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Hellenic Republic Ministry of National Defence

Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget

Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget
Speech by the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos at the Plenary Session of the Parliament during the Discussion for the 2021 Budget

On Sunday, 13 December 2020, the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos delivered a speech at the plenary session of the Hellenic Parliament regarding the bill “Ratification of the State Budget for the fiscal year 2021”.

Below is the Minister of National Defence's first address:

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Parliament,

In the language of the economists, there is a term that accompanies every prediction – at in theory – for prospective growth, recession, boosting or reduction of supply and demand; this term is “ceteris paribus” and it translates as “all other things being unchanged” or, if you may, “on condition that all other things shall remain the same”. For example, an expansionist fiscal policy x may boost demand and that in turn may bring growth “ceteris paribus”, if all other things remain the same. All self-respecting reputable economists who honour their discipline know that this is not the case in practice. In the real world, things change, they often change all at once, either going up or down. Thus, the respective predictions change and need to be reviewed.

However the year soon leaving, the year 2020, will be remembered (not only by economists) as the year when everything changed so drastically, so unexpectedly, so dramatically, so globally, and so much for the worse, that every prediction, every planning of every economic staff needed to be violently readjusted according to the pandemic and the double crisis it brought: the health crisis and the consequent economic crisis, at global level.

Supply and demand were hit simultaneously and globally. This is an unprecedented situation, resulting in the worst global recession since the end of WWII.

I have noticed during the past few days that the arguments used by the Opposition look as if all these things have not happened, or as if they are insignificant. Nonetheless, everything turned upside down due to this unprecedented global phenomenon. The Greek economy could not be an exception to that, whether we like it or not.

The Government and the economic staff reacted persistently in order to mitigate the impact of the negative effects on the economy. It is not easy at all, yet funds already flow, or are planned to flow, into the country from the EU Recovery Plan. In order to tackle the crisis, though, the State also made available an amount of €31.5 bn to protect society and help the struggling private sector survive.

International markets trust the Greek economy. The European authorities assess positively the country’s performance and prospects, investments begin little by little – yet they are flagship, as they come from world-class business groups; it is true that budgeting in times of absolute global fluidity and uncertainty is a very difficult delicate balancing act, between inevitably dwindling revenue, inevitably booming expenses in order to successfully tackle the health crisis, mitigate the adverse effects on the economy, create the conditions for recovery, return to normality.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Parliament,

as if what I already said was not enough, 2020 is also a year of increased geopolitical uncertainty.

A series of escalating challenges and security threats in our broader region, focused mainly on the offensive –as to its tone–, unlawful –as to International Law–, and directly threatening –as to of our country’s sovereign rights–, not to say destabilising –as to the broader region– behaviour of our neighbour Turkey, induce the need for an immediate, intensive, and systematic enhancement of the Hellenic Armed Forces’ deterrent power. Since March, with the events in Evros, and henceforth, the Armed Forces have been in a state of extended alert, with three full mobilisations last summer.

I have said it before from this floor that “now is the time to reinforce our Armed Forces”. Despite the concerns expressed by members of the Opposition, on the subject of cutting defence expenditures in the respective discussion we had last year, I would like to remind you that this year, the Ministry of Defence’s budget was increased, in cooperation with the State General Accounting Office and the competent Minister, by €370 m in order to meet the needs of a single body for border surveillance and any pressing operating costs of the General Staffs due to the increased and extended state of alert, to name only a few.

Yet, the 2021 Budget, as to its defence expenditures, is a completely different case. 2020 was the year of preparation for the next day, the year during which, through difficult conditions caused by multi-level crises and tension, a complete, costed, and prioritised plan was prepared, so as to reinforce the Armed Forces with assets and personnel. A plan prepared by the Ministry of National Defence, according to the proposals made by the General Staffs, under the supervision and coordination of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, with regard to needs and priorities. A plan agreed upon with the financial staff, as to its fiscal pragmatism, which was finally approved by the Prime Minister who, a few months ago at the Thessaloniki International Fair, announced the main package for the upgrade of the country’s defence capabilities. Therefore, true to its word and fully aware of the critical geopolitical circumstances, the Government, led by the Prime Minister, increases the Ministry of National Defence’s budget from 3.35 bn in 2020 to 5.44 bn in 2021, thus returning to the expenditure levels of the 2000 – 2010 period.

After a decade of “disinvestment”, stagnancy, and faulty planning, which resulted in a decrease of the defence expenditures by 75% compared to the previous decade, including of course the financial hardships, now the time for a reboot has come. I believe that, even under the direst financial conditions, there would be room for the acquisition of new torpedoes, a programme with a cost of approximately €100 m, fully achievable even under the direst financial conditions, with proper planning; or, the depreciation of certain weapon systems of the Armed Forces, such as the Mirage 2000-5, which lacked spare parts since 2012 until recently, since a contract for their follow-on support with spare parts had not concluded.

For this Government, the country’s security and the determined protection of its sovereign rights are non-negotiable elements of its policy; facing a more provocative and more equipped Turkey, we simply will not take the risk.

In particular, the Ministry’s total budget for 2021 is increased by €2.1 bn or 63% compared to this year, subject to additional increase during the year from the special reserves, in cooperation with the State General Accounting Office. The funds for salaries are increased by 4.8% or €110 m in absolute figures, compared to 2020, amounting at €2.4 bn.

These include:

  • A provision for additional Armed Forces personnel with the recruitment of 1,600 Professional Soldiers and 1,000 Short-time Reenlistment Soldiers. The General Staffs are currently processing the related notices, which will be published in early 2021. These are part of thirteen thousand new recruitments over a five-year period, aiming at the age renewal and quality upgrade of Armed Forces personnel.

  • From the next academic year and for five years, 1,335 cadets will be admitted to the Officer and NCO Academies each year, compared to 819 cadets in the previous years, in order to produce pilots for the new aircraft, captains for the new ships, and operators for the new, upgraded weapon systems of the Armed Forces. We are talking about a total of 2,580 additional personnel in five years, the true force multiplier of the Armed Forces.

  • Funds for the Ministry of National Defence’s operational expenses remain the same as last year, amounting at 480 m Euro.

  • Finally, funds for armaments sharply increase, since an increase by approximately 2 bn or 375%, compared to this year’s funds, is provided. These total 2.52 bn, in order to meet the needs for support and upgrade of existing weapon systems, as well as to acquire new ones.

Already within the year 2021, the following programmes will be ongoing: the programme to acquire the French “Rafale” fighter, along with its weapons and follow-on support contract, the programme to acquire four multirole frigates, and the mid-life upgrade programme for the existing four MEKO class frigates, the upgrade and replenishment of submarine torpedoes, the purchase of new, modern “Romeo” helicopters with excellent anti-submarine capabilities, new anti-tank weapons for the Army, new guided missiles for the Air Force and the Navy, the national rifle and national vehicle programmes with significant added value for the domestic defence industry.

At the same time, lingering problems regarding system upgrades and support are resolved; for example:

  • The F-16 and their weapons upgrade and support contract, i.e. the F-16 Block 52+ to Viper and the Block 50 to Block 52+, respectively, after the Viper.

  • The C-130 support contract and the C-27 support contract; the transport aircraft fleet should not be grounded to that great an extent, yet this requires the signing of a support contract, and this is what will be done.

  • The “Apache” helicopter and all operationally necessary weapon systems support contract, some of which were left in the lurch, without a support contract, with obvious negative results as to their operational availability.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

we can talk about the beginning of a new era for the country’s Armed Forces, on the basis of a long-term, carefully organised and executed plan. The comparison to the recent past is clear:

  • 2015 – 2019 period: 54 financed subprogrammes amounting at €2.6 bn.

  • July 2019 – present, i.e. 17 months since the day we took office: 48 financed subprogrammes amounting at €830 m.

We continue with the large programmes, 105 subprogrammes amounting at 11.5 bn for the next 6-7 years, which have already been planned.

This planned armament programme, the greatest one, in terms of yearly planning and budgeting in the past decades, will be implemented quickly and transparently, starting with the contract for the “Rafale” aircraft, which will be introduced to Parliament in the following days.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Parliament,

I shall conclude my speech at this point; thank you Mr. Speaker for bearing with me, however I believe that what I said is exceptionally important these days. A lot of hard work is being done at the MoD, not only as far as the armaments are concerned, and it is done without fanfare. Through the tool of Defence Diplomacy, we extend and deepen our cooperation and strategic relations with countries such as the United States, France, Egypt, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, thus enhancing our geopolitical position.

We promote action programmes in the European Structural Funds, with integrated projects worth 84 m Euro, but also projects to be integrated worth 120 m, focusing on actions such as the energy upgrade and energy saving at Armed Forces structures. We support the task of Civil Protection, we support and contribute to the Ministry of Health in its difficult struggle to control the pandemic.

The Armed Forces help wherever they can, in any way they can. The personnel deserve a heartfelt thank you for their ethos, their morale, their professionalism, and the efficiency with which they fulfil their mission. But, above all, now is the time to give them the means which will allow them to fully perform their main mission, which is to protect our country’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights. The Armed Forces know how to do their job. They have proved it, especially this year.

As political leadership of the Ministry of National Defence, under the Prime Minister’s orders, we comprehend our part of this task, our critical national mission to help the Armed Forces do their job even better, by giving them the means. This is what the Greek people want right now.

Now is the time for the National Assembly to work towards this end, with a sense of responsibility and awareness, since there are some people here who claim that they know better what the Greek people want; now is their time to prove it, by voting for the budget of the Ministry of National Defence, for better equipped and more deterrent Armed Forces, to the benefit of the country’s security.

Thank you".

 

In his replication, the Minister of National Defence Mr. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos stated the following:

I will try to reply to each one of my fellow MPs as best I can.

Mr. Tsakalotos, I did start my speech this way, using the financial term (‘ceteris paribus’), in order to show that the global pandemic was an extremely violent, unpredictable and huge event, overturning everything, not only the planning made by the Hellenic Government and financial staff, but all the Governments’ planning, globally. For this reason, everything got reviewed, since the top priority is to control the health crisis, so as to be able to proceed to control the financial crisis; it is true that, when a large part of the financial activity suffers a “sudden death”, because the world stops moving and consuming, the shock is huge and universal. The only way to return to normality is to tackle the health crisis, so that financial activity, through the movement of people, consumers, can return to normality and thus move forward.

As I said before, I did not come here to engage in a discussion which is the responsibility of the financial staff; I came to talk about Defence and to ask all the parties to support this increased Defence budget due to the need, the circumstances and the fact that, for the first time after many years, there is an organised and prioritised plan to meet the country’s defence needs.

Mr. Kegeroglou spoke of a budget reduction. In my speech, I said that last year we covered extra needs from the special reserves. The Ministry of National Defence, as it always pays and justifies its expenses, knew beforehand that it could turn to the Ministry of Finance’s special reserves for its support, as was the case when additional funds amounting at €370 m were provided to meet the needs I explained in my speech.

Our Defence Industry concerns us and we are intensively trying to help it recover. It is not of our responsibility, as we are the customers, the ones benefiting from the product or, in other cases, suffering from the lack of supply of a product from the Defence Industry. However, the effort is multi-leveled and I believe that it brings some results and things have taken their way, provided that the tendering procedures regarding the country’s defence industries are successful. One was already concluded successfully, yet we are waiting for the next day, to see how it will organise its production activity so as to attract our interest.

Mr. Pafilis, in an ideal world such things would not exist and the Armed Forces would be able to procure roses, if that would help appease the Turkish aggressiveness… It would be better, it would be more harmonious, however in order to have our Armed Forces able to provide deterrence to any aggressors, we need to enhance our weapon systems. This is the importance of our effort to design a programme to acquire new weapon systems, but also to upgrade existing ones that need an upgrade. This is how the world works and this is how any plans “for blood and war” and other sufferings are prevented by the Armed Forces’ strong deterrence.

Finally, to Mr. Chitas, I would like to say this: we do not celebrate or brag, nor do we bow our heads and weep. That is not the way for a composed Government to work. I believe that everything said in the public sphere about bragging is exaggerated.

Europe works in a certain way, slowly. I can assure you that, both at European Union, as well as at NATO level, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs is well aware of this, following the intensive and organised efforts of Greek diplomacy, Turkey is in a worse position than it was a few months ago. Right now, against everyone, in a worse position! Europe works in a certain way and we work to promote our arguments to make Europe and NATO understand the true intentions of Turkey, despite the interests that do exist and certainly affect the overall effort.

France did not “turn its back on us”, Mr. Chitas. In a few days, we will bring the agreement for the “Rafales” to Parliament. In September we agreed with the French side and in December we are bringing it to Parliament. Can you remember a speedier and more effective negotiation, with difficult terms (because, when receiving, among others, used aircraft, the negotiation between the parties is very difficult, there are many delicate points), be implemented in four months thanks to the efforts of the General Staffs, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff, the GDDIA, the Ministry? Would the French make such an important armaments deal if they id not have the good intention to help us, provide us with the aircraft, their weapons and follow-on support for many years, would we have results in three months? Was such a contract ever prepared and implemented in three months? And not three years, which was the standard until now? I wonder. Look it up and see.

Regarding the acquisition of the four frigates, no, we did not turn our backs on France. This matter is still open. The Hellenic Navy is looking for the best option based on the ability to have the best ships possible, but considering also the whole package, part of which has to do with the ships being built here, the involvement of the domestic Naval Industry and all the benefits this will have, as well as the offering of an intermediate solution that is satisfactory to the Hellenic Navy, i.e. ships that are ready, combat ready, providing deterrence, from whoever comes forward offering the best thing they have.

That is the basis of the package and we are open to all offers and discussions with anyone, certainly with the French too, but also others. This is an ongoing process and I believe that this is the next bet concerning our armaments, the acquisition of the four new multirole Frigates for our Navy.

Thank you".