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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Alternate Minister of National Defence Fotis Kouvelis' interview to "Nea Selida" Newspaper with the Journalist, Marina Mani

The Alternate Minister of National Defence, Fotis Kouvelis, in an interview given to “NEA SELIDA” newspaper (24/06/2018) with the journalist, Marina Mani, stated the following:

   Merkel and Macron are “back” to the devastating Dublin regulation: rapid transfer of third-country nationals presenting asylum requests back to the State of the first arrival of the individual in the EU, where he/she was identified by local authorities. In other words, mainly Greece. We go back to the beginning of 2016? What are the government’s available options for reaction?

On the whole, this question refers to the Dublin II Regulation, which provides for the transfer of an asylum seeker to the Member State through which he/she first entered the EU. This regulation is now out of date, since when it was drawn up the refugee crisis had not been manifested in full and there was no agreement between EU and Turkey. Any literal implementation of the Dublin II Regulation invalidates in practice concepts, such as Community solidarity and the common approach to the large scale problems that the EU faces. Furthermore, it cancels commitments assumed by the member states for the balanced burden-sharing between all EU member states, regardless of their geographical location.
The Greek Government steps up its efforts and initiatives to highlight the problem accurately; that is to say, that it is both a European and an international problem. It is not a problem concerning the countries of the first arrival, such as Greece, Italy and Spain. The desired destinations for these people - refugees and migrants - are mainly Northern and Central European countries. No one has the right to turn a blind eye and attribute the problem to the Mediterranean countries.

-    Has the country fulfilled its obligations concerning the refugee / migration question in the field of infrastructures and returns? The firm response – alibi on the European side is negative. What has not been done and needs to be done immediately?

Greece has complied with its obligations in an exemplary manner. We – not only as a Government, but also as a society – dealt with the large refugee flows during 2015 – 2016 in an effective way and mainly, in line with the values of humanism. With the decisive contribution of the Armed Forces, reception facilities have been created in record time in the islands of the Eastern Aegean Sea and at the same time, accommodation centers in mainland Greece for covering the first needs for hosting.

Problems, such as the one in the camp of Idomeni, were solved without being delayed for a considerable period, contrary to other European countries. The issues of handling asylum requests have almost found their rhythm, despite the fact that the assistance in terms of personnel and means by other EU countries was either late or insufficient.

The issue of returns constitutes just one side of the entire matter and requires the cooperation of all parties. Of course, the returns turn out to be below than estimated. When assessing results as regards the implementation of the agreement between EU and Turkey, I would like to point out that Greece is definitely not the weaker party, since we have fulfilled and still fulfill our obligations. EU is the weak party; that is to say most of its member-states that either absolutely refuse to comply or comply poorly with collective commitments. It involves a problem that infringes fundamental principles and values of the EU.

-    Are you still optimistic that the Prespa agreement will be ratified by the Parliament and in particular, by a qualified majority? The whole political opposition, plus the “ANEL” (“Independent Greeks”) political party is against, with the exception of a few members of the “To Potami” (“The River”) political party. Therefore?

The agreement between Greece and FYROM gains momentum, despite the criticism voiced by the political opposition of both countries, which brings both people closer to the reality of matters that it resolves and leaves all ingrained habits, problems and practices of the past behind. The agreement is particularly positive and is to be ratified by the Hellenic Parliament, when the time comes, after the conditions set are met. It concerns an agreement, displaying the characteristics of an international agreement and therefore, its voting in favor by parliament members from a broader political spectrum, apart from the government majority, is of particular value.

-    The agreement will be ratified by the end of the year. “ANEL” political party insists on its “no”. In other words, we are heading towards the government’s collapse?
The agreement will be ratified based on its provisions. The “Independent Greeks” (“ANEL”), regardless of their attitude towards the agreement, participate in and support the Government, fact that was also demonstrated during the recent voting on the motion of censure submitted by the “New Democracy” political party.

The Government was composed, is acting and working on the basis of a common assumption and joint agreement between both political parties, “SYRIZA” and “ANEL”. With the focal point being the country’s exit from the memoranda and supervision with the society standing on its feet and the establishment of a growth path with a progressive sign and content. That is the connective thread of this Government and will continue to be so until the accomplishment of the mission at the end of the 4-year period.

-    What is going to happen if the agreement is neither adopted by the citizens of FYROM in the referendum nor by the Greek Parliament?
This agreement exists and will take effect as soon as the conditions provided for therein and being its constituent parts are fulfilled, concerning and binding both parties. Therefore, if any condition is not fulfilled, there is no agreement and we remain to the current status.

-    Is Ankara included in the opponents of the agreement?

The Turkey’s leadership has made its choices and has developed its own strategy for the wider area, including the Balkans. It is obvious that it does not want such an agreement, since it does neither form part of its plans nor serve its aims for penetrating Western Balkans.

-    Elections in Turkey today. Do you expect any de-escalation of the tension as of tomorrow? Are you afraid of any major incidents in the Aegean sea?

I believe that the war rhetoric and the climate of tension recently cultivated by Turkey in practice as well were not just forming part of the neighboring country’s electoral procedure. In my opinion, they form part of Turkey’s strategic planning of raising “issues to be negotiated” with our country that of course do not exist based on International Treaties and the International Law. What is Ankara’s objective? To reinforce its role – so it thinks – in the area and to be present in Cyprus’ EEZ. Our Country’s Armed Forces preserve in full their deterrent effect. Greek people should not worry.

-    The Government Spokesman, Bekir Bozdağ, insists on the scenario of the abduction of eight Turkish servicemen in Greece. Do you exclude the possibility that this may happen?

Turkey’s stance solely illustrates the way in which Turkey views the concept of Justice and the good neighborly relations. Such threats only serve to expose Turkey to international public opinion. Our country is doing what it has to do and therefore, such statements only cause harm to Turkey and of course do not contribute towards improving bilateral relations.

-    What about the two Greek officers detained in Adrianoupolis? Do you think that the transfer of the two officers to Turkey will work, in accordance with the provision of legislation you are about to adopt?

The Government and the political leaderships of the Ministries of National Defence and External Affairs use all legal means that could facilitate the lifting of temporary detention of our two officers and their return back home. However, a provision of legislation may not on its own change the existing scene. There is the major issue of the Turkish Government’s political choice to integrate a simple border incident in the scale of tension of the relationship between Turkey and Greece. Therein lies the problem, in my opinion, of the Turkish Justice’s stance so far, which is absolutely controlled and manipulated by the Turkish regime.

-    The investigation authorities have not even produced their full cellular data before the Court nor have charges been made. Are there any other steps that the Greek side should make?
Our Government keeps on pushing at several levels using all available diplomatic means for the release of our two officers and the acceleration of the proceedings. But almost four months following their arrest, no charges have been made against them. Our efforts will be continued with the same intensity, consistency and constancy.

-    Following the stance of the key component of the “Movement for Change” (“KINAL”) and “PASOK” political party on the issue of the agreement, do you believe that there is scope for convergence of the progressive area? Between whom?
In politics, momentums are often built, which may not be neglected. Our country is governed by a bipolarization, not a bipartisanship. On one hand, the Left-wing forces, the progressive and democratic transformation of the society and on the other hand, the ultra neo-liberalism that does not hesitate – as we see lately – to identify itself with extreme right positions, in order to obtain– so it thinks - political benefits.

The political forces that identify themselves as “progressive”, as “central left-wing”, those that refer to social democracy, should make their decisions. And quickly. Their responsibility for the future of our country is great. And when assessing political results in the years to come, the sign and the content of politics should be progressive.

-    Eurogroup’s decision was characterized as “historical”; however, society expects “something” that will prove that we are gradually getting back to normal. Where should the Government really aim?
The agreement achieved in Eurogroup for Greece, whose principal characteristic is the measures for the Greek debt relief and sustainability and the guaranteeing of the conditions for the self-sustained exit to the markets, simultaneously with the completion of the support programmes and what they entail, marks a new beginning for our country and our people. It is a kick-start for the arrival of the post-memorandum era and the return to normality.

The agreement endorses the view, which has also become our political stance, formulated since the beginning, that the Greek problem is above all a European problem and that it should be addressed based on the principle of community solidarity. Today is a new day. We fought hard and we pulled the country back from the brink of a “disorderly” default; we helped the society stand on its own two feet and now it should begin to see the results of its sacrifices. The price was heavy and in my opinion, unnecessary.. but all this now belongs to the past.

Post-memorandum Greece should be and will be a different country. Along with the exit from the memoranda and supervision, the reversal of the expectations of the Greek people and mainly, the social strata that paid the heaviest price should be marked. At this time, the purpose is to initiate development on solid bases and to achieve this, it should be fair; there should be a fair and socially balanced redistribution of the wealth produced. Besides, that is the progressive sign of our policy. We let the political opposition live its myth about government policy and the country’s progress.