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Interview of Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos with the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (30 October 2018)
JOURNALIST: Our first guest, Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Issues, Mr. Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning, Mr. Katrougalos.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you and to your audience.
JOURNALIST: I would like your comment on the tragic incident in Bularat.
G. KATROUGALOS: As you know, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from the very first moment, proceeded with the announcement that presented the issue in its true dimensions. For us at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for Greek society, priority is placed on clarifying the conditions under which this tragic incident occurred, the protection of the rights of Greek nationals in the neighbouring country, and of course for relations between the countries not to deteriorate. The latter though, not to the detriment of the first two, but simply through refraining from rhetoric that can lead to the deterioration of those relations, always on the condition of reciprocity. This is clearly applicable for both countries, for the officials of both countries.
JOURNALIST: And to refrain from drawing hasty conclusions, such as the first statement regarding an “extremist.”
G. KATROUGALOS: One must generally refrain from making premature statements because we cannot seek clarification of the events and at the same time rush to conclusions. You know, there is mobilisation on all sides. Judicial assistance has been requested. The heads of the Police on both sides are in contact with each other. Everything humanly possible is being done for us to truly elucidate what happened.
JOURNALIST: I would like to turn now to the EU-Arab Summit; it is continuing for the second day today. This is a significant initiative, given the situation in the wider region of the Middle East. I would like for you to tell me if all these Summits have led to tangible results. In other words, is it only wishful thinking, or can we find, through these Summits, avenues of cooperation that are productive and beneficial to the peoples in the region.
G. KATROUGALOS: This is the third time that this Summit is being held and, each time, participation is even greater. More than 800 attendees this time, more than 30 countries were represented at the highest level, Prime Ministers, Deputy Prime Ministers, or Ministers. This shows, first of all, the success of this multilateral initiative.
Now, as to the results of such initiatives. These can be seen on two levels: The first is the creation of a positive climate, which must not be underestimated, precisely because what we aspire towards, as a country, is to strengthen our role as a pillar of stability, as a mediator to resolve conflict or to ease tensions in the region, in this manner also, as well as to promote the goals of our economic diplomacy.
The second and more concrete goal is to provide the possibility for contacts to take place between the representatives of the business communities of the countries which participate, in order for the specific synergies to be promoted as well. Therefore, on both these levels, it has been proven that this World Summit of the European Union, countries of the European Union, and Arab countries, is especially successful.
JOURNALIST: You spoke of creating a positive climate. Let's turn to the constitutional revision, Minister, where a calm stance is required, if maintained with regard to the issue of the constitutional revision, because the Prime Minister’s letter to the parties led to a backlash.
G. KATROUGALOS: Listen, from the beginning, as early as 2016, when the Prime Minister announced, at the Propylaea, the beginning of the related procedure, what were we seeking? We sought to have consent where this could be achieved because, like it or not, ideological differences exist, and the Constitution also represents seeking consent on one level, but it also represents a level of conflict where true political differences exist.
JOURNALIST: Are they giving consent to the Government? Is that what constitutional revision is?
G. KATROUGALOS: No. I was speaking about the political world. The Constitution, precisely because it is the foundational law of the State, depicts the development of the political system where certain issues have become overripe.
One such thing, for example, is for this disgraceful practice, in our opinion at least, of granting Parliamentary immunity, immunity to Ministers, the separate roles of Church and State, but there are also issues which are focused, which are at the core of political conflict, as is for us, for example, the protection of the social state from an attack by neoliberalism.
To protect water, to protect energy from privatisation, as well as to fend off those who, for example, would like for this role of the State to cease to exist, in terms of intervening to reduce great social inequalities.
To begin with your first question, regarding the overall climate and consent, we sought, from the very beginning, for essential dialogue to exist. This is why we recommended and established a Dialogue Committee for the Constitution which truly, on a social level, on the level of society, conducted a series of events.
Unfortunately, the parties of the opposition, as early as 2016, did not meet our request to proceed with dialogue, in order for this consent to become obvious, for the contrasts that exist to become obvious also.
JOURNALIST: In other words, Minister, it isn’t mature politically. The issue of the constitutional revision is temporally mature, but politically though, it isn’t?
G. KATROUGALOS: I don’t think that it isn’t mature politically speaking. The political powers of the opposition are not mature. It is immature for them not to discuss the major issue of revision of the Constitution. And one cannot say that it is not politically mature to resolve, for example, the issue of Ministerial immunity.
It would seem that those who do not wish to proceed with something like this have other things on their mind. Whoever truly does not wish for the State to take advantage of its abilities to seek criminal liability where it exists, I believe they give the impression of trying to conceal such liability.
And I repeat, to dodge it by not going to Parliament to discuss the revision is unprecedented in the annals of Greek politics, and more generally I would say, and it shows a lack of desire on the part of the opposition to confront essential issues. We are not just speaking about the reforms, we have made reforms which others, for decades, would not even attempt.
And I am not speaking only about issues that are charged in terms of ideology, for example the fact that we abolished Sharia in Thrace, Muslim law, one can only volunteer to submit to it, if one belongs to the Muslim minority, to Muslim law, I am talking about the Cadastral Offices, I am talking about forest maps.
Now that the time came to speak also about the political reform which gives our political system its very nature, one cannot say, “I shall not participate.” Whoever fails to participate essentially refuses to have a place in political life.
JOURNALIST: Minister, the Government is taking a series of measures to relieve the groups most affected during the period of the financial crisis. Nonetheless, we essentially remain outside the markets, and the uncertainty in Italy creates an unsettling climate.
Is it indeed the right time for a financial policy that supports the social strata more? Is there room for this?
G. KATROUGALOS: Listen, we have come out on the markets three times, and now we shall not exit because the conditions - for exogenous factors, not for reasons that pertain to the Greek economy - are not ideal, due to the turmoil that existed in the international capital markets initially due to the depreciation of the Turkish pound, subsequently due to the turmoil in Argentina, and now with the uncertainty that exists with regard to the Italian budget.
And this was completely within our predictions. And I remind you that, for this reason, we had secured this ‘cushion’ of 20 billion euros which permits us, without coming out on the market, to be able to service the loan and other needs of the country.
Consequently, we have come out on the market and we shall come out again, when this will be beneficial for the country. Beyond that, we can’t keep from trying to continue, as we did during the entire duration of our governance, to also help those who are in need, and for the economy to strengthen its positive activity.
So, we are not ready to take neither anti-growth measures nor recessional measures, as is cutting of pensions, while contrasting measures, those which help employees, such as rent subsidies, and those which help the economy more generally, such as contribution relief and generally relief of tax burdens, we are not in a position not to take them. We shall take them, in the context of the fiscal space that we have, of course.
JOURNALIST: 2019 is an election year but it is also a year for European elections. There is a wave of populism and nationalism in Europe. Do you think this will become apparent also in the composition of the next European Parliament?
G. KATROUGALOS: What you are saying is very true. We are headed, perhaps for the first time while faced with European elections, towards a heads on clash which concentrates on those who desire an open Europe and the protection of the social state on the one hand and, on the other, those who want to return to a closed nationalist past which never existed, to a Europe that is a fortress, in conjunction with a view that wishes for us to abandon the European social model and to go with neoliberal solutions.
This clash is not limited only to a European level, it horizontally cuts through the political classes as well, the political systems of Member States. Everywhere, we shall face the same dilemma, in other words of a progressive governance or a strange pairing of the Far Right with Neoliberalism. And precisely because this dilemma is crucial with regard to the direction that Europe will take on the whole, both on a European Union level as well as a national level, it affects us all.
JOURNALIST: Minister, thank you very much for your time. Have a wonderful rest of the day.