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Interview with Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos on ‘Praktoreio 104.9’ radio
JOURNALIST: As we said earlier, joining us is Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Giorgos Katrougalos.
Good morning, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning to you too and to our listeners.
JOURNALIST: And let us wish everyone a good week. Did this week begin well for Theresa May? Is this a velvet divorce after all, Mr Minister?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is a compromise, much like any international agreement that seeks to reach a compromise between conflicting interests. What we, as the EU-27, achieved was to show unity and solidarity both between ourselves and towards countries with important, crucial national interests depending on the outcome of the negotiations, such as Ireland and, more recently, Spain, so as to reach an agreement that protects our vital interests. The outcome also protects the vital interests of the other side, as appropriate for such agreements.
From here on in, Mrs May has a difficult road ahead of her in order to achieve ratification, the approval of this agreement, because, unfortunately, the political dialogue that took place in Great Britain had not clarified the dilemmas at hand from the outset.
There were many who believed that they would leave the European Union and retain the privileges afforded to Member States - which was clearly impossible. Even when one leaves an ordinary club, it is obvious that one cannot enjoy the same privileges as one did as a member.
JOURNALIST: Nevertheless, while the ratification of the agreement in London is ‘questionable, in inverted commas, European officials are praising it. Alright, Prime Minister Tsipras said that this agreement should not serve as an example to others. Was it a bad deal after all?
G. KATROUGALOS: No. What we meant was that in certain areas, for example in defence and security, we wish to preserve our cooperation with the United Kingdom much more than with other, third countries. However, this special relationship that we wish to preserve with the United Kingdom must not serve as a standard for relations between the European Union and other countries in the future, because we indeed wish to keep the United Kingdom as a special partner. The UK is leaving the European Union. It isn’t leaving Europe.
JOURNALIST: Minister, what will Brexit mean for us Greeks, for Greek students, for Greek immigrants in England? Will it mean something for...
G. KATROUGALOS: Good question. For us, safeguarding the rights of Greek workers and Greek students was our top priority. These were among the very first issues resolved. The rights of Greeks currently living and working in Great Britain are absolutely guaranteed, and every possible effort will be made, in the context of our future relations, so that those who will move to Great Britain will have considerable protection.
JOURNALIST: Protection in which areas? Their lives? Their studies? Will they need a visa?
G. KATROUGALOS: Let me be perfectly clear. For those who are...
JOURNALIST: Let me explain: they have certain privileges as citizens of the European Union. They have certain privileges. Or had. Such as the health system. What will happen to these privileges?
G. KATROUGALOS: Those who were in Great Britain at the time had precisely the same rights -let’s not call them privileges, since they are rights- as UK citizens, precisely because Member States cannot discriminate domestically.
So, what I mean is that with respect to Greek citizens who are currently in Great Britain, who live there, whether they are working or studying, nothing will change. The rights of these people will remain the same as before.
JOURNALIST: Let us focus on our neighbouring country, Turkey. The Greek military leadership appears to be vigilant in the area of Cyprus, with regard to what is occurring in the Aegean Sea, which seem to entail almost daily threats by the Turkish leadership.
G. KATROUGALOS: It is in our country's absolute interest to remain sober. This is precisely because we know that our interests are fortified by international legality and protected under international agreements, and also because the diplomatic position of both the Hellenic Republic and Republic of Cyprus is particularly strong. In fact, it is clear that what have been proven to be revisionist efforts with regard to treaties and strident belligerent rhetoric are not beneficial, but, on the contrary, lead to isolationism. My opinion -and this is clear from the fact that the Republic of Cyprus is moving forward with exploiting its natural resources- is that the foregoing policy, that of disputing international law and not of the effort to have national interests regulated in the context dictated by international law, is currently in isolation.
JOURNALIST: Minister, there are even insinuations of a new invasion of Cyprus.
G. KATROUGALOS: There are indeed -however, these were said not by a representative of the government, but by a representative of the opposition. In any event, this is indicative of the fact that there is fertile ground in Turkish politics for such nationalistic bombast. Once again, it is obviously in our interest to refrain from such bombast with similar statements, precisely because we have nothing to claim, but also nothing to concede. Our interests and national rights are absolutely protected.
And to assure our listeners that these are not empty words, this is reflected in a number of recent EU decisions which, when compared to the past, even during critical periods such as the one following the case of Imia, indicate that the European Union clearly accepts the simple fact I mentioned: that in our region, there is one state, Turkey, which is disputing legality in terms of the Law of the Sea and its defence by another state, which is an EU Member State and which from this very fact alone demands solidarity. And I repeat: the current issue in the seas of Cyprus is not just a matter of right - it is also a matter of diplomatic capacity.