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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs G. Katrougalos’ Interview on “Thema Radio” with journalists M. Pollatos and I. Makrygiannis (Athens, 09/11/2018)
REPORTER: We have the honour to host the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning Mr. Katrougalos.
G. KATROUGALOS Good morning, to you and your listeners.
REPORTER: Mr. Katrougalos, I wonder what it is like to be the Alternate Minister now that the Chief Minister is also the Prime Minister of the country? Is it different from what it was like before?
REPORTER: Better, worse? What is it like?
G. KATROUGALOS As one of your colleagues said jokingly, now I am no longer an Alternate Minister, but a substitute of the Minister. Seriously now, I feel a real responsibility on my shoulders, because my duties have been upgraded at an extremely difficult Ministry which is crucial to our national interests.
REPORTER: Since, Mr. Tsipras, as Prime Minister, does not have too much time to deal with matters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as we understand, you are the person who does most of the work. So it has more...
G. KATROUGALOS: I can assure you that it is the Prime Minister who deals with all the serious and strategic matters. He holds regular meetings with the Ministry’s officials because he does not want to hear only the opinion of the political leadership. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is, in essence, its diplomats. And for this purpose, thematic meetings are convened every week. The Prime Minister is the person who gives instructions. He is responsible. It is he who runs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
REPORTER: To speak seriously, as you said earlier, yesterday, during his interview on ALPHA, the Prime Minister seemed to have backtracked a little from what Nikos Kotzias said on 20 October, during the ceremony of the Ministry’s handover, about the extension of territorial waters. First of all, Mr. Tsipras, said that this announcement was made in a clumsy way.
G. KATROUGALOS I also paid attention to the interview, as you can see. He said that we shall not budge on the strategic question. The extension of territorial waters is a strategy which favours our national interests. As for the tactical question, he deems it appropriate, on such major issue, to allow for a public debate and consultations with the political parties. And he said, and that is exactly what he characterized as clumsy, that during the handover and takeover, the announcement was made without a prior process of discussion.
REPORTER: So when do you think the extension will take place? When do you see it happening?
G. KATROUGALOS As the Prime Minister said, this discussion will have to take place with the political parties. Our line has already been determined. I do not see new changes happening because systematic work has been done over the past 2 to 2.5 years. You know, it is not merely a matter of announcement. Greek and foreign experts have drawn up maps which duly respect International Law, and are also based on the specific requirements of the cartographic science. Therefore, all these elements are ready. International Law has given us this possibility since 1995.
REPORTER: So when will it come before the Parliament?
G. KATROUGALOS I told you, immediately. As soon as the process will have been completed. The consultation process must take place before. Possibly, the Prime Minister will also convene the National Council on Foreign Policy, so that this process can also have an institutional character.
REPORTER: In one or two months, let's say?
G. KATROUGALOS I imagine that the two months period you have mentioned is a very reasonable amount of time.
REPORTER: Let’s now cover the rest, because there is this talk about new recruitments, and the agreement with the Church, etc. You intend on carrying out new recruitments. Where will you find the money? It is a legitimate question. Are you counting on a miracle? Because we have also heard about miracles yesterday.
G. KATROUGALOS What some people would count as miraculous is that we are no longer subjected to the Memoranda. That we have a fiscal manoeuvring space and that our economy is going well. Last year, we had a 1.8% growth rate. This year, our growth rate will be around 2.2%, and next year, it will be up to 2.5%. This means that while we keep our finances stable and healthy - since this is a prerequisite for not sliding back in high debt, for this is where bipartisanship led us, - we now have a financial manoeuvring space to be able to do something good for society, to hire teachers in schools, and nurses and doctors in hospitals. It is something good for society.
REPORTER: Does your positive frame of mind lead you to believe that we will find the money?
G. KATROUGALOS No, it has nothing to do with being in a positive frame of mind. The money already exists. The money truly exists. You know, precisely because we are in this regime of post-program supervision, we are under the same control that all the countries of the European Union are. This means that every six months the countries of the European Union must submit their budgets to the so-called European Semester. But we also have the magnifying glass of this post-program supervision which cannot easily... No, contrary to what happened in the past, no one can give money which does not exist anymore.
REPORTER: In fact, that is how it sounds now, because while we were listening to the Prime Minister yesterday he did not say anything specific.
G. KATROUGALOS And you believe that the Commission has suddenly softened, and whereas it used to be the guardian of budgetary discipline now it has adopted a SYRIZA policy line? I am telling you clearly that what we are doing is in the interest of the country twice, because I repeat....
REPORTER: Now, the way you put it, someone might hear us and believe that SYRIZA is not a guardian of budgetary discipline.
G. KATROUGALOS Why? I have already repeated this. We do everything we do within the financial space that our people paid for with their sacrifices.
REPORTER: There is money, in short.
G. KATROUGALOS For good purposes, there must be money, otherwise the state is not doing its job well.
REPORTER: Can you comment on the agreement with the Church? How will the disputed property enter in one treasury Minister? That is, ‘disputed’ in the sense that we are speaking of trampled areas, or areas of land that have been illegally developed. These are cases that have been placed under Justice’s scrutiny.
G. KATROUGALOS This is a very good question. First of all, the implementation of all that has been agreed derives essentially from this institutional change of principle which we plan to bring to the Constitution, namely, the neutrality of the State vis-à-vis the Church and the separation of roles. If that is the case, it is obvious that the State will no longer continue to remunerate the clergy as if they were public servants. And at that stage the problem cropped up that these people will be left out in the cold, and how we can continue to guarantee their rights? And precisely because these questions should not be left to the last minute, as you heard from the Prime Minister, sustained efforts are being pursued to speak with the Church, which also accepts the need for a consensual settlement of these questions. So we have reached the conclusion that there is Church property which has yet to be recorded. Alas, as you probably know already, some State property has yet to be fully recorded also. These are the biggest difficulties of the Land Registry.
So, in order to avoid doing things in an amateurish manner, we decided to put in place a registration scheme of the ecclesiastical property that was actually funded by the NSRF (National Strategic Reference Framework). Thus, it becomes more scientific, it has available resources, and it has precisely undertaken to record what this property is about. 22 Metropolises and the Archbishopric have already been included in this program, and gradually the entire ecclesiastical property will be recorded. In any case, in the future, the wages of the clergy will begin to be fully covered by the Ecclesiastical Property Development Fund. Precisely because we do not have a full recording, and we do not know how much revenue can currently flow from the property, that’s why, for a transitional phase, we will have a transfer from the State budget to the Church of the amount necessary to pay the salaries of the clergy, until we have found a clear solution.
REPORTER: However, the priests are not happy with this situation, you are aware of this. You can see their reactions, they feel that, in the end or later, the State might sell them out.
G. KATROUGALOS No big change happens easily. Without there being some people who will inevitably complain. I would say in a well-intentioned way. Many are terrified by change. But, personally, I don’t think that it is normal for a clergyman to be a public servant. His work is not the work of a public servant. He must have guarantees. He must feel secure. Anyone should feel secure, but this will be ensured by the institutional interventions we plan to make.
REPORTER: Due to your position, you will need now to collaborate a little more with the Minister of National Defense, Panos Kammenos. I will not ask you if there had been prior consultation between you and Mr. Kammenos before he said that the Turks had asked for permission to fly within the Athens FIR. On the other hand, an announcement was made from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, today, this morning, and I would like you to comment. So the Turks have stated that they recognize six miles of airspace, and of course, they ask for flying permission for all their military or commercial aircraft which enter the Greek airspace they recognize. Is this true? And what comment would you make?
G. KATROUGALOS I will not comment on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the radio. The comments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are made via the diplomatic route. What you have read to me, however, is the long-standing position of the Turks, and that is why we have the interceptions in the Aegean between 6 and 10 nautical miles. We, as you know, have expanded our airspace to ten miles, which the other side - in the same way as it questions other rights of ours which clearly derive from International Law - rhetorically denies us. However, there cannot be any challenge to this right of ours, precisely because we have applied what International Law imposes. And we do not say this merely in words. Fortunately, we have the armed forces that can confirm in practice this right of us, and it is for this reason that we have all these constant interceptions that confirm our sovereign rights.
REPORTER: Are you worried by Turkish activities in Cyprus?
G. KATROUGALOS They keep us on the alert. I would not worry, for the simple reason that we have taken our measures, both we and the Republic of Cyprus. And at the diplomatic level, these tripartite or triangular partnerships with Israel and Egypt, have particularly upgraded our diplomatic strength, both of our own country and that of the Republic of Cyprus. And as the past showed, when an attempt was made to question the right of Cyprus to its Exclusive Economic Zone, this contestation was repelled. Because, as I said, the Republic of Cyprus fully respects International Law when it exploits its natural resources, and because we have taken the necessary measures to ensure that the law has also the power to defend itself.
REPORTER: And, very briefly, I would like an answer to the question of what happened at the Ministerial Cabinet of 16 July, because we have a question from a listener. Did Kammenos actually say that Soros finances the Greek Government?
G. KATROUGALOS I was not present at this Ministerial Council because I was at the European Council in Brussels. But I think that a full answer has already been given about what was said and what was not said.
REPORTER: We would like to thank you very much, Mr. Katrougalos.
G. KATROUGALOS Thank you.