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Interview of Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos on ‘Sto Kokkino’ radio with journalists V. Karagiorgios and D. Koukloumperis (30 October 2018)
JOURNALIST: We shall speak with Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Issues, Mr. Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning, Mr. Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you and your listeners.
JOURNALIST: What is the main goal of the EU-Arab Summit?
G. KATROUGALOS: We have a series of multilateral initiatives with regard to our international diplomacy recently, on a central stage. As you know, the Prime Minister, for example, has begun an initiative for a meeting between the 7 leaders of the European South. On the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, we have the Rhodes Conference, which is attempting to establish a system of stability and security in the region of the Middle East, with more than 24 countries. Also, in the context of economic diplomacy, one of the major initiatives we have undertaken and which, as you very correctly stated, is already in its third year, is the Summit meeting of leaders from the European Union and Arab countries.
This is taking place at the highest level, with the participation of Presidents, such as the President of Cyprus, Prime Ministers, and leaders of the corresponding level from the Arab countries. The goal is dual in nature: On the one hand, for a positive context of political cooperation to be created - and participation of so many and such significant leaders proves that we were successful in this - but also to have contact between the business worlds of the European and Arab countries. We had 800 participants. Therefore, I believe that it was a successful initiative in numerous ways.
JOURNALIST: A large number indeed; 800 companies we could say. In other words, representatives of companies, entrepreneurs, are you referring to something like this?
G. KATROUGALOS: 800 from private business society.
JOURNALIST: Leading financial players we could say.
G. KATROUGALOS: Exactly.
JOURNALIST: Nonetheless, Mr. Katrougalos, this shows that Greece continues to represent a bridge of friendship and stability in the Mediterranean.
G. KATROUGALOS: Undoubtedly. Listen, we have an upgrade of the international position of our country during the period we have been in power. Consider the fact that the President of the United States chose Greece for his last State visit, and the President of France came to Greece for his first State visit. Beyond this fact, though, historically, Greece was never a colonial power. It had a diaspora in the Arab countries of the Near and Middle East which did not act as leaders towards the local societies, but rather had a nature of co-existence.
All of this gives us the ability, in conjunction, with the traditional long-standing goal of our foreign policy through the initiatives we have undertaken, to truly stand out as a country which resolves problems in our region. The case of Prespa is characteristic on a bilateral level. I would simply like for the audience to know that the same thing applies on a multilateral level.
JOURNALIST: Because I heard the Prime Minister saying yesterday that if Greece comes closer, as a European power, in other words if Greece brings Europe closer to the Arab world, then it is possible for the country's geostrategic role to be upgraded, as well as to achieve very significant financial, results. So, since I saw that leading financial players participated, but I also heard the Prime Minister speaking about certain very important infrastructure projects, pipelines, that Greece can become an energy hub etc., at this point we could say that through this Summit, with things of such a nature which can make the country a potential energy hub, are these the main things being discussed, which we wish to achieve? So that the public can also have a picture of the financial aspirations.
G. KATROUGALOS: Everything that has to do with which pipelines will pass through Greece, this is already the subject of international agreements that have taken place. Now we are more so at the execution stage, where we want Greek companies to participate. And usually consortia, because, like it or not, precisely because of the financial crisis and the effect on liquidity that our companies have, they can only invest very large sums themselves with great difficulty.
Our purpose therefore is for them to review the consistently strong presence in the Arab world, any of them which are able to have an autonomous and leading presence, and we have such companies so that they can have it, and for the rest to participate in Consortia.
But then, the systems are very complex. I’ll give you an example related to tourism. There is the thought with Lebanon - and the competent Ministries of Tourism are already working on it - for us to have a Phoenicians’ Route. In other words, the same way we have the Silk Road at the initiative of China, for reasons of tourism, which can be a cruise, which can be other things that showcase culture and natural beauty or synergies between us, Lebanon, Tunisia, those countries in which the Phoenicians had a colonial presence at the same time as the Greeks. Many ideas have been put on the table and are being discussed, and the main issue is always their implementation.
JOURNALIST: Correct. Minister, lets switch topics and discuss your view with regard to the death of the Greek national. Following the actions that it took, has the Greek State drawn conclusions about the incident, as to what exactly happened, in other words?
G. KATROUGALOS: No, the whole issue is under investigation. As Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the very beginning, we said that light needs to be shed on the situation, so as to understand the circumstances, and especially if the proportionality principle was respected in this specific case, if the death was unavoidable, and if the Police took all the necessary measures. This was the first priority, the immediate one. We always have protection of the rights of Greek nationals as a top priority. This is one of the main missions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And there is a third thing to think about, whether this incident will now affect relations between the two countries; not to the detriment of the two former issues. Priority is given to the two former issues I mean for us not to allow for a rhetoric to exist - by both sides of course, this is always done on the condition of reciprocity - which will affect the positive relations between the two countries.
JOURNALIST: I would like to remain on two points, and I shall ask for a comment from you. First of all, the Albanian Prime Minister was quick to speak about an “extremist,” overlooking, I believe, the loss of a human life, and I see the reaction of the Albanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which expresses its disappointment in the reaction of the Greece's Minister of Foreign Affairs, as the announcement reads, who not only failed to denounce the armed attack against the powers that enforce the law but speaks, moreover, of the unacceptable loss of life. Does such a reaction, such a stance, help matters?
G. KATROUGALOS: What I told you earlier, that both sides, in other words, must remain level headed; we must serve the national interest of our countries but not go to extremes. I believe this is a sufficient comment related to what you are asking.
JOURNALIST: I realise that the major issue is to investigate what happened in Albania in order to get a much clearer picture of what happened, and to be able to draw our conclusions calmly. But I would like to ask: Because there are certain questions related to this case, the investigation of which may affect our country; in other words, what is it that made this person leave the city of Ioannina and travel with a Kalashnikov to the village of his roots. Is there investigation taking place in this regard, in our country, in order for to try to understand what happened?
KATROUGALOS: Of course. Listen, both on the police level and the judicial level, such action has been taken. On the level of Chiefs of Police, we already had contact, since the day of the incident; joint judicial assistance has been requested by us and by them, and from what I understand, the Prosecutor’s Office of Ioannina is continuing the investigation in the direction you mentioned. So, we would like for much light to be shed on this incident itself, but, as you correctly state, also on the atmosphere it ended in, as well as the motives.
JOURNALIST: Soon, I imagine you, too, will have to go the meeting of the Parliamentary Group.
G. KATROUGALOS: Which is an important fact.
JOURNALIST: Yes, but because the constitutional revision will be at its epicentre, and you happen to be a constitutional expert, Mr. Katrougalos, do you believe a consensus will exist for the required changes to be made.
G. KATROUGALOS: Constitutional revision entails consensus and conflict. There is consensus on very ripe issues such as, for example, ending the disgrace of parliamentary immunity, everyone is seeking this. If you look at the proposals submitted by New Democracy in 2014, the six points, where the Movement for Change (KINAL) was absent, certain of them - one would say half of them approximately - reflect a similar class of overripe requests.
There are others as well, such as the need for neoliberalism to be averted, where an abyss separates us, because precisely those are also stakes where confrontation exists between political parties. We begin the dialogue early, with the Prime Minister's decision to begin the process of discussion and consultation in 2016. And I am truly stunned by the decision which seems to have been taken by the parties of the opposition, at least the main opposition party, to refrain from participating.
This seems to essentially be an effort to not want to have a say in something that represents the pinnacle of the reform effort in this country. Not that I am especially surprised, of course, not only because New Democracy's policy is generally nihilistic, but also because even when it could make reforms, it still failed to do so, even neutral ones such as the Cadastral Offices and the forest maps.
JOURNALIST: I realise that there are issues, for example, which not only symbolise, but essentially pertain to, the main, the ideological, battle between the government and the main opposition, such as, for example, defending the public nature of Universities. I realise that the essential thing in a constitutional revision is precisely for that number to be found, the consensus which will establish that number and will permit for it to be done.
G. KATROUGALOS: But look at it from the other side, and what it will block. Because, for example, merely by not consenting to those things which are considered to be emblematic aspects of neoliberalism, for them to be included in the revision, such as abolition of the permanence of civil servants, such as abolition of Article 106 of the Constitution which permits the State to intervene in order to reduce inequalities, the issue of private Universities mainly, we have essentially been blocking their revision for 10 years, since our Constitution stipulates that the same revision cannot begin before 5 years have elapsed.
So, beyond the social agenda that we must promote, and for which, in our opinion, the necessary consensus exists, what we are doing, blocking what we consider to be bad institutional reform, is also a plus.
JOURNALIST: You most likely sensed what I was getting ready to ask you. What I was getting ready to ask you is that it is an long-standing question that the Left is posing to Greece, the separation of Church and State, it is extremely difficult to find not only the parliamentary consensus, but also the social consensus, for this issue to advance.
G. KATROUGALOS: It depends on how it will occur. I think it is overripe. It is an issue that affects both the State - a European State must have religious neutrality - as well as the Church. In other words, I fail to understand the patronage of the State with regard to clearly ecclesiastic procedures, why should it satisfy the Church.
JOURNALIST: Of course. Perhaps payment of the salaries of the clergy satisfies the Church
G. KATROUGALOS: That is a complex issue derived from historical reasons which we do not intend to overturn, because this would first of all create a big social issue in persons who are not privileged. There is a whole discussion to be had there. I would tell you that the Left in Greece, in contrast to other countries in Southern Europe, such as France or Spain, did not have an anticlericalist tradition. And because the Church is essentially a creation of the State, it is not like the Catholic Church which was a rival of the State and chiefly an institution not simply of conservative, but of reactionary, views, but because the clergy itself was divided at crucial moments in our history. In other words, during the period of the Resistance, one of the Mavroskoufides (Black Berets) of Aris Velouchiotis, was Papanikopoulos.
JOURNALIST: I come from those villages, I am familiar with it personally, Mr. Katrougalos.
G. KATROUGALOS: In the “mountain government,” in Korischades, I remember that he chose for a blessing to be carried out with the three Metropolitan Bishops with whom he was friendly. Therefore, though we would like, for obvious reasons, historical reasons, to have a separation of Church and State, we have no front against the Church, because we never had a front against it, as the Left.
JOURNALIST: Thank you very much, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you.