The Alternate Minister of National Defence, Panagiotis Rigas, in an interview he gave to “DOCUMENTO” newspaper (18/11/2018) with the journalist, Angelos Provolisianos, stated the following:
- What signals the opening of a strategic dialogue with the USA and what we should expect from the high level meetings to be held in December in Washington?
The relation between both countries is about extending the scope to all levels, on the condition that it is mutually beneficial for both people. By means of the government’s policy, our country has established its position as a pillar of stability in the region, thus being attractive in terms of multiple cooperations. USA had traditionally had its eye on our country, but they did so in a one-dimensional way and mainly with respect to the military sector. Now, the time has come to look for partnerships in a wider economic – political context, including also military cooperation within the framework of the Euro-Atlantic Alliance. That is the content of the strategic dialogue between Greece and the USA that becomes systematised and the recent Thessaloniki International Fair, where the USA was the honoured quest country, played a pivotal role in this respect.
- Is there also an energy dimension in this strategic dialogue?
Financial and energy issues form also part of the strategic dialogue, in the light of the co-development in the Balkan area.
- Should we wait for any signatures in December?
I am not in a position to say anything like this at the moment. Discussions are going on in a very good spirit and the Prime Minister is expected to visit the USA at that time about the matters.
- Based on what you have said before about the strengthening of the ties between Greece and USA, what role does the Prespa Agreement play?
First of all, it is about a solution to an old back problem that was in no case raised by us. Previous governments have invested in extreme nationalism and not in patriotism, thus leading the situation to a dead end. However, the conditions are now met to come out the other end for the benefit of the Balkans, Greece and FYROM. In this context, both the European countries and the USA wish that the said problem is solved, because they realize that they do not need any new problems raised in the Balkans. And I would like to point out that we should be more concerned about issues relating to Turkey. That is the reason why we have solved all our problems and there is an economic cooperation with Bulgaria, Serbia, Romania, while things with Albania have made steps in a positive direction.
- What about Russia?
Russia plays an important role on the world economic and geopolitical stage. We have no reason not to seek a good cooperation with any country. Obviously, if this procedure does not concur with our interests, we will not participate in an unequal cooperation.
- Has there been any progress in the enhancement of the role and the use of military bases in Volos, Larissa and Alexandroupolis?
First of all, there is the base at Souda, which is the result of an agreement within NATO. Panos Kammenos has said that there is no other question of bases. Apart from that, since we are NATO members, we have certain obligations without any offensive attitude, but on the basis of the government and the Armed Forces’ doctrine that the Hellenic Army constitutes a powerful deterrent force with a peaceful presence in the region.
- Why has the matter with the French frigates been put on ice?
We are at a critical economic conjuncture and consequently, any armament issue that comes into the discussion has to do with the potential of our economy. Our first concern is to support the society. Therefore, any expenditure for the upgrading of armament systems comes next. And for this reason, the Armed Forces in a way that is both simple and clear managed to create an economy of scale: by upgrading armaments systems, using their own resources, to the extent possible. Having a full picture, we are fit enough in terms of the doctrine of the armed forces’ deterrent presence. The French frigates form part of the discussion held at the General Directorate for Defence Investments and Armaments for the upgrading of our naval equipment in the framework of a medium-term plan that depending on economic circumstances, it will lead us to the final decision.
- What are your comments on the move of the Turkish Minister of National Defence, who presented maps to the Libyan Government to prove that Greece is encroaching upon the Libyan continental shelf?
I would recommend to the Turkish Minister of National Defence that he should be more careful with his words and his actions. To tell everybody that the Turkish EEZ “travels” to the south of Crete to meet with the Libyan EEZ sounds like a joke and reflects the distress of isolation that Turkey is currently suffering, resorting to dangerous brinkmanship with International Law.
- Does the rhetoric of the Turkish side about the forthcoming extension of territorial waters cause you concern?
The extension of territorial waters is our non-negotiable right and we are the ones to decide when and how we will exercise it. However, we have to note that the shaping of the continental shelf and the EEZ in the Aegean Sea requires consultation between both countries. Therefore, now, we have an issue that needs to be settled based on the provisions of the International Law and the Law of the Sea. As for the EEZ and the continental shelf in the Ionian Sea, it is an issue that has progressed; however, we also wish to resolve the problem in the Aegean Sea, in order to give the resources that it possesses.
- That means we should expect for related initiatives over the coming period?
It would be desirable if we ended up with Turkey being our ally in the shaping of the EEZ in the Aegean Sea. There have been discussions, but Turkey follows its well-known line and such a result is in no event helpful.
- How do you respond to the criticism from the left wing that Greece has become a USA protectorate while SYRIZA – ANEL is in government?
We are nobody’s protectorate and this is a misreading. We apply a multi-dimensional foreign policy and depending on the geostrategic relationships and conditions, we also establish similar relations. Therefore, there is no “monoculture” and whoever voices such criticism should think that in a globalized economy, no-one should be excluded. And after all, it would be good for those who are criticizing to recommend us something different and I would be more than pleased to sit down and talk about this.
- What are your conclusions of the debate in the Parliament concerning the constitutional reform process? Did you see any common political ground on the review of – at least – some specific articles?
It is a top and consensual process that reflects the current momentum and balance of power in the country’s charter. However, no spirit of consensus on the part of New Democracy party emerged in the Parliament. They have realized neither the painful economic crisis nor the web of corruption in the country. I think that the opposition wishes to institutionalize the neoliberalism in the country’s charter and this is evidenced by its proposal for a balanced budget.
- Do you believe that New Democracy party will contribute to the review of article 86 involving Ministers’ liability?
We will see it in practice, but I have the feeling that on one hand they say that they wish so and on the other hand, they do all that’s possible to hold back the review of the constitution and thus also this article. However, I was impressed by the fabric of protection created for Mr. Simitis by New Democracy, Democratic Rally and the River. I am not aware whether there is criminal liability for Ms. Simitis, but I know that there are political responsibilities, because some of the main ministers have been taken or are being taken to prison. Let me remind you that under Prime Minister Simitis, Giannis Dragasakis, as a member of the Parliament for Synaspismos party, kept asking about where the growth rate of 4% comes out, given that the debt was picking up. Therefore, either they have been lying to us or money was going elsewhere…
- What messages are you getting from the armed forces’ leaderships about the government’s initiative on the streamlining in the relations between the church and the state?
These days the bond between the church and the armed forces is no different from the one existing in all segments of the Greek society with the state. Our country has a tradition and a historical relationship with the Greek Orthodox Church and that is not called in question. The armed forces have their own role and what each member of the armed forces believes is up to him. Therefore, there is no question about the armed forces; on the contrary, New Democracy has got a problem. On the day of the joint communiqué, Mr. Mitsotakis called this initiative positive and then, for petty-political purposes – but also because the extreme right wing gave him a talking - he ended up changing his standpoint.
- In other words, New Democracy was not being sarcastic with its first statement, as Mr. Mitsotakis pointed out in the Parliament?
If the leader of the official opposition is being sarcastic about such an issue, then he does not deserve to be a leader of the official opposition.
- Recently, the amendment on the repayment of the retroactively deducted sums received majority support and last week, the draft law on the reduction in social security contributions has been introduced. Are these the first measures of … the fourth memorandum?
Yes, well, this is about our memorandum with the Greek society and New Democracy will vote one by one the measures of this … fourth memorandum. Practically, New Democracy’s greatest fear – the success of the present government – takes shape and for this reason, it ain’t no coincidence that Mr. Mitsotakis is calling for new elections for the last three years. We have made a political choice and we tell things direct. We wish that the entire society participates in the economic development. The first three years of our governance, we have supported all those who were barely living through; today, we are expanding our support to other social groups.