Monday Talk with Georgios Katrougalos, Alternate FM of Greece
Sergio Caliva: Let me start with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Many claim that the Prespes Agreement, which aims to solve the name issue with FYROM, is affecting the stability of the Greek Government. Recently, the coalition party ANEL has stated that “the term Macedonia is Greek” and its leader and Defence Minister Panos Kammenos are opposing the Agreement. Do you think that the Greek Parliament will approve the Prespes Agreement? Or will it create further tension and polarization within the society as well as the Government leading to early elections?
FM Georgios Katrougalos: Greece wants to be a factor of stability, in the Balkans and the whole area of the Eastern Mediterranean and we have tried to act in this way in order to resolve a dispute of many decades with our neighbors in the north. We consider the Prespes agreement as one mutually beneficial for the two countries, one that will help also create a “momentum” for resolving other disputes in the area.
So, we are confident that, being such a good agreement, we are not going to have problems to pass it with a good majority, over-passing also the number of seats we have in Parliament. It is true that our minor partner in the government has a different standing on that, but despite this fact I don’t have any doubt that we are going to have the necessary majority in Parliament.
Sergio Caliva: Mr Foreign Minister let’s remain in Balkans. Let’s now briefly talk about the recent tensions between Albania and Greece over the death of the 35-year-old ethnic Greek man who was shot by police in southern Albania. Over the years, the problems between Tirana and Athens are mostly revolved around the fact that Tirana neither protects nor safeguards properly the rights of the Greek ethnic minority in Albania. Would you, as the Government of Greece, consider using the Albanian accession process to the EU as a way to safeguard the rights of the Greek minority in Albania? Or in other words, would you ask for the implementation of the sanctions to Tirana if they do not comply with the Copenhagen criteria in respect with the Greek minority?
FM Georgios Katrougalos: We are for the European perspectives of all the Balkan countries, Albania of course included. We have started this process in the Salonika Summit some years ago and we remain strategically focused on that. But, of course, in order for any country to be admitted to the European Union, it must respect the European “aquis”, especially regarding human rights, especially rights of minorities and the Copenhagen criteria.
So Albania is not a different case regarding that. We insist, of course, for the respect of the rights of the Greek minority there, as an issue that concerns Greek compatriots of ours, but also some other principles which concern the perspectives of Albania, as any other Balkan or any other State that wants to be admitted to the European Union.
I consider that the last very sad incident is not going to be a factor that would affect, in the long run, our bilateral relations provided, of course, that Albania would continue the common efforts with us to improve these relations and protect the rights of our minority there.
Sergio Caliva: Mr Foreign Minister, at the end of October there was a new spat with Turkey over the Greek territorial waters in Aegean Sea after the former Greek Foreign minister announced plans for their expansions. Erdogan administration responded that an expansion of the Greek territorial waters will be a cause of war. Prime Minister Tsipras replied that “Greece neither threatens nor accepts threats” and last week Prime Minister Tsipras said that he accepted the invitation from President Erdogan to visit Ankara and discuss this very sensitive matter. Are you hopeful about the meeting? Do you think that there will be a peaceful way to resolve this problem?
FM Georgios Katrougalos: The foundation of our Foreign policy is the respect of international law and, regarding the issue of territorial waters, we have an international treaty which -it is true- Turkey has not yet ratified, but it binds it because it has become customary law – most of its provisions.