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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview in the Athens daily ‘Efimerida ton Syntakton’, with journalist N. Zirganos (22 June 2019)
JOURNALIST: Nicosia and Athens won an important diplomatic victory and passed a decision in the EU on possible sanctions on Turkey if Turkey continues its illegal activities in the Cypriot EEZ. But Turkey is not only continuing the drilling operation with the Fatih but is also sending a second drilling vessel to the region. How and when will it be deemed if and what sanctions are to be imposed, and who will decide?
G. KATROUGALOS: You were very right to point out that the recent European Council decision, which for the first time includes tangible measures – and much sterner phrasing, even sterner than that of the General Affairs Council – is a major victory for Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. This is the culmination of systematic efforts that in the past produced resolutions in the European Parliament, and mainly the European Council Decision of March 2018, which clearly condemned Turkey’s actions in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean as violations of international legality. Since then, these decisions have not only hindered Turkey from creating accomplished facts but have also exposed Turkey as a revisionist state. The European Union is now moving from words to action. Turkey has already received this message. It is no coincidence that the Turkish Foreign Ministry accuses the EU of bowing to Greece and Cyprus by adopting a policy of principles. The High Representative responsible for the Union’s foreign policy, Ms. Mogherini, is already elaborating the measures that will be imposed if Turkey doesn’t stop its illegal conduct immediately.
JOURNALIST: Beyond condemning Turkey, both the Americans and the Germans are saying there should be a dialogue and the Cyprus issue should be resolved. A dialogue between whom, based on what law, and under what conditions?
G. KATROUGALOS: Both Greece and the Republic of Cyprus want the Cyprus issue to be resolved through dialogue, but not under the pressure of blackmail and power projection. This major national issue, nearly half a century after the tragedy of the coup and the Turkish invasion, remains a festering wound for Hellenism. But for the first time in years, there is qualitative progress with regard to the terms under which the solution is to be negotiated. The Geneva and Crans Montana process didn’t produce a solution, but it decisively enhanced our national positions and set out the Cyprus problem in its true dimensions. At long last, the matter of security, withdrawal of occupation forces and abolition of the anachronistic system of guarantees was placed at the top of the agenda. We put special emphasis on the stance that the Cyprus problem is not just, or even primarily, a problem of the two communities, but a matter of international law that should be dealt with as such, with recognition of the fact that the Republic of Cyprus is a sovereign member state of the EU. Greece is discussing this dimension of the problem – considering the internal aspect of the problem to be the exclusive concern of the Cypriots, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. And here, of course, the relevant UN resolutions have to be respected. Obviously, it won’t be easy to reopen the negotiations. But it is good that, when these negotiations do open, the issues of guarantees and security will be at the top of the agenda.
JOURNALIST: Is the Turkish Cypriot move on Famagusta a diversion, a threat or a prelude to a two-state “solution”?
G. KATROUGALOS: The “two states” are not a solution. That would be legitimization of the invasion, occupation and violation of international law. Turkey cannot impose a “solution” like that, precisely because this option is outside international legality. I really think that the recent announcements on Famagusta are a diversion in the face of Turkey’s increasing isolation and the impending sanctions. But this, too, has to be dealt with seriousness so that there aren’t any unfavourable developments in the future that further complicate the situation.
JOURNALIST: The S400 issue and the stance the U.S. will maintain on the matter of Kurdish-controlled territories in Syria may create a rift in the relations between Washington and Ankara. Are we prepared for the rift scenario and for the scenario of a U.S.-Turkish compromise? What repercussions will one or the other have for the region?
G. KATROUGALOS: Turkey really is at risk of finding itself facing U.S. sanctions following the EU sanctions – and this is at a time when its economy is very vulnerable. We are not happy over Turkey’s isolation, and we hope it sees that this is a result of its own decisions to diverge from international legality. Our strategy lies in showing our country to be a pillar of stability and security in the wider region of the Middle East and the Balkans. Very important in this direction was the promotion of a multidimensional foreign policy that promoted relations with Russia and the countries of the Middle East, the trilateral cooperation platforms – always together with the Republic of Cyprus – Greece’s Med7 initiative and the upgrading of strategic cooperation with the U.S., based on the alignment of our interests.
JOURNALIST: Once again, the Foreign Ministers of the EU postponed the decision on the launching of accession negotiations of North Macedonia and Albania until October, and it is by no means certain that this won’t be followed by another postponement. In particular with regard to North Macedonia, the EU doesn’t seem to be keeping the promises it made before the Prespa Agreement was concluded. Is there a risk of the agreement’s being undermined due to inconsistency in the EU’s policy?
G. KATROUGALOS: There is a general risk for the EU’s credibility if it gives the impression that it doesn’t fulfill its commitments to countries like North Macedonia, which has fully met its commitments. This is why I expected a more consistent and generous stance from the EU towards this country. But even as things stand, the way is open for the launching of accession negotiations in October. I don’t think the implementation of the agreement is at risk, because the Zaev government is committed to its implementation.
JOURNALIST: The main opposition party in Greece accepts that the Prespa Agreement is an international agreement that it cannot – or does not want to – dismantle. What do you see happening in North Macedonia if the nationalist VMRO DPNME party comes to power, especially if the country’s European path isn’t opened?
G. KATROUGALOS: The official acceptance of the Agreement by the New Democracy leadership – in spite of dissent from the extreme right wing of the party – is clearly a positive development. But there is another, even more important development: The recent decision from the General Affairs Council, the EU Council configuration responsible for enlargement, expressly and for the first time links the faithful implementation of the Prespa Agreement to our neighbouring country’s accession perspective. This is the most fundamental guarantee that North Macedonia will never again backslide into the nationalistic policies of the past, even if – as I believe is possible – there is any change in government.
JOURNALIST: How is the political crisis in Albania impacting the country’s unresolved issues with Greece? We were on the verge of resolving the EEZ and state-of-war issues. What is the outlook now?
G. KATROUGALOS: We really were very close to a comprehensive solution, but the deterioration of the domestic situation in our neighbouring country blocked a positive outcome from those negotiations.
JOURNALIST: How can the rights of the Greek National Minority in Albania be best protected?
G. KATROUGALOS: With regard to protection of the rights of the Greek National Minority in Albania, this is the first time – in the recent General Affairs Council decision – that there has been such a clear link between Albania’s European perspective and respect for the property and self-identification rights of the minority’s members. Regarding bilateral issues in general, we really were very close to a comprehensive solution, but the deterioration of the domestic situation in our neighbouring country blocked a positive outcome from those negotiations.
JOURNALIST: The Kosovo issue remains unresolved in the Balkans. Might an exchange of territory between Serbia and Kosovo create the conditions for the creation of a ‘great’ Albania? Might this exchange, if it happens, open the way to legitimization of border change in the Balkans?
G. KATROUGALOS: The Balkans have always been seen as the powder keg of Europe. Through our policy of exporting stability, which was crowned by the Prespa Agreement, we have endeavoured to send a message of peace to the region. This is why we are very wary of any proposal that may once again raise the spectre of extreme nationalism and conflict between peoples.