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Speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense and Foreign Affairs, regarding the new Statutes of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (24 February 2021)
Mr. Chairman, thank you.
I want to thank you again. And I want to thank my colleagues, because the climate in the Committee during the debate on the current draft law – and in general, I must say, whenever you do me the honour of having me in the Committee – was the climate dictated by the need for a common national outlook on the broader issues of the country’s foreign policy, which is not to say that criticism should not be levelled at the government or that the government introducing the legislation considers itself infallible.
The parliamentary process is a living process and it is carried out precisely to enrich the government proposal with the views of the opposition.
Some criticism was made – a little strong perhaps – regarding the fact that the government did not state in the second debate which changes it would be making to the draft law or which recommendations it would accept. I think there is the plenary process, and during that the government will explain what it considers correct and what it can introduce as compatible with its view on the legislation.
But allow me to say, on a personal level, that it would be inappropriate for me – given that I was at the EU Foreign Affairs Council and do not have full knowledge of the minutes of the Committee for the two days on which you did me the favour and honour of having Deputy Minister Fragogiannis in the hall – to come in this morning and say, “I accept this, I reject that.” It would not be right. I do not think that criticism was well founded. In any case, that is my opinion.
The other thing I wanted to say as a general observation – I don’t want to extend the debate, precisely because I want to see what can be incorporated and what cannot be incorporated, in our view. But I have a sense, ladies and gentlemen, that the debate is being governed by an approach whereby every time we have a problem, we create a new directorate at the Ministry. For every large country, we create a directorate. And this criticism contradicts something else that the same speaker often says about the work of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: that its work is not at home, it is abroad. And what we need to strengthen is the foreign service and not the central service.
Nevertheless, the same speaker has in each case proposed the creation of new directorates as if the existence of many directorates is, by definition, more effective that fewer directorates. Or, for instance, if we create a separate directorate for a large country, this by definition guarantees better understanding of this country and better handling of problems and relations with this country than when we were dealing with it in the framework of the country’s geographical, economic, value context – its region.
This is not necessarily the case. The criticism may be right and the government’s stance wrong, but it will have to be explained, along with the contradiction I pointed out earlier.
If I may, I would also like to defend – again, with no claim of infallibility – the position that everything must go into a single piece of legislation. I do not know, maybe I am remembering this wrong, but I think codification was always a word that, when I was a first-year law student, had a positive connotation.
In other words, we were told that legislation should be codified. In other words, someone looking for something shouldn’t have to go through 15 pieces of legislation to find what he wants. It should be in one text.
Oddly, some colleagues criticize the codification of five presidential decrees, three laws and one set of statutes into a single text, seeing it as negative. And I must say, in some cases, with an odd way of thinking.
For instance, the translation service, which is a reform. You can agree or disagree, but it is a reform. A different perspective.
The legislation on the translation service, which was passed in 2009 or 2007, was 43 pages long. Here, the translation service takes up only 9 pages. So, why is it considered wrong for everything to go into a single law?
Moreover, if it needs at some point to be adjusted, the lawmaker or the Minister at the time, will have the choice of doing so through a law or a presidential decree. It will be up to them.
But there would always be the law and the potential to keep it as a single text. And of course, this text could be added to with another piece of legislation on the foreign service when we are ready to do that.
It was also correctly observed by our rapporteur and by other New Democracy rapporteurs, such as Mr. Kairidis, that what we have here is basically a value reform, in that it brings economic diplomacy under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And that has not been the case until now.
I was Minister for Development in 2014. I do not have a proprietary approach to the ministries where I have served. Prime Ministers have honoured me by appointing me as a Minister at five different Ministries. I have enough experience not to have a proprietary approach to Ministries. When I was the Development Minister – both then and now, when I am the Foreign Minister – I believed that economic diplomacy should leave the Development Ministry and go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And that is what is right and that is the current trend, and we have really learned from the Dutch model. Because it’s smart to copy successful foreign practices.
So, we are taking a very big first step. We are including economic diplomacy – as I have said before – in the digital transformation, which has to happen to support all of the above.
I heard what was said about the Ministry’s budget. I agree. But I will say some things in the Plenary session, so we do not take up more time here. I also repeat that there will be legislation on the restructuring of the missions abroad – a restructuring that I would like to be preceded by the establishment of the Strategic Planning Directorate.
The foreign services, which are essentially the Ministry’s front-line units – serve a strategic plan. They serve choices, because we always must allot resources – human resources, which are not unlimited. They are limited. So, we choose specific countries.
In that sense, this will come at a second stage, as will the reform of the Export Credit Insurance Organization. That legislation is almost ready and will be introduced soon.
I will do my best, ladies and gentlemen, to have the changes we deem necessary ready very early on Friday, in the plenary session, because, due to tomorrow’s debate, the plenary will be on Friday. I told Mr. Mylonakis earlier, in person, that I thought his criticism was well founded on the matter of the Defence Diplomacy Office. We will adopt that.
A few words regarding French. It is not wrong. The adoption of the French language as the main second language is a political choice for the Ministry, ladies and gentlemen. It doesn’t mean we undervalue other languages.
We want French for very specific reasons. Therefore, we are choosing it; this is why we are opening an embassy in Francophone Africa, in Senegal. This is why we have a very specific position on strengthening the European presence in sub-Saharan, mostly Francophone, Africa. It is a political choice. You can judge it, you can consider it wrong, but it is a political choice this government is making for very specific reasons. There is no point in my explaining them at this stage. At the Council on Foreign policy, we could, if you like, have a more in-depth discussion on this.
If I may, Mr. Chairman, regarding your own very serious observation – excuse me. Perhaps I should have started with this. I think there is a misunderstanding here, and we have to remedy it, because otherwise we might – and you are right about this – create feelings of bitterness.
The Directorate of Greeks Abroad does not cover the cases you mentioned. Because Greek minorities are not diaspora Greeks. You referred to Albania, and you know that in 1700 my forebears may have been there, and my late father told me that we were distantly related to General Spyromilios.
So, allow me to share your sensitivity on this matter. But Greek minorities like the Greek Minority in Albania are covered by the Foreign Ministry Directorate responsible for that country. It is a different case.
And it would be wrong for me to convert the Greek minority, which has the rights of a minority, and for us – because we all vote on this – to move it so that it comes under diaspora Greeks, Mr. Chairman. If you would like to discuss this on a one-on-one basis, I remain at your disposal.
But I really do thank you for raising the issue, because if there was such a misunderstanding, it had to be cleared up.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. And again, if you will allow me ...
SPEAKER: Regarding the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE), Minister?
MINISTER: Yes, I signalled to you on this. You are right and we will do it.
Moreover, my dear colleagues, the process in the Plenary is not just the government introducing the law, covering its ears and passing it by a majority. It is a living process.
In the plenary, a colleague who is not a member of the Committee can express an opinion, which will be heard. We are all people, and I think our ears are open, we are open-minded, we change our views and pursue what is right in our view.
So, the plenary is part of the parliamentary process. It is not just a formality – ratification or rejection of the legislation put forward. In that sense, allow me to say that the government will be completely open to your views and criticism on Friday.
Again, thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, for the tone and ethos of the debate. Thank you very much.
CHAIRMAN: We thank you, Minister. Your sensitivity on these issues and on the issue you mentioned is a given.
MINISTER: Mr. Chairman, pardon me for taking the floor again – with your permission. Regarding health insurance, Syriza submitted a proposal for legislation.
We, too, have a proposal. We will distribute it to you, and I think we can find common ground. But there really is a gap here, and we will try, to the best of the Ministry’s capabilities, to remedy the situation.
Thank you very much.