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Alternate Foreign Minister G. Katrougalos’ Interview on ‘Real FM’ radio with journalist N. Hatzinikolaou (03/12/2018)
JOURNALIST: I welcome now the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning, and a good week to you, and your listeners.
JOURNALIST: I would like to begin with all that is happening in France, with the ‘yellow vest’ protests. I would like to ask you if, in your opinion, is it time to open a serious debate in Brussels, a serious debate in Europe for the day after, and in particular in light of the austerity policies that are being pursued, not only in countries that are subject to memoranda but over the entire Eurozone? Are events in Paris a strong sign that Europe is at risk?
G. KATROUGALOS: Indeed, that’s precisely how it is. And it may be the most resounding alarm bell yet, though it has not been the only one. Your question goes right to the point. In its White Paper on the Future of Europe, the European Commission itself has admitted that we are the first generation of Europeans to fear that our children’s lives will be worse than our own. And this is not a natural result of the phenomenon of globalization, because there are specific policies that can adapt national and European strategies to the real challenges of globalization.
The situation is very simple: Within the framework of austerity policies implemented in Europe, the poor become poorer and the rich become much richer. Our problem is not that the pie isn’t growing. The pie is growing in countries like Germany or France, but unfortunately it is being divided in extremely unequal ways. So I think, as you have rightly suggested, that we should take what is happening in France as a resounding alarm bell.
Brexit was another similar alarm bell. A study conducted by the University of Warwick that I was reading lately assigned at least 10% of the votes in favour of withdrawal to the implementation of austerity policies, to the depopulation of the industrial regions in the North, and to the feelings of many people that they do not have a future. And this affects Europe, and it also affects each country separately.
That’s why the next European elections will be of utmost importance. Because, in reality, two worlds are colliding. Not just the world of an open Europe, that which is in favour of political rights and freedoms. On the other hand, the rival camp presents the spectacle of strange bedfellows: Nationalists who want a return to a past golden age that never existed, and, at the same time, those who want a completely neo-liberal Europe. These are indeed the policies we witness in the countries which also pursue the goal of building a ‘Fortress Europe’. This is precisely why the next elections are particularly crucial and likely to give rise to serious dilemmas.
JOURNALIST: And at the same time, in many countries, as ‘Real News’ reported yesterday, it seems that they are projecting the Army’s involvement in the migration problem. In other words, there are a number of European leaders, ready to copy the methods of Trump on the border with Mexico. I think this is also a worrying development for Europe.
G. KATROUGALOS: According to a great French sociologist, whenever the left hand of the State weakens, that which gives social rights, benefits and social services, it strengthens the right hand, that is, the hand of law and order. We cannot tackle the crisis in this manner. As much as it is a mistake to tackle migration by turning Europe into a fortress, it is even more a [mistake] to think that we have internal enemies and to organize our policy accordingly. There is a way out of this situation. Europe then had known a golden age of prosperity, what the French referred as the ‘30 glorious years’, because it was able to reduce inequalities, and to build democracy alongside its social State.
JOURNALIST: Now if such outlook prevails in Europe, we will run into difficulties. I am informed that we have already been asked to take part in an exercise in Hungary. If such opinion prevails, then I imagine that military force will be used mainly in the countries that represent entry points for migrants. And Greece is the first entry point.
G. KATROUGALOS: As far as we are concerned we have totally ruled out the use of military force. That said, we too have used the Army to better organise the infrastructure on the ground.
JOURNALIST: I am not referring to this.
G. KATROUGALOS: I know. I am referring to it deliberately, to distinguish the two questions. The opinion according to which such problems can be tackled with the use of violence is entirely different, of course.
G. KATROUGALOS: Since it has become a global objective - although we Greeks haven’t realised it yet - let me tell you that at this time the United Nations are engaged in an effort, whose diplomatic phase is complete now, to introduce an international pact on migration. The majority of countries have supported it and we were hoping that Europe would do the same.
But after the usual countries rehashing the same objections -like Poland and Hungary- we are now beginning to see other countries, like Austria or Bulgaria, which we hadn’t suspected before of following the ‘fortress’ policy, backtracking from their support of the pact, whose ambition was, as I told you, to embrace all the countries of the world. This mood is palpable therefore at all levels, at the level of society, at the level of our individual selves. How many times we speak with people who tell us that the migrants must leave even at countries’ level. The issue at stake is therefore of great importance all the more so as it runs horizontally through our societies and the European political regimes.
JOURNALIST: Let us now review quickly where we stand as far as our national issues are concerned, and let me begin with Turkey and its stance towards the searches carried out in the Cypriot EEZ. Our neighbouring country never stops the provocations. It is raising its voice. I want to ask you how worried you are by this tactic. We are also worried about the possibility of being embroiled in a ‘heated’ incident.
G. KATROUGALOS: I had the opportunity to answer a similar question from Mr. Koumoutsakos, New Democracy’s Spokesperson on foreign policy issues, and I gave him my opinion.
This resurgence of revisionist rhetoric by Turkey is not a sign of power. On the contrary, it is a sign of weakness because Turkey realises that on this very important front, the Republic of Cyprus has proved its ability to turn into action its sovereign rights which are recognized by International Law, whereas Turkey has failed to avert this course by creating faits accomplis.
So, I am not worried. Of course, we are monitoring with vigilance and also sobriety Turkey’s movements. With the diplomatic actions we have taken - and I am not referring only to the known actions underpinning our trilateral cooperation with Egypt and Israel, and evidently our total coordination with the Republic of Cyprus. I am referring to how we have now made it clear in the European Union itself that Turkey is violating International Law when it behaves like this. And for the first time we succeeded, at the level of the European Council, of the leaders of the European Union, in issuing a very strong warning at Turkey, not to continue along the same lines. As for us, here is how we want to respond to these provocative moves: on the one hand, by sending a clear signal that sovereign rights shall be respected and implemented and, on the other, by resuming the talks. We seek a meeting between our Prime Minister and President Erdogan in Istanbul, following his invitation, providing we are also ready for it, to ensure that it is productive, and not just to strike a pose.
JOURNALIST: According to a cable of the Athens news Agency that I saw, there has been positive movement in Greek-Albanian relations. Where? Could we, for example, reach also a final agreement on the EEZ?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are quite close to resolving all our pending issues with Albania, including that of the maritime zones. The tragic death of Katsifas slowed down things, but at bottom it could not overturn the course of our talks, though it did poison the climate between the two nations. Now, what we are waiting for is the other side to confirm its commitments towards our minority. It has recently passed a law on minorities, but we want to see its implementing acts. Because our top priority is the protection of our people's rights in Albania. And if that goes ahead, I think we can really go back to our talks, even to the question of the economic zones.
JOURNALIST: Let’s speak about Skopje now. Is there any progress in the process? Have we encountered new obstacles? Or do you think that everything is going well, in accordance with what was agreed and therefore within the time frame we had predicted? Do you think that by the end of February or early March the Prespa Agreement will be ready for ratification in the Greek Parliament?
G. KATROUGALOS: We recently had a four-day meeting of foreign ministers in Thessaloniki, which besides us, was attended by fYROM, Bulgaria and Albania. Let me tell you that there it clearly emerged that both sides, we and our neighbouring country, want, in a good spirit of cooperation to come to the end, of what we consider to be a mutually beneficial agreement.
And there is continuous communication to ensure that what was agreed will be included in the constitutional revision precisely as it was agreed in Prespes. I mean the constitutional revision in the neighbouring Republic.
From then on, indeed, the situation is as you said. We are waiting for the other side to complete its obligations until the end of January, so that by March at the latest, we will have also completed the ratification of the Agreement in our own Parliament.
JOURNALIST: And in May? elections?
G. KATROUGALOS: In May, indeed, we will have European and local government elections.
JOURNALIST: No, Minister, I’m asking about the national elections.
G. KATROUGALOS: It is effectively my opinion. It is not merely the constitutional obligation to complete the four-year period.
JOURNALIST: In other words, it is also your political proposal.
G. KATROUGALOS: It is also my political proposal. And from what I know, at the moment, the question of national elections is not in the mind of the person who will eventually decide - I mean the Prime Minister. It is not just the fact that early elections - according to the Constitution - is an exception to which we resort in order to confront a crucial national issue. Here I believe that the national interest demands that we let the economy work, as it does, meaning at its upward pace, and not to interrupt it with a pre-electoral period that has no object. So I believe that the basic national interest of the country is also the same as ours. It is, to put it straight, the political interest. Greek people must see the fruits of their labours delivering, so that in October they can go to the polls in a different climate.
JOURNALIST: Even if in the meantime Panos Kamenos withdraws his support from the government?
G. KATROUGALOS: I think that if something of that kind happens, the “Independent Greeks’ will appreciate it. I have a feeling, however, that in any case, not only will there be a large vote in Parliament in favour of the Prespa Agreement, but that there will also be a majority to guarantee its passing. This is my personal political impression. I do not want to argue further along these lines, because I do not have any other data to support my impression, beyond what is in the surrounding atmosphere.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much. And good morning to you.