Source: Republic of Greece – Foreign Affairs
JOURNALIST: George Katrougalos, thank you for being with us today on our programme. It’s a pleasure. Welcome to Moscow.
G. KATROUGALOS: The pleasure is mine.
JOURNALIST: Lots to talk about. Prime Minister Tsipras and President Putin are set to discuss the TurkStream natural gas pipeline project, which has a possible extension to Greece. I understand, Moscow is yet to decide whether this will go through Bulgaria or Greece. How do you think your Prime Minister will convince Putin that it’s more profitable for Russia to tilt towards Greece rather than Bulgaria?
G. KATROUGALOS: Well, it will not be the only issue, or maybe not even the most important issue that the leaders are going to discuss. This is not the first time that they meet. Look, we have in mind an economic model, in which Greece is becoming a hub, not just for logistics and transport, but also for energy. So, we are quite open to the possibility of having a lot of pipelines going through our soil. And I think, it’s also to the interest of the Russian Federation. We have common interests. There are some legal objections from Brussels, regarding the feasibility of that…
JOURNALIST: We’ll get to Brussels, but why, do you think, Russia should go for Greece rather than Bulgaria?
G. KATROUGALOS: There are many technical reasons regarding the feasibility aspects of the project. We have better infrastructure than our neighbours. But ok, this is up to the Russian Federation to decide.
JOURNALIST: Ok, let’s talk about Brussels. Your prime minister has also been talking to Brussels about Greece getting a TurkStream pipeline. Do you think he can push it through? Do you think, Brussels will agree and support this?
G. KATROUGALOS: There are many similarities between the legal conditions regarding North Stream and TurkStream. So, and as we always say, whatever happens with the first should apply to the other. So it’s not a difficult situation for us. What we say to the European Commission is that we must have the same standards.
JOURNALIST: Then there’s Hungary, which is also hoping to benefit from the project and is demanding from Brussels to ‘stop putting spokes in its wheel’. Do you think this is what Brussels is doing – putting spokes in the wheel?
G. KATROUGALOS: You should ask the Hungarians about that.
JOURNALIST: Yes, but you’re an observer.
G. KATROUGALOS: We’re not an observer. The European Union is our home. But what we’re also trying to do is to build bridges between European Union and Russia, which has traditional ties of friendship with us. What we’re trying to do is mutually beneficial not just for us and the Russian Federation, but for the European Union as well.
JOURNALIST: I wouldn’t expect any other answer from a foreign minister. For us it’s interesting to observe how different members of the European Union, within this big EU family, are maneuvering or reacting to this or that project, especially the gas pipelines when it comes to Russia. Because you know that historically the gas pipelines that go from Russia to Europe have met opposition and resistance, like, for instance, the South Stream pipeline, another gas project, went down due to the EU Commission opposition…
G. KATROUGALOS: Look, we have some fundamentals in our foreign policy: to respect international law, European law and law in general. But besides that, we believe that the only way to settle disputes is through political dialogue and also by building economic ties. Therefore, we regard economic diplomacy as a natural complement of ‘normal’, political diplomacy. We do not believe that the ‘Russophobia’ that exists in some minds today, is the right way to treat the differences between the European Union and Russia.
JOURNALIST: Then, there’s the German approach, for instance. When Brussels and Washington were scolding Germany for building the North Stream 2, the Germans argued “you know what, we’ll take care of this on our own, thank you”, they were very firm about it. Do you think Greece can have a same sort of position if it is pressured from Brussels?
G. KATROUGALOS: Brussels is not pressing – Brussels has legal opinions. And you know that if you have two lawyers sometimes you have three opinions. But this case it’s not so much about the judicial aspect, it’s more about interests. The European Union, like Russia has interests. We’re very much aligned with Germany on this. And we’re very much aligned with the position that, whatever happens with the North Stream there’s no reason for it not to happen with the TurkStream and any other pipeline in the same legal position.
JOURNALIST: TurkStream right now is a hot topic for Russia, that’s why I’m talking about it so much. Ok, you’re saying that there’s no pressure from Brussels. Just legal points of view. But there are certainly a lot of opinions coming from America. For instance, America is saying that the TurkStream is threatening Europe’s energy security. But the pipeline will be able to supply 31.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Europe. When America tells Europe not to have that, does it have an understanding of Europe’s energy needs?
G. KATROUGALOS: Well, the United States have their own opinion. But if you compare the amount of gas that’s going through North Stream and the amount of gas that is going to pass through TurkStream, you’ll realise that a very small percentage corresponds to the latter. So, if we are to take into account the American concerns, what is important is the North Stream, not the TurkStream. If there are political concerns of others, the decision’s up to us Europeans to see to our interests and through our own legal framework.
JOURNALIST: But you started this interview saying that you think Greece should be like a hub, that there should be multiple pipelines going through Greece. And the U.S. is saying that the TurkStream project won’t increase energy diversification. Meanwhile, the United States is offering natural gas, which is more expensive than what Greece is currently getting. Do you think Greece is willing to pay the price gap for diversification?
G. KATROUGALOS: This is exactly my point. I said that our home is the European Union, but we are trying to follow a multidimensional economic and political diplomacy. When I’m saying is that we want to be a energy hub of many pipelines. I have in mind pipelines coming from the Caspian, pipelines coming from the Middle East…
JOURNALIST: East Med?
G. KATROUGALOS: EastMed. I also have in mind the possibilities of receiving energy from the United States. This is the position we have. We want to be a kind of a natural bridge between Asia, Africa, Europe, and this is to the benefit of everybody and not against the interests of anybody else.
JOURNALIST: I want to talk a little bit about East Med, and I want to understand the logic a little more. This East Med is also supposed to run through Greece from Israel, but the TurkStream 2 will deliver gas sooner and cheaper. Does it make sense to build another pipeline just for diversification, when the needs of gas supply are met?
G. KATROUGALOS: We’re speaking about economic diplomacy and not just about gains and losses, exactly because in issues like the energy security -what the national economies are going to win, strategic interests, legal framework, European law- all that is intertwined and cannot be dealt with in as isolated. And one of the reasons we want to have this multidimensional economic diplomacy is exactly because we want to have, at the political level, a multidimensional diplomacy, in order also to to protect our national interests. I think we’re quite serious and not in contradiction with ourselves when we’re following these goals.
JOURNALIST: In May The European Commission and Gazprom reached an agreement, which obliges Gazprom to provide as much gas as needed, at competitive prices to Europe. With this agreement reached, with the European supply now cheap and secure, is the diversification still an issue?
G. KATROUGALOS: Yes, diversification is always an issue. It’s like if you’re an investor -you do not want to put all your money in one project, even if it is a blue chip. You must have the possibility to enjoy a diversity of energy resources, so that any political turmoil wont potentially have a serious impact on your national interests.
JOURNALIST: You know, sanctions are sour point for us, Russians. The European countries are united on the question of anti-Russian sanctions, whether they be friendly towards Russia or not, they all are for anti-Russia sanctions. But when it comes to gas, they don’t mind having a piece of the Gazprom pie. Does it make a little bit harder to argue for sanctions when you’re at the same time getting…?
G. KATROUGALOS: I will not agree with, first of all, saying that all European countries have, let’s say, the same standing on this issue. Once the decision is taken, all of us must respect it because, as I said, the European Union is our common home, and the rule-based diplomacy must apply for everybody. Respecting decisions is part of the rules. But every time Greece discusses, in the organs of the European Union, the issue of sanctions, we always argue that sanctions are not productive and that the only productive way to re-incorporate Russia in the European system of security- which is our common ultimate goal- is through political dialogue. We’re, therefore, trying to be very constructive with this, be the real bridge between the European Union and Russia. But, I repeat, once a decision is taken, it should be respected.
JOURNALIST: I want to talk about Cyprus a little bit, because it also could become another gas producer in the region and has already announced drilling plans. But Turkey obviously has a problem with that. It says, actually, to stay away from Cypriot gas until a political solution is found for the divided island. But, do you think, maybe, the economic benefits from drilling can help find a political solution quicker?
G. KATROUGALOS: There is only one thing that takes precedence over the national interests of states, and this is International Law. Because it’s only through respect of international law that we can have an organized international community. Hence, what the Cypriot Republic is exactly doing is exercising its rights, its sovereign rights, which are in conformity with International Law and especially the Law of the Sea. And the reaction of Turkey’s is not something understandable. Explained by reasons of different conflicting interests, it’s something that everybody should reject, exactly because it’s in violation of International Law. So, on issues like these, it’s not if something is profitable or not, it is about if it is legal or not.
JOURNALIST: So you have said, I am quoting your right now, that Ankara’s reaction to this issue is “erratic”, and it’s a demonstration of weakness. Does Athens have a stronger position on this issue, and can it push Ankara?
G. KATROUGALOS: I am really flattered that I am quoted by you, but…
JOURNALIST: I prepared well for the interview, did you not see that?
G. KATROUGALOS: It’s obvious. What I said is that when you’re provocative, when it is clear that you are trying to, let’s say, project power, this is really an implicit proof that you are not strong, that you’re weak. And the weakness is exactly in this activity that goes against International Law. And it is not just us that say that. In March this year, the European Council, the Council of the leaders of the European Union, characterized as illegal, as contrary to International Law, such practices of Turkey. And when I am talking about a weakness on the part of our neighbours -with whom we want to have a peaceful relation- is exactly a weakness stemming from the fact that they’re acting against International Law. And they’re isolated because of this practice.
JOURNALIST: So another issue in the relations between Athens and Ankara is Greek territorial waters. Greece wants to expand their maritime borders, according to the UN convention that would, actually, give it the right to do so – but Ankara is saying: “Well, we haven’t signed this Convention”, so they’re not having any of that. How far is Greece willing to push with this? I mean, this could create a pretty nervous situation, no?
G. KATROUGALOS: You said that this stems from the international treaty, that is has been signed now by practically all countries of the world, besides Turkey…
JOURNALIST: But Turkey!
G. KATROUGALOS: But Turkey, exactly. And, you know that International Law, as it is said, is the sum of a general acceptance of rules that becomes law not just by treaty, but also by custom, customary law. So we consider that Turkey has a duty to respect our sovereign right to expand our territorial waters. But there is something more than that, and this is a demonstration of my claim that Turkey is not acting within international law. Turkey, not recently, to be exact, by decision of its National Assembly that dates back some decades, said that they regard as casus belli the exercise of our inalienable right to extend our territorial waters. This threat of use of violence is against something even more fundamental than the Law of the Sea: the Charter of the United Nations. If we want to have a peaceful cooperation, then the absolute necessity, the condition, is not to consider war as a possibility of advancing politics by other means. And every nation that threatens a neighbor with war, with use of violence, by this act, it’s putting itself out of the international legal order.
JOURNALIST: So, according to some recent reports, Greece is also seeking to invoke the mutual assistance clause of the Lisbon Treaty, to stress that its maritime borders are also those of the EU. How willing do you think Brussels will be to back you on that?
G. KATROUGALOS: This is an idea of President Macron that we are backing. He’s speaking about European sovereignty, that has as basis the Article of the EU Treaty -Article 42 paragraph 7- which similar to the Article 5 of NATO, that says practically that every European country which comes under attack, has the right to ask the assistance of its allies, of the members of the European Union. We consider it a self-evident obligation of the European Union to protect its borders, because the borders of the European Union are the borders of all country-members. And this is one of the reasons that we are supporting European defence capacity. Recently, President Macron and Chancellor Merkel spoke about a European army. Maybe it’s early to speak about that, but this vision of a Europe which protects its member states and its citizens, is a vision of Europe that we share with France.
JOURNALIST: But from whom? You have NATO. What do you need your army for?
G. KATROUGALOS: NATO did not protect us up untill now from threats like these, exactly because Turkey is also a member of NATO.
JOURNALIST: So do you think a European army would be an alternative to NATO?
G. KATROUGALOS: No. European defence is going to be complementary to NATO. We remain members of NATO and one of the few members that comply with the obligation to pay 2% of their budget for defence. But as I said, we do not want to have an alliance against Turkey, this is not our rationale. What we want is to be friends with Turkey. But that presupposes respect, mutual respect of law. We cannot be friends if we do not have agreement on the rules that we’re going to follow.
JOURNALIST: You know what I always wondered, I mean, you, Greece and Turkey, are both members of NATO. Do you think that’s what, essentially, keeps you away from a military confrontation with each other?
G. KATROUGALOS: I don’t think that Turkey has in mind a military confrontation, that would be suicidal. And in any case, what we want is to engage them in a dialogue which has, as final goal, to resolve our issues exactly by peaceful means through political dialogue. And we hope that we can achieve such a goal.
JOURNALIST: I want to talk a bit about the migrant crisis, and Greece has been hit very hard by the influx of migrants into Europe. But then the EU-Turkey refugee deal, sort of, eased the burden for Greece. Could antagonising Turkey actually lead to the failure of this agreement, return of the crisis, maybe?
G. KATROUGALOS: No, no. This agreement between the European Union and Turkey is, exactly, a useful example of how cooperation between European Union and Turkey, between us and Turkey, can be mutually beneficial. Of course, migration cannot be treated as a national issue, it is a global issue. And especially within the confines of the European Union, it should be treated as a European one. This aspect of our way of thinking -a collective way of engaging everybody- is something that we think will finally be beneficial, again, for everybody.
JOURNALIST: Looking westwards now, the Greek economy is yet to fully recover from all the bailout trauma it went through, and a lot of banks are still in heavy debts. Are you confident in the country, do you think it is steering through and staying afloat?
G. KATROUGALOS: Yes. Now we have fully recovered, we have 6 consecutive quarters of growth, last quarter we had a growth of 2.2%. Projections for next year are for a growth of 2.5%. Of course, we still have in the Greek society the accumulation of 8 years of misery, but we’re starting to leave all that behind us. And not just economically. Getting out of the programs of readjustment is also a return to full democratic control of the fate of our nation. So, both at the levels of democracy and economy, we have really turned a page after August.
JOURNALIST: SYRIZA has been brought to power in Greece by disillusioned voters fed up with regular faces in politics. Do you think all of this… you are part of a common pan-European trend of shaking up the conventional establishment?
G. KATROUGALOS: It is not just the Greek voters, the Greek citizens, that are feeling disenchanted by what’s happening in Europe. Even the European Commission…
JOURNALIST: That’s what I’m saying, it’s a huge pan-European movement.
G. KATROUGALOS: I am re-confirming that, and I am saying that even the European Commission in its recent White Book on the future of Europe, argues that we are the first generation of Europeans who fear that our children are going to have a worse life than we do. And we see this feeling in the recent situation in France, in the -let’s say- reversal of the political system in countries that we considered to be very politically-stable. So, what is for sure is that this dismantlement of the welfare state, this explosion of inequalities cannot continue like that. The real question is whether these challenges will be met by a progressive response -as the one that we are trying to build in European alliance with other powers, of Ecology, of Social Democracy- or whether these dark forces that aspire to return Europe in a golden nationalistic past that never existed, are going to prevail again. Therefore, we are speaking about two Europes that are going to face each other in the next European elections. And we believe that the Europe of progress, of openness, of human rights and freedoms is going to prevail.
JOURNALIST: So… Why do you think that in Greece, the popular discontent movement actually resulted in a left government, and then everywhere else in Europe in the right, Trump-style?
G. KATROUGALOS: Well, it is not universal, what we are saying… Look at what’s happening in the UK, or even at the United States. This feeling of the working class that their demands are not met, it -as I said- can be faced either by the left of by the right. I was reading in the Wall Street Journal a poll saying that for the first time socialism is not a bad word for the Americans. This is something new. If you look at the program of Corbyn, or Sanders, you’re going to see their political positions some years ago would have been considered suicidal for those who state them. So, I trust that we can have in all counties, especially in those Meccas of international capitalism, real responses for the big majority, for the working class and the middle class.
JOURNALIST: George Katrougalos, thank you for this interview, and good luck with everything.
G. KATROUGALOS: Thank you.