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Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview with the Athens Macedonian News Agency
JOURNALIST: The parliament of the fYROM has concluded the process of voting on the constitutional changes based on the Prespa Agreement. What does approval of the Agreement by the neighbouring country mean for Greece?
G. KATROUGALOS: This is a historic moment. Following its approval also by the Greek parliament, a difference will have been resolved that has poisoned the political scene in the two countries for almost three decades. The Prespa Agreement does not pertain only to these two countries, but it sends a strong message to the rest of the countries of South-eastern Europe on the possibility of peaceful resolution in a region which has been Europe's powder keg. It also confirms, yet again, the key role that Greece can play in the wider region. For both countries, a period of friendship and economic cooperation is commencing, from which our Macedonia shall especially benefit, as well as Northern Greece in general.
JOURNALIST: Can you describe to us the exact process that will be followed, in our country, for ratification of the Prespa Agreement? When is the government prepared to bring the Agreement to the Hellenic parliament, in what form, and when is it expected to be ratified?
G. KATROUGALOS: The next steps result directly either from our Constitution or from the Prespa Agreement itself. After being informed by the neighbouring country that the relevant procedure has been completed, the Agreement will be submitted to Parliament for ratification. Either way, we have discussed it in detail, in the context of the censure motion which New Democracy had submitted. In any case, the possibility will again exist for comprehensive and exhaustive debate on the subject by all sides, because this is exactly what Greek society lacks, familiarity with what the Agreement provides for. I am certain that many of our fellow citizens who are reacting would not have the same objections if they knew the exact contents of the agreement, or at least their reactions would not be to the same extent and of the same level of intensity. Following ratification of the Agreement, the process can begin for the Agreement for accession of the neighbouring country to NATO. A condition for this is for the relevant protocol of accession to come to our country, which again must be ratified through a law by the Hellenic Parliament, despite the many things that are disseminated by the opposition on supposed automatic entry of fYROM following signature of the Prespa Agreement. In this context, the Prime Minister, in conjunction with the President of the Parliament, will set the exact dates for discussion.
JOURNALIST: Is ratification also required by the UN Security Council?
G. KATROUGALOS: No, ratification is not required by the UN Security Council. The Agreement will of course be notified to the Secretary General of the UN because the Security Council had set, through its resolutions 817(1993) and 845(1993), the framework within which the matter had to be resolved, which is fully in line with the content of the Prespa Agreement.
JOURNALIST: The constitutional changes that were approved by the Parliament of fYROM, as well as the statements of the Zaev government, are these in line with the letter and spirit of the Prespa Agreement?
G. KATROUGALOS: The constitutional changes are in line with the framework set by the Agreement, and the statements by the Zaev government have at this point left no room for doubt, especially with regard to the non-existent issue of supposed recognition of nationality, which was constructed by New Democracy. As regards the specific issue, amendment XXXIII expressly states that citizenship does not define, nor does it predetermine, the nationality of citizens.
JOURNALIST: Which safeguards does the Prespa Agreement contain so that, on the one hand, there is no arbitrary or irredentist interpretation of it and, on the other hand, its unilateral amendment does not take place in the future.
G. KATROUGALOS: First of all, the main safeguard was precisely to incorporate everything agreed upon at Prespa into the Constitution, so that returning to the previous situation would not be possible, even if the government were to change. Indeed, the same Agreement expressly provides for full prohibition of returning to the previous name situation etc., even though a new constitutional amendment. Beyond this, Article 19 of the Agreement also provides for a mechanism to resolve differences in the event that one side should feel that the other side is not living up to its obligations, which covers all potential situations efficiently, and without leaving gaps.
JOURNALIST: Do you believe that a parliamentary majority exists for its ratification by the Hellenic Parliament?
G. KATROUGALOS: I am absolutely certain that the Prespa Agreement will be passed with an absolute majority of MP’s, and even more.
JOURNALIST: What is the situation to date related to the coalition government composed of SYRIZA and ANEL? How do you interpret the statement by Minister of Defence Panos Kammenos that “no issue of trust exists unless this is linked to the Prespa Agreement?” Is the possibility of withdrawing the ANEL’s support of the government and the vote of confidence no longer on the horizon?
G. KATROUGALOS: We fully respect the political autonomy of the other parties, much more so that of our junior partner, our ally in the coalition government. The decisions on the questions that you posed with regard to their remaining in the government shall be made exclusively by them. The Prime Minister made it clear in his recent interview that, should they leave the coalition government on their own accord, he will request a vote of confidence despite the fact that something like that is not required by the constitution. Indeed, I remind that, in 2013 when the Democratic Left abandoned the Samaras government, at that time, Mr Samaras had not requested a similar renewal of the government's confidence. All of this, in my opinion, shows that the Prime Minister is fully in control of the political match. He respects both the Constitution and democratic and parliamentary order, as well as the internal autonomy of the other parties.
JOURNALIST: You participated in the Prime Minister's meeting with Germany’s Chancellor. What is your assessment of Merkel’s visit, and what is its importance for further bolstering of Greek-German cooperation?
G. KATROUGALOS: First of all, the visit by Ms. Merkel confirms the upgrading of our country’s international standing during our four-year term. All great leaders have passed through Greece, and indeed two of these, President Obama and President Macron, chose our country to send a greatly symbolic message: President Obama with his final speech where he conveyed his thoughts on Democracy to the whole world; President Macron with his first speech in which he laid down his ideas for the future of Europe. This visit also confirms a full return to normalcy. Ms Merkel visited a Greece that was different to the one she had visited in 2014. And thirdly, though of no less importance, Germany is our country’s largest economic partner, with 7.5 billion in recent direct investment, and the Chancellor's visit also marks the even more significant prospects that exist for improvement of the bilateral economic cooperation, something which was apparent also in her meetings with business people.
JOURNALIST: The process of Constitutional Revision is under way in Parliament. Do points of convergence exist?
G. KATROUGALOS: Our desire is for the constitutional revision to have the broadest possible consensus. Clearly, where agreement exists, where convergence can exist, because significant ideological differences exist on certain defining issues, for example tackling extreme neoliberalism, where we cannot have particular chances of agreement. What makes the final consensus problematic is that New Democracy does not appear with one voice. While its general rapporteur adheres to a generally productive stance, similar to our own, and he would be amenable to a consensus, many times representatives of the far-right wing of New Democracy have come with precisely the opposite message: "if you don’t vote to change Article 16, you can forget about the revision.” It is clear that such institutional ultimatums are completely outside of the logic of the Constitution. As I mentioned earlier, convergence may exist on points on which we agree, not where we disagree.
We shall continue to insist along the lines of the greatest possible agreement, because that is what the Constitution requires, and because we truly want a revision that is dual in nature: strengthening of Democracy and tackling neoliberalism. We don’t expect New Democracy's response on everything, but it will be irreparably exposed if it rejects the need to revise overripe provisions, such as the unacceptable provisions on the immunity of politicians.
JOURNALIST: What are the expectations for the Prime Minister’s upcoming visit to Turkey?
G. KATROUGALOS: We want this trip to contribute to reducing tension in the Aegean and to re-establish the foundations for restarting Greek-Turkish dialogue. We believe that only in this manner can differences between countries be resolved, and because we have faith in the ability to resolve differences with respect to International Law, as we have proven in particular with the Prespa Agreement.
JOURNALIST: How is the Strategic Dialogue between Greece and the US evolving? What are the initial tangible results?
G. KATROUGALOS: As regards the geopolitical, the geostrategic importance of the dialogue, its effect is obvious. The positions of the American officials are now in line with the corresponding formal statements of the European Union on the need for International Law to be fully respected by all sides, even by those that dispute it. It therefore represents additional strengthening of the geopolitical power of our country and its position as a factor of stability in the region. On an economic level, both sides have decided for our collaboration to have a structured nature, and for it to be stable and regular in frequency. In January, a new Interministerial Meeting is due to take place of all the ministries that participated in the Strategic Dialogue, in order to systematically promote issues related to investment and finance.
JOURNALIST: What are the basic principles and priorities of Greek foreign policy for 2019?
G. KATROUGALOS: Our priorities are standard and stable, because our foreign policy possesses fixed characteristics. Its first characteristic is complete respect of International Law, and our effort is for Greece to be a provider of security, a factor of stability. The second characteristic of our foreign policy is its multidimensional nature, also due to our country’s position as a natural bridge linking Africa, Asia, and Europe, and because historically our country has always adhered to a peace-loving policy. We wish to play the role of a just intermediary between our own home, Europe, and the other countries in the wider region. Thirdly, and finally, in the region of South-eastern Europe and the Middle East, we wish to confirm the role for confirming a climate of security and stability, as well as for strengthening the European perspectives of those countries. Within the framework of these general guidelines, in the past we have undertaken a series of important multilateral initiatives, many bearing the seal of Nikos Kotzias, which we shall continue to serve.
The challenges, as well as the opportunities, are not few. I would like to believe that we shall have similar progress with the issue related to our relations with Albania as we do with fYROM, with the understood condition of re-examination of every measure that infringes upon the rights of our minority there. And with regard to the Cyprus issue, we shall insist that the negotiations begin where they ended at Crans-Montana, with recognition, in other words, of the international dimension of the issue and termination of the anachronistic system of guarantees as well as the gradual withdrawal of occupation troops.
The fronts in Europe are also significant, where in May we shall have the European elections, the clash of two fundamentally different views for Europe: on the one hand the marriage of the far right with neoliberalism and, on the other hand, the powers of social Europe, a Europe of rights and open societies.