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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, on Real FM, with journalists N. Hatzinikolaou and A. Dellatolas (9 September 2019)
[Excerpt on foreign policy issues]
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: And now, with Antonis Dellatolas, we welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, to talk about political news.
Good morning, Minister.
N. DENDIAS: Good morning, Mr. Hatzinikolaou. Good morning, Mr. Dellatolas. You keep sly company, Mr. Hatzinikolaou. I’ve often said this.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: And I’ve made this permanent this year. He’ll be with me every second hour of my show.
A. DELLATOLAS: Minister, I was in Tinos over the weekend, and the way growth has picked up during your two months in government, I thought about extending the weekend – but I decided to come back and make sure.
N. DENDIAS: I hope you got the Virgin Mother’s blessing, Mr. Dellatolas.
A. DELLATOLAS: Of course.
N. DENDIAS: May she enlighten your questions.
A. DELLATOLAS: Let’s start where we left off with Mr. Charitsis. You didn’t mention anything earth-shattering on the issue of migration and the problems we’re seeing. I didn’t hear anything about better border policing. I didn’t hear about pressuring Turkey. Essentially, the European measures. I think it’s a good way to bring Erdogan into line. So what’s changed since you took over from Syriza?
N. DENDIAS: I’ll tell you. First of all, extensive reference to the migration issue could not be made in the context of an interview or a speech, especially when the economy is the main topic.
There is a substantial improvement in mindset. First of all, if you talk to the competent Minister, Mr. Plakiotakis, bidding is under way for the camera connectivity project, so the whole North Aegean space can be monitored, based on a study done by the National Polytechnical University, with terms of the tender we prepared in 2014 – I was a Minister then, too, working on this, and it was all left aside for five years.
The Aegean is a sea that can be visible in its entirety to the Greek authorities 24 hours a day, along with Turkey’s coastline. So, we can have the capability to warn the Turks.
A. DELLATOLAS: Syriza left that aside? I didn’t have it ...
N. DENDIAS: It didn’t touch it at all.
A. DELLATOLAS: It didn’t move ahead with it. It didn’t cancel it?
N. DENDIAS: If you remember, Syriza’s thinking was ...
A. DELLATOLAS: The tender is happening now, you said. Syriza didn’t cancel it.
N. DENDIAS: I don’t think shelving something for four years is the best way to promote it, if you believe in it.
A. DELLATOLAS: No. Right.
N. DENDIAS: Syriza’s thinking was that you can’t police the sea. They’re wrong on that. First of all, we aren’t talking about the sea. We’re talking about the coastline of Asia Minor across from Greece’s coasts, because that’s where the migrants gather. That’s where the people traffickers take irregular migrants so they can try to get to the opposite shore.
So, Greece has the capability – as it does in Evros, and that’s why we don’t have influxes of migrants in Evros – to monitor the coastline opposite its shores. But this requires connectivity among the cameras and tools we have. I won’t go into greater detail, for obvious reasons, because this concerns our security on another level – so that we can know what’s happening on the opposite shore in real time, so that 500, 600, 700 people don’t disembark on Mytilini in broad daylight. I say this as a simple example of improvements.
New speedboats are also being ordered. Kyriakos Mitsotakis has asked for this purchase to be made, and the funds have been found – and it’s my impression that these are not public funds.
A. DELLATOLAS: We’ll see if this gets results in the end.
N. DENDIAS: No one can judge the outcome beforehand. You’re right. It will be judged based on the results we get. But what I’m saying is that we haven’t adopted a different approach to the migration issue. Under the previous government, Mr. Dellatolas, there was resignation. And this resignation, I’m sorry to say, didn’t concern just the influx of migrants, but also the management of these people’s lives on our territory. I don’t want to say too much, because it’s damaging to my country, but in certain places, in Moria, for example, this situation that was handed on to us – and nobody can deny that – reflects badly on our country.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Minister, I want to look at another issue that was raised a short while ago by the Syriza spokesperson, Mr. Charitsis, on Real FM. He accuses the government of backflipping – in fact, he’s talking about a huge backflip on the issue of the Prespa Agreement. He said the government now avoids discussing the issue. It is implementing it fully and essentially, in practice, accepts that it was a good agreement.
N. DENDIAS: I really wish I could do backflips. It would mean I had the spinal flexibility I’ve lost over the years.
A. DELLATOLAS: You don’t need it, because you were among the more moderate critics on the issue, whether you mind my saying so or not. Isn't that right?
N. DENDIAS: I was against the demonstrations ...
A. DELLATOLAS: That wasn’t the dominant attitude in your party.
N. DENDIAS: But what are we saying? Kyriakos Mitsotakis has a clear stance on this. He said that if the agreement was ratified, we would implement it, because there is continuity in state affairs, and no one can refuse to follow through on an agreement made by the previous government. Revisionism with regard to treaties is dangerous for Greece on many levels.
A. DELLATOLAS: And you leave a traitorous agreement in place? Wrong.
N. DENDIAS: Look, let’s be ...
A. DELLATOLAS: How many of your colleagues ...
N. DENDIAS: Damaging, yes. Traitorous ...
A. DELLATOLAS: Minister, oblivion is never a good thing. There are dozens of New Democracy politicians who mounted opposition for two or three years on a very difficult issue – and this is a very difficult issue, as you know better than we do – and they talked about a traitorous agreement and they supported – and rightly so, up to a point – people who took to the streets. So we can’t see this as a different thing now.
N. DENDIAS: I refuse to call anyone in the country a traitor. With exceptions, if we’re being honest. But in any case, in this situation I don’t think it’s right for us to be talking about treason. We heard this kind of thing from Syriza, if you remember, during the time of the memorandums. They called us “traitors”, “informers”, “fifth columnists”. This happened in the context of a bitter political rhetoric. In my opinion, it wasn't acceptable. But one needn't adopt this or carry it on as political legacy. The country has a contractual obligation to another country. And Greece has to honour its contractual obligations to this other country, North Macedonia.
As I also said very clearly to Mr. Dimitrov, they, too, must fully comply with every letter, comma, full stop of their commitments.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Minister, the agreement may not be treasonous, as some New Democracy officials actually called it. But it is, in my estimation, a poor agreement, because it has two problematic points.
N. DENDIAS: Right. You’re right.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: The question is, do you intend to do anything, and what, to iron out these problems or, in any case, to ...
N. DENDIAS: Mr. Hatzinikolaou, that’s a direct question, and I sincerely thank you for the way you put it.
I wish I could have carried out the negotiations – not me personally, but a New Democracy Minister of Foreign Affairs – on the two points that concern nationality and language. I would also add the potential for a private law entity to use the title “Macedonian” without my being able to stop it. I wish I could change these three things. But they’re there now. What can I do?
What we can do as a country is, within the framework of North Macedonia’s EU membership bid, to convince the other side that these things have to be used in a certain way and only in that way. For example, for the other side to fully accept that the title of their citizens is citizen of North Macedonia. But this is an implementation process that runs through our neighbour’s European perspective. We’ll try to do that, but if I tell you I can change the whole agreement, or even change the two articles we mentioned, I wouldn't be telling the truth. It has been signed and ratified, so we can’t do it.
A. DELLATOLAS: Has a meeting between the Prime Minister and President Erdogan been arranged in the context of the UN General Assembly on 23 September?
N. DENDIAS: Not that I know of. As you know, the Prime Minister’s stance was very balanced. In other words, a stance that sets the meeting with Mr. Erdogan within a framework, saying that Turkey is doing this and that. Nevertheless, there has to be communication. We’re not talking about a meeting that’s tantamount to a pardon or that ignores the unacceptable things Turkey is doing in the Aegean and against the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus. Even in this framework for discussing a meeting, nothing has been scheduled as far as I know.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Our relationship with Turkey is not at its high point. Erdogan is making provocative moves with regard to issues that have to do with the Cypriot EEZ and in general with the eastern Mediterranean – with Kastelorizo and Greek territory.
The question is whether you believe there is room for reaching a point of understanding with a leader who behaves in this manner. A leader who threatens to send millions of refugees to Europe and Greece. A leader who constantly exhibits an expansionist bent.
A. DELLATOLAS: Just yesterday he talked about the Aegean, yet again.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: He was photographed with a map showing half our islands as Turkish territory.
N. DENDIAS: I honestly have trouble understanding some of the things Turkey does, even if I try to put myself “in their shoes”.
In other words, what’s the use of the last thing you mentioned, President Erdogan being photographed in front of a map that shows someone’s free take on the maritime zones in the Aegean as something between blue and white, however he wants to draw them in. What can a serious country mean by this? I honestly can’t understand.
And you’re right, you’re absolutely right. Turkey is making it hard for us. It isn’t helping the effort to bring us towards a meaningful dialogue. To find a solution. At the end of the day, cooperation always helps and cooperation promotes, and we are the only country that wants a European and modern Turkey and a Turkey that is a member of the European Union.
I think Turkey seems to want it less than we want to help them in this regard. But for this to happen, it will have to stop the provocations. Will it stop acting like a troublemaker? Will it stop violating sovereign rights? Will it stop violating the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus?
Turkey isn’t making it easy for us. But we won't give up hope. We are a European country. I don’t hide the fact that we are building our alliances. In the context of this effort, we are aware of the need to have the international community on our side, to have our NATO allies on our side, to have our partners and friends in the European Union on our side.
We are strengthening and fighting to further strengthen our alliances, and at the same time we are telling Turkey that if it stops all of this “curious” behaviour, at some point we will be able to have a serious conversation and resolve our differences. But Turkey isn’t making it easy for us. You’re right.
N. HATZINIKOLAOU: Thank you very much, Minister.
N. DENDIAS: Thank you.