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Minister of Foreign Affairs Giorgos Katrougalos’ interview on “Real FM” Radio with journalist Nikos Chatzinikolaou
JOURNALIST: Good morning and a healthy Easter Lent period to everybody. Let’s now welcome the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Giorgos Katrougalos. Good morning, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Good morning and a healthy Easter Lent period to you, and to our audience.
JOURNALIST: I shall begin by asking for you to briefly state your view, a brief comment, on certain political issues, beginning with the fact that yesterday we did not manage to make the disbursement of the €1 billion which we have received from our bonds, from the profit on our bonds, and I would like to ask you: Are things difficult? Do we have significant disagreement on the law on the protection of the first residence, or do you believe that these differences will manage to be bridged by the time the next Eurogroup comes around.
G. KATROUGALOS: You are correct in pointing out the protection of the first residence, which was the sole difference that existed. I don’t think that the slightest reason for concern exists, not because I say it, but because these were also the statements of Mr Centeno and Mr Moskovici, who referred to the great progress that our country has made, and to the existing need for aspects of the new law to be clarified, which will protect the first residence.
JOURNALIST: Therefore, you are saying that it is a matter of time until an agreement is reached.
G. KATROUGALOS: We see that there is a clear improvement in financial indicators, which is confirmed by objective observers who have no reason to be friendly towards the Government: the upgrading by two levels, for example, by Moody's, which is something wonderful. In this context, we can also examine the statements by the officials that I mentioned earlier, and the objectively positive impression which seems to exist everywhere abroad with regard to the Greek economy's progress. So we must be optimistic and not concerned.
JOURNALIST: Minister, when do you think the Prime Minister and the Government will make the final decision on the timing of national elections. Is this something that will occur in the coming weeks? In the coming month?
G. KATROUGALOS: Again, for reasons that pertain to the economy, as well as for reasons that pertain to constitutional order, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we will hold elections at the conclusion of the four-year period, in October.
JOURNALIST: You know, that is not too believable. In the sense that the timing of elections - and in the past we would also say the “devaluation of the currency” when we had a national currency - are never announced.
G. KATROUGALOS: You would be correct in this, and this would render the question useless, but I am telling you that I am convinced of this. Because precisely during a period that the economy is trying to improve, when it is doing much better than many would have thought, this is not the moment to hinder, with elections, any growth it may have. I believe that for this reason only, even if we did not have the issues of constitutional order, the nationally responsible stance would be for the four-year period to be completed. I believe that the Prime Minister also believes this.
JOURNALIST: Doesn't the danger exist for a negative result in a relaxed election such as the European elections to create a problem for you going forward? I am asking because Mr Theodorikakos who is a strategic planning consultant for Mr Mitsotakis, yesterday said that it is very doubtful - I am reading it verbatim - that SYRIZA will be able to govern, even formally, after the outcome of 26 May.
G. KATROUGALOS: That is the motto that is continuously repeated, which we hear coming from New Democracy, essentially since 2016, in light of the various negative predictions which at the time did not have to do with the performance of the party in power but with the progress of the economy, that the first review will not come to an end, the second review will not come to an end.
I would like to tell you that, in my opinion, there are two factors that, this time also, will not justify similar negative scenarios. The first is that the result of the election will not be what Mr Theodorikakos thinks, but let's overlook this.
The second, which I am convinced of - I am not making a prediction - is that the Prime Minister either way always gives precedence to the country’s national interest. Something that was, above all, obvious with the Prespa Agreement, and I will tell you the reason for this: the Prime Minister thinks in terms of prospects. He thinks of the benefit of the country, and he knows that he will win many elections in the future, in the decades to come, when he will be present on the political scene. Under no circumstances would he jeopardise the country’s national interest in light of a prediction strictly along party lines.
JOURNALIST: The reference to the Prespa Agreement and national interest, I speculate - because that is the job of the journalist, to always look for the negative aspects - is being made because one feels that it has harmed you politically in light of the elections.
G. KATROUGALOS: But it is undeniable that an emotional reaction exists, which is greatly due to the wounded national pride of the MoU period. We see this in many Greeks. I am not referring to the five or ten animated individuals or bullies that shout in the streets. They may well have been put there. I am talking about average people, with whom we speak, and we see that they do not agree with the Agreement. I have reiterated numerous times that, in my opinion, when the positive effects of the Agreement become clear and when, mainly, all the Cassandras have been proven wrong, who predict that supposedly national dangers are fostered by the Agreement, emotion will no longer prevail, but rather logic will. And these people will be in favour of the Agreement.
But there is a short period of time which may extend to the European elections, which may even extend to the parliamentary elections in October, when this change will not yet have taken place. This danger, of having a short-term political cost in the face of long-term national interest, I accept it.
JOURNALIST: Let's review things, as students say, with regard to what is going on on our national fronts. How is implementation of the Agreement progressing with the neighbouring country? Let me begin with that. Is it being implemented? I am asking because we also had one or two events that led to doubts.
G. KATROUGALOS: But precisely these events and the redress of the temporary violations of the Agreement are, in my opinion, the best proof that it is indeed being implemented. At the same time as the more than 160, if I am not mistaken, public institutions, buildings, and Organisations which changed their name on the basis of a decision by the Government of North Macedonia.
Recently, there is a great battle, there too, of course. You saw that the President continues, even today, to refuse to sign laws with the new constitutional name of North Macedonia. There is a “bras de fer” in that country. There, too, there are many more hot-headed nationalists than in our country. Therefore, implementation of the Agreement is no easy thing. But we see good will on the part of the other side. We will not leave implementation of the Agreement to good will. We are monitoring its implementation through a committee that we have at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, an interministerial committee that has been established. And we base ourselves on an action plan that does not only include execution of the terms of the Agreement, but mainly the promotion of these positive measures on an economic level, on a cultural level, which will create the climate which will not permit it to be overturned in the future.
JOURNALIST: Now, how are things on the Turkish front? Did the last meeting between the Prime Minister and the Turkish President lead to any results? Have the corners been smoothed over, and the tension, or are we at the same place as before?
G. KATROUGALOS: The first goal, which was to reduce tension, has been achieved to a great extent. A meeting has taken place between the Ministers of Defence, talks are taking place on a technical level for the promotion of measures of trust. I am going to meet tomorrow with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Çavuşoğlu, in Brussels. We will hold talks during a working dinner, and am I going to visit Antalya in person on the 21st of the month, with a programme that includes additional examination of the trust-building measures for reducing tension, and a discussion to see what the Turkish side’s thoughts are on the Cyprus issue, since our views are well-known and have been expressed at Crans-Montana, with the well-known clarity and transparency that you are familiar with. Therefore, without wishing to create an especially optimistic climate, we have not strayed from what was discussed between the Prime Minister and President Erdoğan.
JOURNALIST: Minister, can we possibly have developments on the Cyprus issue in the near future?
G. KATROUGALOS: Our sides wishes to resolve the Cyprus issue, wishes to have resolved the Cyprus issue yesterday. It does not depend on us whether developments will exist on the Cyprus issue, it depends on whether the other side is going to exhibit greater creativity, and mainly to show that it wishes to respond to the obligations arising from the Decisions of the UN. You know, for the Greek side, the Cyprus issue is not a bilateral one, it is an issue that pertains to the enforcement of International Law. It is an international issue.
JOURNALIST: Now, what is going on with our neighbour Albania? Dialogue had been announced on various issues. Subsequently, there were inflammatory statements by the other side. Has the process been halted? And what is going on with the Greek EEZ in the Ionian.
G. KATROUGALOS: You are correct in saying that a relative delay exists there, precisely because there is both political upheaval, which we are taking into consideration, and because we had to get answers from the other side with regard to the issues that pertain to our minority: the two major laws that pertain to the protection of their property with regard to the Himarë coast and with regard to self-determination, with regard to their ability to state that they belong to the minority. We have received some answers from the Albanian side. Talks have thawed somewhat. There too, it is premature to say if we will have a positive outcome or not. But again, our side has the will to proceed so that we have improvement of our bilateral issues and, through the thawing of these bilateral issues, for Albania’s European prospect to open up.
JOURNALIST: I would like to insist a bit on the issue of the EEZ. An announcement has been made by the Greek government. Will it be actualized? When and how? It was made by Mr Kotzias during the handover ceremony.
G. KATROUGALOS: Yes, and it was confirmed after that also, by the Prime Minister and by myself. We are indeed going to expand our territorial waters, because this is included in our effort to delineate the EEZ with Albania and Italy and, if negotiations continue, potentially also with Egypt. It is therefore a foregone political decision which the Prime Minister has said will be actualised through a formal law.
JOURNALIST: Do we know when? Are there any thoughts as to the timing?
G. KATROUGALOS: Precisely because the negotiations on the EEZ must proceed, and this is one of the factors we take into consideration, the timing has not yet been determined. But we are not going to put this issue on the back burner.
JOURNALIST: I would like to conclude with Greek-American relations. How are these developing during Trump's Presidency? Do you feel that we are at a phase of improvement? Are they at a standstill, are they regressing? What exactly would you say about these?
G. KATROUGALOS: Greek-American relations have never been at a better level. And it is not us who are saying this, nor just the American Ambassador in Athens. We have continuous statements by American officials, because they are responding to something real, to the fact that there is alignment of the interests of both sides in the need to stabilise the particularly unstable region in which our country is located.
JOURNALIST: Does a certain concern perhaps play a role on the part of the Americans, about the manner in which Erdoğan is reacting next door?
G. KATROUGALOS: But it is obvious that one of the factors of the instability is this ambivalence on the part of Turkey as to the extent to which it will remain a loyal ally of the West, or if it is going to proceed with new choices. But that is not the sole factor. Our country has proven that it is not simply a pillar of stability; it is an exporter of stability. Not only through the Prespa Agreement - above all through the Prespa Agreement - but also through the trilateral cooperation schemes we have developed in the East Mediterranean.
This is not something that began during Trump’s Presidency. There were similarly very good relations during the Obama Presidency, and the fact that President Obama chose our country to send his final message about Democracy and the way in which he sees things to the whole world, from Pnyx, was not a coincidence.
It also shows that one of the factors that have led to Greek-American relations being at this high level is that it is perhaps one of the few times that these relations are at a balanced level. I am not claiming that Greece has the same political weight as the US, but I am claiming that the strategy of both sides is forged, taking into account first and foremost their own national interests and their concurrence in our region.
JOURNALIST: Turkey, with the stance it has exhibited recently, both introduces a restlessness in its relations with America but, also due to the fact that messages are sent by Europe along the lines that accession negotiations will be halted, that Turkey will never join the European Union, like the one sent by Mr Manfred Weber recently, could Turkey perhaps develop into a mad variable in the region in the near future?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is in the favour of our country, and that of Europe, for the institutional paths for Turkey's European perspective to continue to remain open. Statements similar to those of Mr Weber constitute partisan adventurism, in my opinion, which is included in the surge in nationalism. Our country therefore feels that in order for our neighbour to have a European future, it must respect the European Acquis, human rights, and, on the other hand, we don’t wish to exclude it from its European perspective, precisely because this would be to the detriment of the people of Turkey, to the detriment of the European Union, which does not wish to have an Islamic Turkey at its Eastern border, as well as in our national interest. We, too, want a European Turkey.
JOURNALIST: And a Turkey, I imagine, Minister that does not use the migration problem to the detriment of Europe.
G. KATROUGALOS: Much more so for that reason. And for that reason, we are in favour, for example, of talks on the customs union with Turkey recommencing, but conditionalities exist there, in the event that Turkey should decide that it does not wish to implement its responsibilities. Therefore, we indeed want to be open to the European prospects, but not without conditions, with those conditions that, as I said, will lead, if Turkey indeed decides to follow the European perspective, to a win-win situation. Otherwise, we possess the institutional means to be able to control behaviours to the contrary.
JOURNALIST: I wholeheartedly thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Mr Giorgos Katrougalos. Have a good day, Minister.
G. KATROUGALOS: Have a good day.