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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview to newspaper Ethnos tis Kyrakis and journalist V. Kechagia (14/04/2019)
JOURNALIST: Minister, which stage are we at in the formation of committees between Greece and North Macedonia on the issue of trademarks and schoolbooks?
G. KATROUGALOS: The committee on books has already been formed and will carry out significant work. New schoolbooks will be published in North Macedonia as of this coming September, free from any kind of irredentism. One of the most significant changes is the reference to Ancient Macedonia as an integral part of Greek culture, as specified in the Prespa Agreement. The committee on trademarks will be formed around mid-May. It will consist of representatives from the competent ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance & Development, and Agricultural Development, as well as international experts. As part of the preparations, there will be regular consultations with the business world and chambers of Northern Greece, as well as other stakeholders.
JOURNALIST: The government recognises the political cost from the Agreement. Do you believe you will be able to convince all those bona fide critics who criticise its benefits by the elections?
G. KATROUGALOS: I have no doubt as to this. The meaning of the Agreement is gradually being understood; an honest compromise that satisfied the essence of the national interests of both sides, removing once and for all the venom of suspicion. And as time goes by, the financial benefits for the country are becoming clearer, and especially for our Macedonia, as we have taken on once again a leading position in the Balkan economic area.
JOURNALIST: Mr Mitsotakis is insisting that you traded off the Macedonia issue for the pensions.
G. KATROUGALOS: Mr Mitsotakis had invested in the pension cuts and his investment fell through, as has been the case with all previous doomsday lamentations. He was never able to create a positive agenda and the Greek people will be the judge of this.
JOURNALIST: You recently returned from the USA [that you visited] in the context of the Strategic Dialogue. Where are we at? Why are some saying that the USA has put a freeze on this due to our country’s stance towards Maduro.
G. KATROUGALOS: Right from the start we strove for the European Union to speak as one, so as to promote a democratic and peaceful escape from the crisis in Venezuela through dialogue. We worked together on a European proposal and we are trying to play an active role in this process. We are talking to both sides. As a matter of fact, we are expecting the representative of the National Assembly president in Athens for talks in April. The USA follow a different practice and approach than that of the EU and ours. However, in no way does this mean that there has been a freeze on the Greek-US relations, which are better than ever, as they are based on aligning interests in the area of the Balkans and in the Eastern Mediterranean. The strategic dialogue is continuing systematically and is constantly being upgraded, while the international prestige and positive role of Greece is recognised by the US leadership. During our recent meeting in Washington, the US Deputy Secretary of State, Mr Sullivan, praised the stabilising role of Greece in the region, while just recently Vice President Pence congratulated the Prime Minister on the economic recovery of our country and the Prespa Agreement.
JOURNALIST: Are all these connected to the US-Turkish relations?
G. KATROUGALOS: They are mainly connected to the fact that as a stable and democratic force, but also as an exporter of stability, Greece is filling a significant security vacuum in the Eastern Mediterranean. Key tools to this end are the multiple trilateral cooperation configurations we have developed with the Republic of Cyprus. Obviously, Turkey’s ambiguous stance towards the West constitutes an additional instability factor that is troubling the USA and is highlighting the strategic significance of our country. A strategic analyst described the US policy in the Eastern Mediterranean as a huge oil tanker slowly shifting away from Turkey towards Greece. However, these trends have not crystallized yet and require prudence in the exercise of our foreign policy, which will continue to be multidimensional and balanced.
JOURNALIST: Ms May requested a new extension for the Brexit. How should the EU react from this point onwards?
G. KATROUGALOS: The prudent and democratic stance proposed by the Greek Prime Minister has already been adopted, extending the process for finding a solution until the end of October. “Our goal is not to exert power, but to seek common ground and consent,” he said in the recent EU summit. This is also the stance adopted by J. Corbyn, the Labour Party’s leader, who is for a soft Brexit, with the prospects for a Bremain still open, provided such a movement is created in Britain, which will have the potential to reverse the referendum result.
JOURNALIST: The SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance (Proodeutiki Simachia) configuration is a reality. However, it is being hammered by the Opposition forces, which consider your allies has-been hawkers.
G. KATROUGALOS: This type of criticism shows panic and bewilderment, if not a decision to align with the powers of conservatism and neo-liberalism. The truth is that the political scene was tectonically rearranged after Prespa and it essentially oriented itself towards the European state of affairs. In Europe, two different views about Europe are clashing in the upcoming elections: one of them expresses this paradoxical union between neo-liberalism and the extreme right, while the other the social Europe, the open societies, the freedoms and the rights. So the stakes and the political fronts in our country are shaping in much the same, bipolar way. SYRIZA is the democratic and progressive pole, which expresses the majority of the Left and Centre Left wings. At the same time, we are trying to enter or strike instrumental partnerships with as many related powers or personalities that are aligned with our strategic choices as possible, but also form platform partnerships with parties of bordering political areas. Provided they choose to stand on the right side of History.
JOURNALIST: Can SYRIZA win the European elections?
G. KATROUGALOS: Victory in every election is the sole target of all parties in power, such as SYRIZA. I consider this target very realistic.
JOURNALIST: Is the 26 May battle a referendum for your government?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is a referendum for the future of Europe and a significant political test. However, governments are judged in parliamentary elections. I am quite optimistic when it comes to those. The people both remember and can judge.