Will the F-16 upgrade be economically advantageous to Greece?
We are still in negotiations. We haven’t signed anything, nor is there any agreement, which will have to go through the Parliament anyway. We only sent a "Letter of Request" with the Hellenic Armed Forces’ and the Air Force’s request for the upgrade of the F-16 fleet or part thereof. That’s what we presented to the Parliament too.
At the same time, we expressed our wish to receive pricing for a new generation aircraft. That may be the F-35, or it could be another aircraft selected by the Americans, which will of course be evaluated by our Air Force. It is clear that we have set a ceiling, based on the budget and our capabilities: to pay in 10 to 15 years an amount not to exceed €1.1 bn. That is €100 mil per year from an annual budget of €400 mil for the Hellenic Armed Forces. And of course, due to Greece’s particularly important geostrategic position and its military co-operation with the US and third countries, such as Israel, Egypt, Jordan, we can request financing through military assistance programmes.
So, we can’t talk about a specific agreement at this point. During the negotiations, we can’t provide details either. You understand, it is not to our best interest to go public with military information on what will be upgraded, which could be used by Turkey.
What process will be followed for this agreement? Will there be any offsets?
I would like to assure you that all this will take place through interstate agreement procedures, without intermediaries. If there are offsets, they will be used solely for certain needs of the Armed Forces through the Hellenic Defence Industry. There will be no offsets like those of the past, which were essentially hiding bribes.
One of the offset programmes we have discussed is the repair, spare parts, and full support of the Hellenic Navy’s Sikorsky helicopters, which are made by the same company. We have also discussed the participation of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry, which will participate in the project together with other Greek companies, even without offsets. Beyond that, we expressed our wish to bring to Greece maintenance and training activities, which will contribute to the growth of the Hellenic Aerospace Industry.
What did you agree on in the US about the Souda Bay base?
The fact is that we renewed for an additional year the preexisting agreement regarding the Souda Bay base. There are some NATO projects in progress, which provide great benefits to the Greek Souda Bay base.
We have facilities that provide easier access to NATO ships, but also help the Hellenic Armed Forces, such as the Greek naval station, which can harbour and provide repair work to ships.
We do not have anything In particular signed or agreed upon. Our intention is to have a closer co-operation, on condition of course that Greece will never accept nuclear weapons on its soil (this is a standard policy of the country followed by all governments) and that the Greek bases will never be used for an attack against a third country. These are given facts, but beyond that, the co-operation can extend to other needs, within the framework of the participation in the Alliance.
Looking at the government’s legislative work on matters beyond the economy and the negotiation, there is a feeling that it is dominated by a leftist agenda. I would like to remind you the latest bill on gender identity. Does that bother you?
It doesn’t bother us and I would like to tell you that Independent Greeks is a progressive party. The are trying to make us appear extremist, that we reject things. On the contrary. We voted for the bill in principle. However, there are certain matters, such as the 15 year age limit, on which we have our objections, which we express democratically within the framework of the government and the Parliament.
Indeed there are changes to be done, pretty progressive changes, but these must be done gently, in order to prevent reactions, and Greece must accept a new reality. There are disagreements mainly on matters raised by the Church, and from the start we said that we have a few objections. But we are not bishops, OK? Let’s be clear on that. When a matter does not require our intervention, in our opinion, we will not intervene, and we don’t. Because we have the ability to shape commonly acceptable proposals. You saw it with the modification on Thrace, it was voted even by New Democracy…
New Democracy has labelled you as a far-rightist…
Look, the neofascists that joined New Democracy from LAOS, the supporters of Nazis, the dictatorship, and recently of the restoration of monarchy – Moustaklis will roll around in his grave with these – clearly prove that my personal decision to follow Kostas Karamanlis’ line of no co-operation with extremists and leave New Democracy, to be expelled because I would not stand being in the same party as Voridis, Georgiadis, and Plevris, was right.
In New Democracy, and I am truly sorry because I was in New Democracy for 25 years, true power is exercised by the far right of LAOS, and Mr. Mitsotakis is essentially a honorary president. Neoliberals like Xafa and Skylakakis set the tone, leaving behind the popular, social centre-right or radical liberals. So they are the far-rightists. Let me remind you that my political career started with Kostis Stefanopoulos.
I have followed a consistent policy that has nothing to do with this far right, it is not racist, anti-Semitic, and Nazi. Independent Greeks is a centrist party. There are members who come from the centre-right, as well as former members of the "patriotic PASOK", like our vice-president, Panaghiotis Sgouridis. We represent the centre and are very far from the far right.
The Prime Minister stated in the "Efimerida ton Syntakton" newspaper that "The co-operation with Independent Greeks is not temporary". At the same time, however, he keeps making openings to the progressive space. Don’t you think these statements are contradictory?
No, they are not, in fact I would be glad if personalities from the progressive space would like to approach this government. You understand that the progressive space does not include the associates of Adonis Georgiadis and Makis Voridis in the Samaras – Venizelos government. Nor Mr. Venizelos and the likes of him.
There are worthy personalities from PASOK and the Left who, as the country exits this crisis, would make a difference if they joined us. We have no problem with co-operations and we have proven this. Because, the broadening of the basis supporting a government that leads the country out of the MoU regime and towards a new policy that fights corruption and politicians that co-operated with it to cover up each other’s scandals is welcome. Such forces must come forward and we will happily co-operate with them.
During the two and a half years of the coalition government, was there a point when your co-operation with SYRIZA was threatened?
Not once. I am convinced that, at a time when Greece needs consensus, everyone must take half a step back in order to achieve co-operation. I assure you that, during these two and a half years, we never exchanged bitter words with Alexis Tsipras. Because Alexis Tsipras is a true leader. He belongs to a different political area, but he is a leader that listens. I can tell you that he may be the first Prime Minister to do so. Because, in the past, many Prime Ministers were isolated in a closed circle. Alexis listens, not only to us, the coalition partners, but also to the citizens.
In the Armed Forces, he has made quite an impression because, whenever he attends exercises or celebrations, he discusses with enlisted soldiers, NCOs, and Officers. As he does with all citizens. He is a politician that, if he is convinced that a different view is right, he will adopt it. He proved this by turning around Greece’s image abroad. When this government rose to power in 2012, we were considered finished in Europe and elsewhere. Little by little, with patience and persistence, with seriousness and honesty, he personally managed to build personal and official relations across the globe.
It is the first time that so many great leaders visited our country during the crisis – like Presidents Obama, Putin, Holande. The bad image of the country we inherited was mainly due to Giorgos Papandreou, as well as to those who stood being slapped in the face by Juncker "as a joke". This government showed that it wants to co-operate, it wants to keep Greece in the EU and, at the same time, negotiates proudly.
But you are criticised by members of SYRIZA itself. Mr. Filis has argued many times against your actions, your origins...
To tell you the truth, we have a very good personal relationship with Mr. Filis and we often read together publications that enrage us. I will never be able to agree with Mr. Filis on religious matters, but beyond that, I believe that he was one of the most successful Ministers of Education. During his tenure, schools opened in September without any problems. He is a politician with certain views, but he is open to dialogue. He is not dogmatic. And the picture that some are trying to paint that I am constantly arguing with members of SYRIZA keeps failing.
We have our political differences, but this is the first time we have such a co-operation and everyone is ready to show good will. There is good chemistry between all government members and the coalition parties. At local level, members of SYRIZA and Independent Greeks stand together in political initiatives. We have achieved what previously was a political goal. The late Pavlos Bakogiannis spoke of national consensus.
I think that the SYRIZA – Independent Greeks government essentially marks the end of the civil war and the differences of the past. We each have our history, honour our past, but this government has shown that we can live together, put times that Greece paid dearly behind us, and deal more with our children and grandchildren and less with our grandfathers.
Your name frequently makes the front pages of newspapers. Why do you think that is?
I have been heavily attacked for a long time by media controlled by Marinakis and mainly Mr. Kourtakis, who did not hesitate to involve even my children, against all journalism ethics. I have learned not to settle in my life and I think it is my duty to democracy to be even stricter with them when they use blackmail and personal attacks, always within the framework of free speech. Let me give you an example from the press. There is a piece by Ilias Kanellis in "Ta Nea" newspaper, which is owned by Mr. Marinakis. The piece starts by mentioning an agreement in the US, which does not exist, and, in order to hurt me, states that the cadets that were attacked were uniformed. When an article is based on two lies, its purpose is to play dirty games, to slander a certain person. They also threatened with the publication of an alleged video. They threatened through twitter that within the following two hours they would publish in their newspapers or other extremist media which are part of their criminal group a video about by underage son that would destroy me. They also sent a message to Maximou and to the government that this would bring down the government. This case was reported to the DA. Such blackmail and threats will not be tolerated. I have learned not to back down, even in cases such as that of "Noor 1", where people have been murdered.
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