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Interview of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, in the Sunday Ethnos, with journalist G. Kapopoulos (3 December 2017)
JOURNALIST: Does President Erdogan’s upcoming visit to Athens – the first by a Turkish head of state since 1952 – mean there are hopes for substantial progress in Greek-Turkish relations?
N. KOTZIAS: A visit, however important it might be, doesn’t automatically resolve all problems. But it can contribute to the enhancement of a positive outlook in the relations between our countries. I often wonder at those who confuse analysis with foreign policy. Analysis, even if it draws the most negative conclusions, is carried out to point up the difficulties, and not to make one abandon a proactive foreign policy. It is one thing to delude yourself about the difficulties in a relationship, and another to give up on pursuing the positive development of a relationship. And we want to work in this latter direction. Finally, foreign policy has to look soberly and precisely at the intentions and pursuits of each of our interlocutors. It has to rationally analyse these intentions and understand them in depth in order to influence them as far as possible.
JOURNALIST: After the long meeting you had in Crete with your Albanian counterpart, are you optimistic about a package solution to the pending bilateral issues.
N. KOTZIAS: Through the shared history of our two peoples, multiple interdependencies, lines of conflict and possibilities for friendship have been shaped. We need to resolve the problems of the past, work for the best possible present, and ensure a positive agenda for cooperation in the future. Regarding the problems and potential for joint actions, the Albanian side is more interested in some, and the Greek side is more interested in others. Dealing with all of these in tandem is what we call, in negotiation theory, a package solution, because such a solution takes into account any asymmetry of interest in various topics in the negotiations. I believe we are on the right path for reaching an agreement that is positive for both sides.
JOURNALIST: The opposition asked you to describe your negotiations with Mr. Bushati before they began. Can you comment on that?
N. KOTZIAS: I find it silly, to say the least, that certain members of the opposition want us to tell them – publicly, no less – what positions and proposals we are going to submit in the negotiations, the tactics we are going to employ, before a negotiation even begins. They did the same thing in our negotiations with fYROM and on the Cyprus issue. Perhaps they don't have experience of real negotiations, and that’s why they ask us to reveal our negotiating strategy to third parties in advance.
JOURNALIST: Are there indications of a change in the Rama government’s stance towards Athens.
N. KOTZIAS: I see that it has been understood that the country’s European course is more important than certain other issues. I also read his most recent statements, in which he talks about the development of a strategic relationship between Greece and Albania. These are positive developments. They contribute to the development of mutual trust. But, allow me to note that the opposition took an item of fake news that was based on a speech Mr. Rama made a year and a half ago – in other words, a speech he made under different circumstances. They then presented it as having been made recently, taking aim at Albania and myself for holding negotiations. These are foolish tactics and are in no way helpful. Unless some people want our foreign policy to be idle and the problems to drag on forever. Personally, I refuse to exercise foreign policy with my attention on party-politics.
JOURNALIST: Is there momentum for resolving the pending fYROM name issue?
N. KOTZIAS: I think all of our interlocutors understand that all sides have to accept an honest compromise. That is, to operate based on consensus and on principled compromises. This also goes for those Europeans who, in the past, misled the leadership of our friendly country into believing that accession to the EU and other organizations can be achieved without compromises. In the case of fYROM, our neighbours believed that they could join institutions without reaching an agreement with us – which is impossible – while some people in Greece mistakenly believed that inertia is a foreign policy tool. It turned out that, during our inertia, other powers gained excellent access to our northern neighbours.
JOURNALIST: Is the new government in Skopje in a position to handle the reactions from extreme nationalist groups?
N. KOTZIAS: The next six months will show whether my friends in Skopje will put their hands on their hearts and decide to compromise. An honest compromise, not a rotten one. They can do it. They only need to believe in it and be supported by their friends. I also think the confidence-building measures have contributed to this end.
JOURNALIST: What is the overall assessment, so far, of the impact of the two trilateral regional cooperation schemes (Greece-Cyprus-Israel and Greece-Cyprus-Egypt) on the stability of the Eastern Mediterranean?
N. KOTZIAS: In the nearly three years I have been minister, we have developed and created a number of international institutions: Six trilateral and three quadrilateral cooperation schemes, one eight-sided and one seven-sided platforms, two international organizations and one global organization. Fourteen in all! Many countries have asked to participate in these initiatives, and a number of countries have asked to collaborate with us on creating new ones. Of all these initiatives, the ones that have gained the most depth are the trilateral configurations Greece and Cyprus have formed with Egypt and Israel. These are multi-level cooperation schemes. We are trying to do the same thing with our cooperation schemes in the Balkans, with Palestine, Jordan, and Lebanon. Greece’s standing has risen. These cooperation schemes have contributed to regional stability and security. As you know, within the framework of the Rhodes Conference we are preparing to create a new security and stability structure in the Eastern Mediterranean, with the participation of eight European states, twelve Arab states and two international Arab organizations.
JOURNALIST: Beyond the interest of the U.S., has the EU taken a positive view? Finally, are these two cooperation triangles compatible with open channels of communication with Moscow and Tehran?
N. KOTZIAS: The non regional players needed time to see the importance of all these initiatives we have taken. I think they understand them now, and I think the two countries you mentioned do as well. Let me also note that Iran is a very active member of the successful initiative we launched with China, at my suggestion, for forming the Ancient Civilizations Forum – ancient civilizations that have influence and a presence in the contemporary world. We had a summit meeting in Athens, in April 2017. We met recently in New York, and we will meet in the spring of 2018, in Bolivia.
JOURNALIST: Does Greece support the European perspectives of Turkey and the Western Balkans?
N. KOTZIAS: If anyone has gains to make from these states’ accession to the EU – from their democratization and Europeanization – it is Greece. But for this to happen, these countries will have to satisfy the terms and conditions that have been set. Conditions that are of direct interest to Greece and in many cases are based on proposals we ourselves made.
JOURNALIST: In the midst of its own crisis, is the EU currently willing and able to support the full accession of new countries?
N. KOTZIAS: It is, but this will has to become more substantial, more democratic and with a more socially just vision. Europe has to deepen its integration processes. It has to take a resolute decision that all of the states, old and new, large and small, will be equal, and that the citizens of all these states, their societies and the social groups with the most problems today, will be the heart of a democratic, just, socially sensitive EU. So the EU has the capability, but the path to utilising these capabilities is long, difficult and full of social struggles.
JOURNALIST: The memorandum ends in mid-2018. What will the end of the programme mean for Greece’s foreign policy?
N. KOTZIAS: Throughout this time, we have exercised a multidimensional proactive foreign policy. We contributed to upgrading the country, to strengthening its sovereignty and independence. By introducing the geopolitical element into the debate on the crisis, we made our country’s role easier to see, and we made it easier to find the path out of the crisis. Our country’s role, duties and capabilities on the international stage have been augmented. Globalization has also increased our duties. I hope that, now that we are emerging from the crisis, we will be able to hire personnel – it has been 15 years since we last hired personnel of some categories– and enhance our international presence through better finances.
JOURNALIST: It is often said that foreign policy is, by definition, a field of consensus. Nevertheless, since the beginning of your tenure as Minister of Foreign Affairs, you have been targeted by the opposition.
N. KOTZIAS: The opposition doesn’t have its own foreign policy strategy. Part of the opposition actually supports the current foreign policy. Another part simply goes along with. But there are also some within the opposition that had grown accustomed to the policy of bowing down, of inertia and submissiveness. These people take issue with our every initiative. They are the voices of a new isolationism that fears any discussion with third countries and is suspicious of any negotiations. Finally, there is a category that has understood that leftist patriotic foreign policy enjoys the broad acceptance of all the genuine democratic patriotic forces, including within New Democracy itself. They are trying to confront this through insults, false accusations and personal attacks on me.