solidarity towards Greece, affirming in practice that it is our traditional ally, justifying and revitalising the slogan ‘Greece - France - Alliance’”, he stressed. He also made specific reference to the personal friendship between Konstantinos Karamanlis, the Greek ‘father of European accession’, and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, as well as the “close consultation” and “chemistry” between Messrs Mitsotakis and Macron, which can only benefit our bilateral relations. “Both embody a turning point in the history of European Integration, having faced critical common tests, such as the public health crisis, and taking a realistic view of Europe's new geopolitical responsibilities”, he underlined, going on to discuss the crucial initiatives that allowed the EU, following its initial missteps, to mount a strong response to the pandemic crisis.
In his interview, Mr Beaune spoke of “a shared history of 200 years, marked by mutual solidarity and close political and cultural relations” and noted that “these ties have seen a resurgence during the ongoing crisis”. He added that “we continue to build on the basis of this historical partnership”. With regard to EU-Turkish relations, he stressed that “through our cooperation with Greece, we have made it clear that there is an issue with Turkey — not a Greek or a French issue, but a European one, which we must all work together to solve”. He added that “any attempt to dispute the sovereignty of a European country is an attack against Europe. We must stand united. This is what we did last year in the Eastern Mediterranean by sending our navy vessel and by participating in joint exercises with Greece, Italy and Cyprus. This is what we do in European negotiations as well — Greece and France, side by side”.
The interview of the Greek Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs can be found below:
What are the most important changes the pandemic brought about in the EU?
The pandemic brought the EU face to face with an unprecedented test. Following certain initial missteps, it reacted correctly and appropriately by making three landmark decisions. Firstly, it coordinated the procurement of medical equipment, thus preventing an endless competition between the Member States. Secondly, we swiftly created the €750 billion Recovery Fund through debt mutualisation — an unprecedented initiative that shielded our economies, the EU financial system and the euro. The third key decision, of course, was the joint vaccine procurement programme. This allowed all countries, even the smallest ones, to participate in and benefit from the European framework as equals. However, the implementation of the programme going forward is essential, and the EU must leverage all the tools at its disposal in order to accelerate the lagging vaccination rates. Finally, coordinating the opening of the economy and tourism is equally important. That is why we are working on the adoption of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ proposal for a European vaccination certificate that will facilitate travel.
How vital is the concept of strategic autonomy for the future of the EU?
During the pandemic, it was found that essential goods, such as medical equipment, were in short supply in Europe. Consider for a moment that no masks, gloves or ventilators were being made in all of Europe. This proves the need to re-think our priorities in key sectors. While we are successfully creating European products with global appeal, such as Airbus, we are lagging far behind in the defence industry. One noteworthy example is that, in view of the impending purchase of frigates by the Hellenic Navy, 5 different bids from European countries have been presented, evincing, if nothing else, a fragmentation of forces. This is also the case with high-tech, such as 5G networks. The discussion about the EU's strategic autonomy is more timely than ever — and it is a discussion we must begin immediately if we want Europe to be prepared to meet all kinds of external challenges.
How important was France's support during the tensions with Turkey? Does it also translate into common positions on the EU's common foreign and defence policy?
France maintained an active position of solidarity towards Greece, affirming in practice that it is our traditional ally, justifying and revitalising the slogan “Greece - France - Alliance”. Moreover, France itself is a Mediterranean power with long experience and a justified interest in security in the wider region. Its clear stance in the face of Turkey's provocations showed that it does not act on the basis of short-term economic interests, but perceives the broader stakes for the security and future of Europe. We also share a common outlook on the migration issue, particularly given its instrumentalisation by Turkey. Such cooperation and convergence do not just concern the relations between us, but also express our common goal for a reliable and powerful EU.
Apart from the historical ties of friendship between our two countries, to what extent has the shared pro-European vision of Messrs Mitsotakis and Macron facilitated cooperation?
The relationship between Konstantinos Karamanlis and Charles de Gaulle marked the dawn of the modern history of Greece in the European Communities, while the personal friendship between the Greek ‘father of European accession’ and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing sealed the accession of Greece to the EEC. Similarly, the cooperation between Andreas Papandreou and François Mitterrand paved the way to the deepening of European integration and enabled the launching of Community Support Frameworks. Finally, I would underline that a few years ago, François Hollande's interventions were decisive during crucial times. Today, President Macron has proven himself a European leader with a comprehensive vision for Europe, a vision he is mobilising both within and beyond France, enjoying a particularly wide audience. His position of solidarity towards Greece since the day he was elected sealed the truly powerful friendship between our two countries. Similarly, Kyriakos Mitsotakis is a next-generation European leader, and his vision of a dominant Europe intersects with the French President’s innovative ideas. Both embody a turning point in the history of European Integration, having faced critical common tests, such as the public health crisis, and taking a realistic view of Europe's new geopolitical responsibilities. The close consultation and “chemistry” between the two leaders can only benefit our bilateral relations.