The Alternate Minister of National Defence, Panos Rigas, in an interview with the "ETHNOS TIS KYRIAKIS" newspaper (14/04/2019) to the journalist Antonis Giokas, made the following statements:
1. Part of the opposition accuses you that the bill you drafted in order to resolve chronic problems of Armed Forces personnel is mere "pre-election promises"…
It is truly difficult to follow the train of thought of the leadership of New Democracy and KINAL, if there is in fact any. From the first day this government took over, New Democracy and those who support it have employed distortion tactics, projecting a virtual reality and basing their political language thereon. For four years, New Democracy has been asking for elections; according to them, all legislative initiatives providing solutions to problems of the people are pre-election promises. Obviously they would prefer for this government, against the needs of the many, to do nothing so that they can continue spreading their narrative. This is how they do policy, this is their way. We will not indulge them; having as reference point the end of the MoU and guardianship regime in August 2018, we move forward even more decisively. Our policy at the Ministry of National Defence does not constitute "pre-election promises", it consists of mature interventions to chronic problems. And this is just the beginning.
2. The military leadership of the Armed Forces often "complains" about personnel shortages…
The enemy of good is better, however the role of the political and military leadership of the Ministry of National Defence is to organise the country's defence and deterrent power based on actual capabilities and existing assets. That's what we do and we do it very effectively. The fiscal situation forced us to use our personnel and the operational availability of existing assets to the maximum. We overcame the stranglehold of constant cuts and the accumulation of arrears and matters pending since the first MoU period 2010-2014 and are in a course of slow recovery.
3. Another matter that must be urgently dealt with is the restart of the defence industry. What is your plan for its rescue and further growth?
The entire Hellenic defence industry, both public and private (including the shipyards which, for the past few decades, have constituted an organic part of the industry) is in a growth trajectory. Particularly regarding the companies under state control, the main concern of this government was to keep them alive. Things were marginal. This goal was met, we have the restart of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, while Hellenic Defence Systems is recovering, having secured jobs. Our goal is to bring the domestic defence industry close to the needs of the Armed Forces and the National Defence Industrial Strategy is a very useful tool in this direction. Besides, the Ministry's contribution to the rescue of the shipyards and jobs through the Hellenic Navy's programmes was decisive.
4. Are you concerned about Ankara's rhetoric – mainly – and actions in the Aegean and the Southeast Mediterranean?
Turkish rhetoric and challenges may have their ups and downs, but they are part of a strategy which we constantly monitor and analyse. We do not underestimate anything, neither the rhetoric (which may be neutral, but produces results), let alone challenges. We would like to believe that the Turkish leadership understands that challenge tactics are counterproductive and lead nowhere; on the contrary, they isolate it and further highlight a weakness. Peaceful coexistence and mutual respect of each country's sovereign rights, based on International Law and good neighbourly relations, are a condition for the relations between the two countries to be productive and to ensure stability in the region.
5. Can the government turn the situation around and win the upcoming elections?
Allow me to have a different view of the political scene than the one projected by New Democracy and its supporting media. My view is this: Under New Democracy and PASOK, Greece lost 25% of its GDP, was led to an economic disaster, and its people to despair. Then came the SYRIZA government, which first stopped the downfall and then not only stabilised, but also put the economy in a real growth trajectory. It led the country out of the MoU regime, unemployment was reduced by 10%, pensions were stabilised without new cuts, the subminimum wage was abolished and minimum wage was increased by 11%, no uninsured citizen is left without medical care, the public Health and public Education systems were rescued. Furthermore, social dividend is now granted every year, while we also support the weakest with rent and other benefits. All these and many others constitute the real background of the 2019 elections. We trust the memory and judgment of the Greek people.
6. Does this optimism derive from the call for a coalition of progressive forces with SYRIZA in its core?
The coalition of progressive forces is not a narrow party policy made by SYRIZA, but a strategic decision in response to a need that transcends party and national limits. It is the need to put an end to the cooperation of extreme neoliberalism with far right and neo-Nazi bands that are making their comeback, exploiting the depreciation of politics to instil poison in society. SYRIZA's call is a kind of rally, of activation of the progressive part of Greek society to form a front for the rebirth of politics and popular trust, offering an optimistic vision for the future. SYRIZA's government experience gives us the advantage and the optimism that the people will answer this call.
7. Doesn't the denial of KINAL's leadership to participate in this venture constitute a hindrance to the entire venture?
The choices of KINAL's leadership lack the prestige and the reach to prevent the mature and necessary developments in the progressive space. Besides, its main goal is the "strategic defeat" of SYRIZA and, obviously, the "strategic victory" of New Democracy, so that KINAL can have its share of power. Their goal is the restoration of the old regime and the joint cover-up and limitation of old crimes, as was revealed last week with the Novartis case. New Democracy and KINAL, through Mr. Venizelos and Mr. Athanasiou, even admitted that… bribery is part of a Minister's responsibilities! However, the Greek people remember and have a critical view and will not allow them to implement their plans and return to their catastrophic work. We are not a land of lotus eaters.
8. There is a debate lately on armaments. Given the fact that the Hellenic Air Force and the Hellenic Navy have great needs, will orders be made for new systems soon?
The debate on armaments, with the help of the media, has become kind of a national sport. This government, given the financial difficulties and the accumulated arrears it found, prioritised maintenance and the upgrade of existing weapon systems, which directly reflects on the operational availability of assets. Having secured the deterrent sufficiency of our Armed Forces, we can now examine without haste the next steps for the future reinforcement of our country's arsenal, either with ships for the Hellenic Navy, air and other assets for the Hellenic Air Force, or equipment for the Army, always within the framework of jointness and complementarity of the Services.
9. A few days ago, Panos Kammenos attacked you personally, while he also criticised certain choices for the Chiefs of Staff positions…
I will stand by my short statement that day. I am impervious to accusations by those who chose to use the sensitive area of National Defence for their party's political games. But my obligation as part of the leadership of the Ministry of National Defence is to state consistently my total trust and support to the military leadership against any ill-spirited attack which may hurt the morale of the Armed Forces.