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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview for the newspaper Efimerida ton Syntakton with journalist N. Zirganos (02 February2019)
JOURNALIST: How will it be ensured that the Prespa Agreement will be implemented? Can another government in Athens or Skopje undermine it or implement it selectively?
G. KATROUGALOS: All the legal provisions are in place so that the Agreement constitutes a permanent foundation in the new era of friendship and collaboration with North Macedonia, such as provisions for good offices and mediation by the UN Secretary-General. As for the name issue in particular, the constitutional revision is the biggest guarantee, as it ensures that the solution will stand the test of time and the rationale of rejecting irredentism will be integrated in the heart of the neighbouring country's institutional system. However, I believe that the foundation for the safe implementation of the Agreement lies elsewhere: once our peoples fully comprehend its content, i.e. a compromise that serves the core of national interests on both sides, the venom of suspicion, which fuels extreme nationalism both ways, shall cease. This shall constitute the greatest guarantee for a long-lasting Agreement. In any case, although I consider such an event unlikely, any violation of the terms of the Agreement shall constitute a gross violation of the good neighbourly obligations, as it would block any prospects of the neighbouring country’s accession to the European Union, which is its next significant target.
JOURNALIST: The protocol for North Macedonia’s accession to NATO will soon be coming to the Parliament for ratification. Are you expecting a change in the stance of the forces that opposed the Prespa Agreement?
G. KATROUGALOS: After Bucharest, the fixed stance of the country’s foreign policy has been that the neighbouring country’s accession to NATO – provided it so wished – would follow once our differences were resolved: solution first, accession later was what the New Democracy government officials were saying. Unfortunately, though, consistency is not a word that describes New Democracy today, as it remains deeply torn between its far-right and centre-right components. In the discussion about the Macedonian issue, they presented two fronts: the fixed national view of another country not monopolising the name, and the personal Samaras line that Macedonia is Greek. Mr Mitsotakis continues to be bound to the latter and to his Vice-President, a transfer from the LAOS party. I’m afraid that my forecast for KINAL is similar. I see it lining up with New Democracy again, trapped in the barren anti-SYRIZA policy of its leadership. And a word for the criticism we have been getting from the left, i.e. that we have become friends of the Atlantic alliance: North Macedonia’s accession to NATO was not our choice; it was a choice that had been made by their government.
JOURNALIST: The SYRIZA-ANEL divorce was not a smooth one. Mr Kammenos describes the Prespa Agreement as traitorous and is talking about a government of defection, while he continues to accuse Nikos Kotzias of suspicious relations with Mr Soros. The government has not given a clear answer yet.
G. KATROUGALOS: The developments are demonstrating just how far from reality this was, when we heard New Democracy – and not just them – saying that it was an orchestrated divorce. It is true that our collaboration with ANEL, for as long as it lasted, was an honest one; we were both focused on the exit from the memorandums and the fight against corruption. However, in the new post-memorandum era of normalcy, the political conflicts are lining up along the Left-Right axis again and this is completely normal. As for the way ANEL expressed some of their recent controversial views, it is obvious that we will not follow suit. A conflict always has to have substance. And as far as substance is concerned, we have always been clear. Nikos Kotzias was not implementing his own policy, but the government policy. And this government bears no relation to economic interest hubs. Soros-fighting and shadow-fighting do not assist in political dialogue.
JOURNALIST: The Prespa Agreement rearranged the political stage and SYRIZA has already made a new opening towards the centre-left. Do you believe that a coalition of wider forces, with SYRIZA at the core, is possible? And what form would it take?
G. KATROUGALOS: You’re right. The political stage has been rearranged tectonically after the Prespa, but this way it essentially aligned accordingly with the European state of affairs. In the upcoming European elections, two complete opposite views for Europe will clash: one of them expresses a paradoxical marriage between neo-liberalism and the far-right, and the other the social Europe, the open societies, the freedoms and the rights. So the stakes, but also the political fronts in Greece, are being shaped in a respective, bipolar way. SYRIZA is the democratic and progressive side, expressing the largest part of the Left and the Centre-Left. We are also striving for including or forging an organic collaboration with any related forces or personalities that share our strategic choices, but also for starting a platform collaboration with parties from neighbouring political arenas. Naturally, this presupposes platform convergences, as well as clear answers and choices. Specifically, KINAL must answer loud and clear before the elections whether they are in favour of collaborations for a progressive administration or whether they will attempt anew an unnatural partnership with New Democracy.
JOURNALIST: What is the government expecting from the PM’s upcoming trip to Turkey?
G. KATROUGALOS: We are aspiring to re-establish the communication channels at the highest level, with the short-term goal being to diffuse the tension in the Aegean Sea. We are also aspiring to commence essential dialogue on the serious issues that separate us. For this reason, obviously, it takes two to tango.
JOURNALIST: The next few months are considered crucial for the South-eastern Mediterranean, given Ankara’s stance regarding the Cypriot EEZ, but also the upcoming signing of the agreement for the East Med pipeline. How can the Republic of Cyprus be protected from possible Turkish aggression?
G. KATROUGALOS: Our key weapon in all bilateral disputes has been our respect for international law and legality, and the international alliances we forge. We have always systematically coordinated, with sobriety and decisiveness, our action and the steps we shall take in this issue, as with all other issues, with the full support of the Republic of Cyprus. We have indeed jointly managed to support the self-evident sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus by the European Union and by other significant partners, such as the USA, for the first time so clearly and so strictly. Furthermore, the trilateral and other collaborations that we have developed in the region have especially strengthened our diplomatic and defence position. In this context, the role of the East Med stands out, not only from an economic, but also from a strategic point of view. Especially the addition of the USA in a 3+1 configuration in our trilateral cooperation with Israel and Cyprus, as well as the presence of their State Secretary at the signing of the relevant international agreement in Knossos, highlights the reach of this endeavour.
JOURNALIST: New Democracy is accusing you of aligning politically with the Maduro administration, actually hinting at SYRIZA being secretly financed by Caracas. How do you respond to these allegations? What stance will we be adopting as an EU country with regard to the political crisis in Venezuela?
G. KATROUGALOS: The defamatory statements about the alleged financing of SYRIZA are being spread underhandedly, with leaks and hints from New Democracy, just because they know very well that it is an utterly non-existent and fabricated matter. Rehashing it, in a hypocritical and Goebbelsian manner as a matter of fact, only serves to demonstrate the main opposition party’s inability to debate about real political issues using political arguments. The essence of the matter is this: Since the very beginning I had stated that we believe it is pivotal for the European Union to present a joint stance on this matter, respecting the statutory principles of democracy, with the aim of finding a solution that would end the division of an extremely polarised society and would give the people of Venezuela the chance to decide about their future. To this end, right from the start we pushed the idea of establishing a team of countries that would organise a dialogue and would ensure the necessary conditions for carrying out honest and representative elections. This proposal of ours was unanimously accepted at the recent informal Foreign Affairs Council and an international contact team was formed, which included European countries, as well as Latin American countries, such as Bolivia and Mexico.