The Minister of National Defence, Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, accompanied by the Chief of Hellenic National Defence General Staff, General (HAF) Christos Christodoulou, , the Chief of Hellenic Army General Staff, Lieutenant General Georgios Kambas, the Chief of Hellenic Navy General Staff, Vice Admiral Nikolaos Tsounis HN, and the Chief of Hellenic Air Force General Staff, Lieutenant General (HAF) Georgios Blioumis, attended the ceremony for the recognition of the 691st Industrial Base Plant for actions related to the environment, within the framework of the declaration of 2019 as "Armed Forces Social Contribution Year".
The ceremony was attended by the General Secretary of the Ministry of National Defence, Mr. Antonios Ikonomou.
In his address, the Minister of National Defence, Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, stated the following:
"I'd like to thank the country's Armed Forces, the military leadership, the staffs, the headquarters, the staff officers, all Armed Forces personnel, men and women, for their strong presence beside society; because, as I said at the programme statements, the Armed Forces stand beside they are part of society. Their personnel is part of society. I welcome the initiative to declare this year as "Armed Forces Social Contribution Year". Of course, social contribution must continue and the Armed Forces' social footprint must be visible. It is the function of the country's Armed Forces during peacetime. It is not their main mission – and that should be realised by the political leadership – but it is a very important element of their mission.
The country and the world face security challenges, some of which are related to the social footprint. I heard what was presented before within the framework of climate change. Natural disasters will no longer be "extraordinary weather conditions"; they will become "ordinary weather conditions". The organised State must be ready. Just a few hours after taking office we had to deal with the storm in Halkidiki. I'm sure there will be more to deal with. I have seen the extraordinary efforts made by various Armed Forces personnel, and in particular the Canadair pilots flying aerial forest firefighting missions. The people are always relieved and feel that true help has arrived with they see the Armed Forces get to the site of the disaster. At that time, the atmosphere changes, at least in terms of people's spirits, when they see the machinery get to work and the land forces deploy. So, society understands the very important mission and assistance that the Armed Forces provide at various times of crisis and need.
During my tenure at the Ministry of Labour, I have always believed that we, as central state, must better organise the way in which we provide our social assistance, in a more rational way, so that, with the resources available, which are not limitless, we can meet the greatest part of the needs. That is an effective social state. One that rationally distributes limited resources to needs which, depending on the conditions, increase. During the past few years, the needs have increased. So, I think that the Armed Forces came in to close the gaps. With the discipline organisation, functionality, and effectiveness that characterises them, we could provide valuable assistance in areas where the other state authorities couldn't have the same results, because, in the end, everything is measured according to the results, and this effort must continue.
We see the problems. And, of course, there will always be problems, but we will always be here to solve problems. It's just that I am now aware of the fact that the Armed Forces solve problems, produce work, and solve problems to a perhaps greater extent than other command systems, other authorities, other Ministries, and I think that this should constitute food for thought for the others. I, on my part, will convey this reflection. It would be great if the entire administration could function like the Armed Forces in order to be functional and helpful to society.
So, I'd like to thank on my part the Armed Forces, the leadership, the Officers, for their contribution to society. We will continue on this path, we will continue to help others, as well as ourselves. I have announced social welfare measures for Armed Forces personnel, we will adapt them, wherever we can, to help; because, in the end, as you saw, the presence of the country's Armed Forces goes beyond the main pillars, at the level of defence and security policy planning, and covers almost all main pillars developed centrally, strategically, a few days ago by the country's Prime Minister.
For example, he spoke about the social contribution – health pillar, we are in, through the services and the healthcare structures of the Armed Forces. He spoke about the environmental footprint, we are in. He spoke about the energy footprint, we are in. Because, for the Armed Forces, energy sufficiency and security are not just a matter of environmental nature, they are a matter which, if achieved, will also improve the functionality and effectiveness of the Armed Forces, in order to have energy security and sufficiency at times when it's at risk. Consequently, we are also to benefit, but in any case we are in everything. Allow me to use the word "we", to include myself, because right now I am the political leader of the Armed Forces and it is my duty to be the leader of this great effort, this huge work which has always been taking place, but now will have to be intensified, because the conditions so require, because that's how we know to work.
So, once again, on behalf of the State, I would like to thank the country's Armed Forces. The social footprint must be there not for reasons of public relations of the Armed Forces with society, but in order to have a fully functional, experienced, and effective mechanism assist society, one that has always stood beside society and protected it at all levels. Congratulations once again".
In response to journalist questions, the Minister of National Defence stated the following:
Q: What are your thoughts on Confidence-Building Measures? Do you believe that they can continue and in what context? We see that Ankara doesn't back down, we see that violations continue in the Aegean, let alone in Cyprus, where provocativeness has escalated, with the drillings and everything taking place there. You went there recently and have your own opinion on the matter. How do you see this thing going forward? Have you contacted the Turkish Defence Minister, Mr. Akar? Have you talked? And if you're thinking about a meeting, what will you talk about?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: As a matter of principle, you should know that Confidence-Building Measures are not a mechanism that can establish 100% peaceful and harmonious relations between the two countries. These matters will be dealt with through other channels and at other levels. The discussion on Confidence-Building Measures is an open communication channel between the two countries – I said so before Parliament the other day, during the presentation of the programme statements, in response to a question by Mr. Loverdos – which, in any case, even in case of tension, should remain open, because it is a way to communicate, even at a lower level.
That's how we see it and that's why we think that this communication channel should remain open in any case. It is to the benefit of both countries. It does not cause any harm to the interests of either country. But, beyond that, depending on our neighbour's overall behaviour, we will obviously evaluate how active this channel will be because the fact that this communication channel remains open, within the framework of the Confidence-Building Measures dialogue, doesn't mean that Greece is compliant, submissive, or anything like that. It just communicates with the other side. How this matter will develop clearly depends also on the overall behaviour of our neighbour.
So, we keep our reservations as to whether to upgrade or downgrade it. We will see how it goes from now on. But the takeaway is that, in our opinion, as a matter of principle, it is important that this channel remains open. Beyond that, we will see. Of course we monitor Turkey's provocative behaviour and we are fully alert concerning the illegal and abusive, as we have repeatedly said, surveys in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus. It is the Exclusive Economic Zone of a European Union member state, so this matter concerns the European Union as a whole, not just Cyprus or us. And, of course, we will bring the troubling aspects of this matter to everyone, to all for a, to our international alliances, to our allies, to our partners, to everyone. But, beyond that, as I have already said, we are concerned, we are not afraid, and we are always alert.
Q: Will you meet with the Turkish Minister? Have you had any contacts?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I will. We haven't set a specific date yet. We will definitely meet within the framework of the Meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence in October, if I'm not mistaken, in Brussels, for an unofficial meeting, as is usual. If necessary, we will see if we can meet sooner, but right now that's the only meeting in the books.
Q: Mr. Minister, let's get back to today's subject, the environment and social contribution; as it was mentioned during the presentation, the value of life is priceless. But the cost has to come from our meagre defence budget? Do the other state authorities pay their share? Do they owe a lot to the Ministry? How is the situation?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: I will answer more broadly and, if necessary, the Chief of Defence will step in. A few years ago, I was in Brussels for an Inter-parliamentary Meeting of Members of the National Parliaments of all member states on migration. Each delegate had three minutes for his/her presentation. That's when I realised the very aggressive stance of certain countries, mainly from central and Northern Europe towards what this country has to endure and manage. Because, whatever you do, you can't change geography. And I told them that, many times, the distance from the problem leads to a detachment from the problem. But this is a matter of overall solidarity of the European Union member states to one another. I also told them that, rushing to rescue a person from drowning at sea is not a matter of seamanship or national position, it is a matter of human decency. A fellow SYRIZA MP I was with told me "I will take you to my party", I told him that this is a national position. I have always believed in it, we all believe in it. What would we do? Let them drown? Let them die on these islands? I know that this causes wear and tear to the assets, but it also saves human lives.
This country has chosen that, during peacetime, it will sustain some wear and tear of its floating craft and air assets to carry out its humanitarian duty and this is not a matter of political stance, left, right, or otherwise, it is a main political choice.
Of course we realise that there is wear and tear. Of course we will put pressure on the other State authorities to carry their share of the burden. We, as Ministry, as Armed Forces, intervene where others can't. It would be great if it was possible to find smart solutions, in harmonious cooperation with the other authorities and Ministries, to see how the needs met today by the Armed Forces can tomorrow be met by the other State authorities. Look, we have this matter: in the end, the Armed Forces are the projection of the organised, functional, and effective State we would like, but never cared to have, at all levels. The reasons for that are another story – and a very long one.
But, in any case, this is us. The organised State should be characterised by distribution of duties, professionalism during the performance of these duties, work, and result, across the board. Due to the discipline and the mission of the Armed Forces – and the relevant professionalism – this is the case for us and it is confirmed by the assistance we have provided and continue to provide to deal with natural disasters, in the area of aeromedical evacuations, healthcare, environmental actions, contribution to the refugee – migration issue, etc.
This is not the main mission of the Armed Forces, as you know, but, during peacetime, it is a very important mission and we must realise this. Our goal is to have a consensus with the other State authorities and rest assured that, from now on, we will do this more intensively because, among others, we want all Armed Forces elements and assets to be in the condition they should so that they can, at any time, fulfil their main mission, which is the high level deterrent power and protection of our country. But, during peacetime, there is also the social work. I come from a social welfare Ministry, the Ministry of Labour, Social Security, and Social Solidarity. I value this kind of actions very much.
Q: Mr. Minister, are you thinking about rationalising this part? Yesterday, for example, a helicopter was transporting a patient from Preveza to Rio, the helicopter broke down, and the doctors requested a C-27 aircraft from Athens to land in Araxos, pick them up from there, and take them to Preveza. I would also like to ask something else about the Turks. There is information, previous statements, I would say, by Turkish officials saying that they intend to send "Fatih" in August, even in early August, south of Kastelorizo. Does our country have a "red line" against such a case?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: To your second question, I say that we monitor and process all options in order to have the appropriate level of response in any case. I can't say anything more at the moment, but the only thing we can do is monitor and bring the matter to the attention of the international community. I think everyone understands it. During the past few days, I met with the US side, the Ambassador and the Secretary of State who visited us the other day, a high-ranking NATO official, the Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, and other Ambassadors and we agreed, because now everyone agrees, that it is they who have a wrong and provocative behaviour, it is they who create tension and instability in the region, not we. The others. This has been realised by everyone. So, I think that this matter will be dealt with at a higher level, not of course with war, but with all necessary actions, with recommendations to Turkey. But, in the end of the day, we examine all options in order to have appropriate responses. Like I said, without fear, with composure.
Q: Excuse me, Mr. Minister, what about the second part?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: It's like I said before, we understand that we have an open balance here. On one hand, the wear and tear sustained by the Armed Forces assets, air assets, floating craft, etc. and the impact on their overall readiness and, on the other hand, the needs to carry out this social mission. That's why we will meet with all competent Ministries to examine smart solutions, as we announced during the presentation of the programme statements. The goal is to fulfil the mission. We would like others to be able to fulfil it so we don't have to. But if others can't do it, that's where we step in. This is the puzzle I must solve.
Q: Mr. Minister, what is the Ministry's most urgent priority in terms of armaments, Greek-Turkish relations, training, deterrent power, or in any case whatever you think should take priority right now?
N. PANAGIOTOPOULOS: Look, I think we described in enough detail the priorities and the five pillars of our policy during the presentation of our programme statements. Of course we are concerned about enhancing the country's defence capabilities and this requires interventions at the level of planning and initiation of armament programmes. The current situation, the problems and the needs have been identified and priorities have been planned. We couldn't do this, and we are glad to do this, I should say, in cooperation with the military leadership. We listen to the military leadership's recommendations. Their briefing was intensive and most comprehensive. The Prime Minister also has a full image, since he visited us soon after taking office exactly for this reason, not for a fancy ceremony. Ceremony is, of course, part of the visit, but our main goal was to explain to him exactly what is going on, the matters, and how we can proceed from now on to make a good planning.
There are short-, medium-, and long-term priorities. We now move forward with more organised and diligent planning, planning long-term. But there are also immediate priorities. There are already programmes in progress. We will help run these better. We will help run these faster, if possible. This will undoubtedly require interventions in the existing legal framework on procurements, which we are examining right now to see what it's problems are and how we could do this process faster and better. The goal is to run things faster, it has been set by my superiors, but it will trickle down across all levels of the leadership and, of course, the result will be evaluated for all levels of the leadership. But I think we have an image of where we are and where we want to go. We have identified the needs of all three Services. All three Services have needs, so programming and prioritisation are very important. I can't say more right now but, as you understand, we are examining this matter more comprehensively and we will move in a more organised manner in the short, medium, and long run.
Our goal is to be at the best possible level, operationally and functionally. We will never reach 100%. No Armed Forces are at 100% anywhere, but our goal is to enhance our capabilities and this is our way forward.