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Interview of Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos on “Real FM” Radio with journalist N. Chatzinikolaou (31 October 2018)
JOURNALIST: What can we do, as a country, in order for our neighbours to conduct a real, serious, and objective investigation into the cause of death of our compatriot?
G. KATROUGALOS: We clearly have three priorities: one is the one you mentioned, to clarify the true circumstances and mainly investigate if every possibility was exhausted to avoid the death of the Greek national; The second long-standing goal is protection of the rights and interests of Greek nationals, for a negative climate not to be created for our people there; the third goal is for bilateral relations not to be upset, without of course making concessions or compromises with regard to the first two.
We have taken action, as a government, on all levels. From the beginning, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a demarche to the Albanian Ambassador, inviting her here to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stressing precisely these priorities. Our Ambassador to Albania proceeded with a Note Verbale, requesting for Greek representatives to be present in the forensic examination so that there is nothing secret. And since we are paying particular attention to the matter, I personally spoke on the telephone with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Bushati, yesterday afternoon, conveying to him our priorities and the need for cooperation to exist, while respecting the independence of the judicial on both sides.
On other levels now, on the level of the Police, since the day of the death, there has been contact between the respective Heads of Police, so that there is a Greek Police official there, and for him to be present during the investigation and be updated, so that he can in turn update our side. And finally, from a judicial point of view, Article 7 of the Penal Code allows for a parallel judicial investigation when we have a crime against a Greek citizen. An investigation was ordered by the Prosecutor of the Ioannina Court of First Instance, which has already been transferred, for reasons of competence, to the Prosecutor's Office of the Athens Court of First Instance.
JOURNALIST: I come now to our outstanding national issues. I begin with the continuous, and indeed intense provocations on the part of Turkey in the maritime space of the Eastern Mediterranean. I am referring to the dispatching of the “Conqueror” which many in the neighbouring country say - the media report this - that it seeks to sail to areas that belong to the Cypriot EEZ and, of course, the leak of maps from the Turkish Ministry of Defence, which only left the island of Gavdos out, going as far South as Crete.
G. KATROUGALOS: As regards the second, this has to do with a misunderstanding. The information we have is that this map is described by the Turkish side as being Greece’s claims; in other words, that it is not a projection of the Turkish EEZ but of the Greek EEZ. They want to show the “abusive nature” of our positions, that we seemingly want to reach as far as Turkey. Consequently, let me confirm what I said, without negating what you said: there is a long-standing effort on the part of Turkish foreign policy towards revisionism; Turkey does not take as a basis the International Law of the sea, and especially the International Convention on the Law of the Sea; and it does not recognise the preparations that have been made between the Republic of Cyprus and the neighbouring countries to forge its own EEZ, in order to create faits accomplis. Faits accomplis are not created though, given that we take every necessary measure, also on a diplomatic level with demarches that dispute this creation of a legal precedent, as well as with the presence of a Greek frigate in the region, so that our rights are not only supported in law but are strengthened with the necessary presence. But the most essential protection of our national interests has occurred with the systematic diplomatic preparation that has preceded between Greece and the Republic of Cyprus, and which pertains also to the creation of trilateral cooperation schemes - especially with Israel and Egypt - so that the legal and political safeguarding of our rights is secured, but also with the corresponding preparation which has taken place after assignment by the Republic of Cyprus of the search for hydrocarbons to large multinational giants that clearly also have the corresponding political support of their governments, especially France and the US. We are therefore not worried about the developments; of course, we do watch them closely, so that faits accomplis are not created to our detriment. I believe, though, that we are in a much better position than we were in in the past, precisely because we are now calling the shots, and Turkey is attempting to react. We promote our national interests in a way that is not contrary to International Law, but exactly as International Law dictates.
JOURNALIST: You know, there is concern that Turkey may perhaps cause a heated incident in order to involve us in a discussion in which we do not wish to participate.
G. KATROUGALOS: There are two deterring factors for something like this. First, diplomatic strengthening of the standing of our country and chiefly the presence, as I told you, not only of our own armed forces but also of other countries’ forces, especially in the area of Cyprus, which ensure compliance with what is agreed on. On the other hand, this period is characterised by an effort on the part of Turkey to open up to the West, and especially to Europe, precisely due to the problems with its economy. I consider it highly unlikely - not impossible of course, since Turkey has made us become accustomed to unexpected moves - for it to proceed with such an action which will essentially negate the effort it is making to save its economy.
JOURNALIST: I am now coming to the 12 miles, in this discussion. Perhaps the announcement by the departing former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nikos Kotzias, was premature? Did it happen at the wrong moment? You know there are many who feel that these types of moves should not be announced in advance, just like a cabinet reshuffle should not be announced in advance, or devaluation of the national currency, for example, should not be announced in advance, when we indeed had a national currency.
G. KATROUGALOS: Do you know why I disagree with this view, and why the Prime Minister in fact also announced that we will proceed in Parliament - one step further - and not with a Presidential Decree? Precisely because these issues require broader consensus - if this can be achieved- and, at the very least, public dialogue, for the Greek people to understand what is really at stake.
This is simple: For 40 years, perhaps 30 if we count ratification by Greece of the International Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1995, we have been reiterating - and this is truly how it is - that it is an inalienable right of ours to expand our sovereignty with regard to our territorial waters. But in light of the complicated nature of the issue and Turkey’s reactions - while clearly this sovereign right of ours is not being challenged - a certain idleness has reigned; we are putting off taking specific measures.
But we are not a power of inaction. On a series of issues, we need to “crack a few eggs,” because otherwise, we cannot promote our national interests and the public interest. The Prespa Agreement is emblematic, as is the issue of Sharia law in Thrace, which is equally emblematic, not to mention the internal reforms that are politically neutral, such as the land register or the forest maps.
Consequently, we begin this discussion from the Ionian Sea, where we need to extend our territorial waters, also on the delimitation of the EEZ with Albania and Italy. Everything I am telling you now on the radio, we need to discuss it with the political powers, which will be called upon by the Prime Minister, and the public will be informed through the debate in Parliament.
JOURNALIST: I am coming to the Prespa Agreement. How do you see things advancing? What is the time table? In other words, when will it come for ratification to the Hellenic Parliament, and how optimistic or, on the contrary, pessimistic, are you about the vote that is going to take place there?
G. KATROUGALOS: This is a crucial week, because we shall learn the precise wording of the constitutional provisions. We are of course in contact, and we are following things so that this wording does not differ from what has been agreed upon.
JOURNALIST: Pardon me for interrupting, Mr. Minister, could there perhaps be one or two points that are up for renegotiation? This is a question that many people raise. In other words, whether we could insist, for example, on the issue of citizenship, for it to be “Northern Macedonian" and not simply “Macedonian.”
G. KATROUGALOS: To conclude what I told you, we are closely following the constitutional revision. Now, as to what you are asking, we have the deep-rooted conviction that the agreement could not be further improved and everything that you are saying to be broached again has been exhaustively discussed. And every agreement represents a compromise.
As far as the citizenship, you are very correct in saying that the ideal thing would be for there to be a reference to “Northern Macedonian” citizenship. What was agreed was somewhere in the middle. In other words, while until now these people would come with passports - and as tourists in Northern Greece - which simply said “Macedonia,” now “citizen of Northern Macedonia” has been added next to the indication of the citizenship as “Macedonian.” I repeat that this is a compromise. If this is combined with the rest of the provisions of the Agreement, and especially with Article 7, which fully distinguishes what they mean, and what we mean, as Macedonia, in other words that they are in no way related to the ancient Greek Macedonia or the history of our Macedonia, then I believe that it is a compromise that benefits us. I repeat that this is not 100% what we wanted. But 100% of what you want, you never achieve it with agreements, you achieve it with wars, and agreements that are humiliating to the other side are not successful. As soon as the other side grows a bit stronger, they challenge them.
Now with regard to your initial question as to whether I am optimistic - I am convinced, I am not merely optimistic - because we already have a stated intention on the part of many MPs, as well as political powers. Potami has already stated its position in this regard. A majority exists in Parliament at this point, despite the opposition of our junior partner, which will lead to it being passed. I cannot precisely predict the time frame, because they are obligated in Skopje to go through a period of consultation, which is not stipulated by the Constitution, but which in part is a political decision. At some point, of course by March, the issue will come to Parliament, and it will be passed.
JOURNALIST: Thank you Minister. Have a good day.
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you. Have a good day.