The handover ceremony took place today at the Ministry of National Defence, between the outgoing and the new political leadership of the Ministry.
The outgoing Minister of National Defence Panos Kammenos stated the following:
Ms. Special Secretary,
Chief of Hellenic Army General Staff,
Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff,
Chief of Hellenic Air Force General Staff,
Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, National Guardsmen, and Civilian Employees of the Ministry of National Defence,
I am handing over the Ministry’s leadership, after four consecutive years, being fully aware of the great honour done to me, but also the responsibility which I undertook regarding our Armed Forces, the political and military leadership and mainly regarding the Greek people, in a period characterised by strict fiscal restraints and instability in the broader region of East Europe and the Southeast Mediterranean.
My companions in this hard, and at the same time wonderful trip, were the Prime Minister of the country and Head of the Government Alexis Tsipras, who entrusted me with this critical Ministry, as well as the Alternate Ministers Kostas Isychos, Dimitris Vitsas, Fotis Kouvelis, and Panagiotis Rigas, the Deputy Ministers Nikos Toskas and Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha, with whom we leave the Ministry of National Defence together, the Chiefs of Hellenic National Defence General Staff, General Michail Kostarakos, and the current Minister, Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, the Honorary Chiefs of Hellenic Army General Staff, Generals Christos Manolas and Vasilios Tellidis, the Chief of Hellenic Army General Staff, Lieutenant General Alkiviadis Stefanis, the Honorary Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff, Admiral Georgios Giakoumakis, and the Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff Vice Admiral Nikolaos Tsounis, the Honorary Chiefs of Hellenic Air Force General Staff, Generals Evangelos Tournas and Christos Vaitsis, and the Chief of Hellenic Air Force General Staff Lieutenant General Christos Christodoulou, with whom we cooperated for the common goal.
Everything we achieved during the past four years is the result of collective effort and unity, with faith in the ideals and the values of the Nation, the institutions, the traditions, and the regulations governing the function and the chain of command of the Armed Forces being the common denominator.
The government and I personally, along with my associates, were led by the implementation of constitutional directives and parliamentary procedures, from the moment we took office. We established and consistently followed the "open door" policy for the Ministry of National Defence, a sincere policy of cooperation with the other governmental services, open communication with society and its bodies, in order to enhance transparency and solidify national unity in matters of defence and security. At the same time, we activated and operated the Internal Affairs Service and institutionally managed to shed light on the shadows of the past in the sensitive field of armaments and send to justice cases for investigation and imputation of liabilities.
We strove for and enhanced the unity of the Armed Forces and protected them from political party influence and political controversies. We promoted meritocracy from the highest level, regarding the selection of Chiefs, down to the establishment of a ranking system for soldier reassignments. All the evaluation procedures for promotions were conducted free from political criteria, based solely on meritocracy and national interest. For any mistakes made, I fully accept responsibility.
We protected our people's bond with the Armed Forces from obsessions which negatively impacted our personnel's morale, upgraded the military parades, and removed the barricades. We strengthened the everlasting bond of our Orthodox Christian faith with the Armed Forces and established the featuring of Patron Saints on the national emblem. We reinstated and upgraded the TV show "With Virtue and Boldness", in order to provide immediate and reliable information to the public on the activities and work of the Armed Forces.
Amid strict financial restrictions, we achieved to safeguard and enhance the combat readiness and effectiveness of the Armed Forces, which send every day a strong message in all directions. A message of reliability, cooperation, peace, stability, and at the same time of powerful deterrence. Thanks to the above we proved that Greece can meet the requirements of its strategic role, as dictated by its geographical position, its history, and civilisation.
In the above context, we promoted certain armament programmes of high operational value, such as the upgrade of the F-16 aircraft, the upgrade of the P-3 Orion Maritime Cooperation aircraft, and the procurement of Kiowa Helicopters, without forgetting the need to support all areas of the domestic defence industry.
We enhanced and promoted the reserve and National Guard institutions, implementing multiple activities and exercises, many of which I had the pleasure to attend closely, together with the military leadership.
Through this active defence diplomacy, we definitively contributed to the establishment of a cooperation activity grid, diplomatic convergence, and energy synergies with the region's key states, such as Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arabic Emirates, Qatar to the south and Serbia, Bulgaria, and Romania to the north. At this point, I would like to particularly thank the Emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad, for his contribution to the release of our two servicemen held hostage by Turkey.
We managed to involve in joint military exercises countries such as Israel and the United Arab Emirates. With the trilateral cooperation policy we pursued and implemented, we built new strong alliances and made our country a pillar of stability in the broader region of the Southeast Mediterranean in order to effectively deal with the new security challenges and, at the same time, use our natural resources, writing a new page in terms of prosperity for our people". This made Greece a preferred partner among the states of the region and a reliable pillar for the promotion of peace.
At the same time, we strengthened our country's strategic bonds with the United States with the conclusion of interstate agreements, the exchange of multiple visits, and the conduct of joint military exercises. Upon decision of the Government, the United States was the honoured country of the 82nd Thessaloniki International Fair, while the pinnacle of this and proof of the new dynamics of our excellent relations with the United States is the start of the Strategic Dialogue in December 2018.
For us, the main concern has always been and continues to be the security of Greek citizens and the Greek nation, which also includes Cypriot Hellenism, our Cypriot brothers, whose security we irrevocably guarantee.
During these four years, the everyday presence of the Armed Forces alongside our fellow citizens affected by natural disasters and the bad economic climate enhanced the feeling of security and strengthened the people's trust to the Armed Forces. The presence and contribution of the Ministry of National Defence substantially supported the Greek society and mainly our fellow citizens living in border areas and that's why we took the initiative to declare 2019 as "social contribution promotion year".
Through a series of initiatives we developed with my partners, the local communities, the public and private entities, we achieved the reestablishment of specialised departments and services, such as the Joint Armed Forces Project Implementation Authority, thus broadening the social work, effectiveness, and flexibility of use of Armed Forces capabilities, in the service of the Greek citizens.
Furthermore, we established the Armed Forces Real Estate Utilisation Authority, whose mission is to utilise the Armed Forces' real estate, and passed a law for the utilisation of surplus materiel, in order to add to the Armed Forces' budget. The first such agreement was already concluded yesterday.
The common goal of all the aforementioned actions, operational, diplomatic, and social, was to use what little resources the Greek people could spare to provide us in the best possible manner. In a difficult and unstable fiscal environment, we planned the implementation of actions that achieve economies of scale regarding the procurement of equipment and systems.
At this point, I would like to stress that, in this effort, I was supported by our country's finest, the military and civilian personnel of the Armed Forces, whose devotion, boldness, and self-sacrifice I experienced and honoured every day during my many visits to border outposts, Units, warships, Hellenic Air Force Squadrons, Staffs, and Services of the Ministry.
So, recognising that our personnel is the centre of gravity of our defensive might, we implemented people-centric policies in order to provide a framework of operation and a decent standard of living for our personnel and their families, based on meritocracy, transparency, and support of those affected by fiscal restraints. I believe that great progress was made in that direction through important initiatives.
2018 was declared as "personnel welfare year" with the implementation of multiple actions, resulting in an improvement of the standard of living of the personnel. We greatly improved the housing options for the personnel and their families. We restored injustices of the past with the payment of the rest of the retroactive compensation to active duty personnel and the effort that started for payment to the retired personnel as well. We restored the benefits paid to personnel serving in border areas. Furthermore, we have taken a legislative initiative, which is currently in progress, regarding the regulation of pending matters of Long Term Volunteers.
The way in which we dealt with difficulties together makes me proud to have been your political leader. Not once did you lower the flag of duty. The Commander of Kastelorizo told me, during my first visit there: "Our flags are never lowered, only replaced when damaged". "As long as one of us is still alive, we will never surrender a single inch of Hellenic territory".
For the Ministry of National Defence and me personally, it was from the beginning a matter of utmost national importance and priority to render due honours to those who carry out their duty, to the heroes who fell for God and country.
We did not forget our fallen heroes during the struggles of Cypriot Hellenism who had been forgotten until now, such as the crew of Patrol Boat "Faethon", as well as the participants of operation "Nike" in 1974, during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, part of which is still under occupation. In Cyprus, Greeks did not die during an exercise. They fell during a military operation, serving the flag and the national emblem.
We did not forget the heroes of the 1940 epic and supported the search, identification, and burial works with proper honours, in line with our historical traditions and our orthodox Christian faith. We never forgot any of our fallen heroes who, with their sacrifice, earned a place in the pantheon of our heroes and the struggles of the Hellenic Nation.
Addressing the military and civilian personnel of the Armed Forces, I want to thank you for your total contribution to my work; I will always be a faithful supporter, wherever I may be.
Remember that our utmost duty is to leave a better country to the generations to come. May you always have the grace of God and the blessings of the Defender General and the Patron Saints of the services and remember that it is our burden to honour those who fell heroically for the country, both during peace and war.
As I hand over the duties of Minister of National Defence to Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, my most important partner, my friend, I want to say that the Greek people should feel safe now that you assume the duties of Minister of National Defence in a period when the Armed Forces need a strong and experienced political leadership. I am even more satisfied because the appointment of Admiral Apostolakis as Minister of National Defence shows the State's trust in the military.
For as long as you hold this position, I wholeheartedly wish you good luck, lots of strength, and I am sure that you will continue our work with even greater success.
I would also like to say that, during my political career, I always kept in mind the words of Matrozos to the officer at the entrance of the Ministry of the Navy, when he went to see Kanaris and was stopped and told that "beggars can't see the Minister". To which Matrozos replied: "If beggars like me did not shed their blood, captains like you wouldn't bear the crown". This is relevant to all politicians and now, Admiral, you are part of the political leadership as Minister.
I would like to thank in particular the Director of my Political Office, General Theologos Symeonidis, my military directors, Colonels Alexandros Hatzialexandris and Georgios Niveroglou, my Adjutants, who with their professionalism, high sense of duty, and hard work were always by my side. My close associates, Ambassador Eleftherios Karagiannis, Mr. Giorgos Kousoulas, Vasilis Syriopoulos, Mr. Mavridis, my Secretariat, the men and women of my security, servicemen, coast guard and police officers, helicopter, aircraft, and ship crews, and first of all Colonel Konstantinos Filippou and the Huey crew, my family who missed me.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
the position of Minister of National Defence is the greatest honour for a politician. After four years with you and 25 years as an MP, I had decided to end my political career here, having lived everything. But I am obliged not to abandon the Flag, now that both the government and the opposition are surrendering the holy name of Macedonia. I am ready to be attacked by all of them, but I will fight even alone, for victory or to the end.
I bow before the Colours of the Formations of all Services.
I pay my respects to the heroes of the country.
I step down, proud of my work, with my head up, handing over the land, sea, and air borders exactly as they were handed over to me. With stronger Armed Forces in the hands of a capable political leadership of the Minister Evangelos Apostolakis and the Alternate Minister Panagiotis Rigas. To a capable military leadership.
Good luck and may our Panaghia be with you".
The Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis stated the following:
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was called by the Prime Minister and you, Minister, to assume the political responsibility of the leadership of the Armed Forces in a special and politically and emotionally charged period.
I know that this challenge, as the Prime Minister and you put it, contains a message of unity and readiness in the sensitive area of national defence and security, as well as of continuity and stability in our country's defence strategy.
Consequently, beyond any political ambitions, I decided to accept. Thus, I took off the uniform of the Chief of Hellenic National Defence General Staff in order to serve my country from the position of Minister of National Defence.
It is a great honour and an even greater responsibility. Times are troubled, our region is politically and militarily unstable and, of course, this responsibility comes following the developments in one of the most important national issues that has troubled the country for three decades.
I fully agree with the aims of the political leadership that it is a high priority to highlight the role of Greece as a pillar of stability and provider of security in the broader region of East Mediterranean and the Balkans.
That's why we have an active defence diplomacy, we honour the country's commitments, having undertaken a key role in the promotion of defence synergies and security initiatives in the East Mediterranean and the Balkans.
I have always believed in the value of political stability and the need for an uninterrupted institutional operation of the political system with fixed terms. I have always believed that this is the foundation whereon the trust of citizens in politics and its representatives will be built and strengthened.
However, I acknowledge that you are more qualified to judge if the circumstances allowed you to complete your tenure as political leader of the Armed Forces until the end of the coalition's term.
I would like to thank you for our productive cooperation and your trust. During these years, you were a worthy leader of the country's Armed Forces, flying the flag of deterrence, power, and pride high. You stood alongside the personnel of the Armed Forces, supported our efforts, and assisted us in our difficult work, leaving your own mark.
I avail myself of the opportunity to assure you that the Armed Forces will remain at the front line, constantly showing their decisiveness to be capable and reliable. All Armed Forces personnel will give our all to maintain security and peace in our country's area of responsibility.
I would also like to believe that you will continue to be by our side. This is something I am asking from all politicians, defence experts and opinion leaders, the press, and each individual citizen. Let's move along united and determined, keeping the military away from controversy, as we all have done until now.
I am also sending a message of reciprocity to the other side of the Aegean. There is the path of conflict and there is the path of cooperation. We are permanently oriented to the values of peaceful coexistence and cooperation.
I would like to remind our neighbours that, when a sense of cooperation, understanding, and trust prevailed, our peoples flourished; when nationalism prevailed, our peoples suffered. The foundation of our relations must be the respect of international law and that is the only red line in our relations.
I would also like to call all our neighbours to work together and cooperate in order to get the Balkans out of the corner and into the international spotlight as a region that can guarantee security, stability, and peace.
Addressing the personnel of the Armed Forces, our greatest advantage and invaluable force multiplier, I am calling them to continue on the path of duty, with the same strength, keeping their heads up.
After 42 years of service, I feel obliged to express my gratitude to the personnel of the Armed Forces for their work and support, especially during the past three years of my tenure as Chief of Hellenic National Defence General Staff.
For all our efforts, for whatever we do, we count on our driving force, our personnel. I am particularly proud of the men and women of the Armed Forces, their professionalism, excellent training, and high morale. They perform their mission with a focus on the mission and a unique devotion to duty.
Allow me also to address this call to all Greek citizens. Let's walk on the path of mutual trust and fulfil our responsibilities in order to write a new, peaceful, and promising page in the history of our country and our region.
The Alternate Minister of National Defence Panagiotis Rigas stated the following:
"Ladies and Gentlemen,
This day is not about political bickering or competition as to who is more true or has better knowledge of history. The stepping down of Panos Kammenos is a personal moment first and a political moment second. Besides, the political footprint of his stepping down as Minister of National Defence has already been provided and explained by the country's Prime Minister.
Today, the Armed Forces, the Political and Military Leadership, bid farewell to the person who was their political leader for 4 years. From now on, Panos Kammenos will be remembered as one of the longest serving Ministers of National Defence.
This is an achievement in itself.
One of his achievements is the commonly accepted belief that he loved and was loved by the military personnel, and how could that not be the case; his interest was real, it was heartfelt, and there are many things proving this.
Where should I begin, Panos, it is a long list of battles we gave and won, as a government, the repayment of retroactive compensation, the Military Housing we constructed or renovated, our legislative initiatives to broaden and establish the rights of military personnel, the management of the refugee crisis in late 2015 and early 2016, when we alone, as a country, managed to save the honour and values of the entire Europe; this Ministry was always there for these unforeseen challenges.
In general, Panos Kammenos' interest is people-centric. This was proven by his decisiveness when the Armed Forces had to assist in border areas, in the recent fires, and any other natural disaster.
You were more than true to your mission, constantly raising, with your words and actions, the morale of Greek servicemen, as well as enhancing the feeling of security of society to the Armed Forces.
Panos, these words come easily to me, even though we were together at the Ministry only for a few months, and I would like to note that we had an excellent cooperation. We have known each other for four years, this is a tested relationship.
And words come so easily, not only because I saw all these things with my own eyes (and so many others I did not mention in the interest of brevity), but mainly because I say them in front of an audience that is well aware of them and can attest to them.
And since the audience is aware, it knows that my words do not serve any hidden agenda and are no ceremonial flattery.
You emerged victorious from the challenges, you succeeded, and showed us that your tenaciousness is not the stubbornness of Kammenos, but the strength of will for national good.
I wish you and the outgoing Deputy Minister, Ms. Kollia-Tsaroucha, whom I also want to thank for our excellent cooperation, given the fact that we had several joint responsibilities, good luck in your further political career, good health, and all personal happiness.
Thank you very much and congratulations for your work.
Mr. Evangelos Apostolakis, former Chief of Hellenic National Defence General Staff, Minister, the change is difficult, but I believe that from your new position as political leader you can quickly combine both and that is probably an advantage under the new conditions. I am sure you understand how great the responsibility you undertake is. Panos Kammenos leaves a great legacy, not just for you, but for all future Ministers. He contributed from a very important and critical government position to the geopolitical upgrade of the country, the enhancement of the operational capability of our Armed Forces, the raising of their morale in a difficult economic climate, the most difficult Greece saw since WWII.
I am certain that you will continue his successful work, that we will cooperate based on national good, and that jointly we will serve what we call our Armed Forces' force multiplier, their personnel.
Congratulations on your selection by the Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras. I wish you good health, because more work awaits you. I will be by your side, as we have always been.
The outgoing Deputy Minister of National Defence Maria Kollia-Tsaroucha stated the following:
"Good day Minister and outgoing Minister,
Chiefs of General Staff,
Representatives, Directors of the Ministry of National Defence,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I leave the Ministry of National Defence, I would like to thank my associates during this short, but very important period. First, I would like to thank the Prime Minister, Mr. Alexis Tsipras, for trusting me, first with the position of Minister of Macedonia – Thrace and then with the position of Alternate Minister of National Defence; Mr. Panos Kammenos, as leader of the Independent Greeks, for his trust and cooperation, believing in everything that united us from the start, from 2012 until today. We will continue to fight for our beliefs.
My course and presence at the Ministry of National Defence was an honour, a life's experience for me, and for that I thank you all, the men and women of the Armed Forces, the enlisted, the national guardsmen, the civilian personnel, each and every one of you struggling every day to prevent war, fighting for peace.
I wish you good health, may God light our path, may the Panaghia, the Defender General, lead the Greek nation and the Armed Forces, and may we all together work for what is best for this country. Because this country, the Greek people, is worth a lot and for that, everyone, civilians, politicians, and military, like you, must give our all.
May God light the path of the new Minister. I met you, Minister, many years ago as a soldier who believed and still believes in the Armed Forces and the country. I wish that, as the political leader of the Ministry of National Defence, you will give your all, continuing the great work of Panos Kammenos in this Ministry.
Thank you, everyone, for your trust and cooperation. I leave, on one hand emotional and sad, but on the other hand honoured and happy to have served the Armed Forces.
Thank you very much".