MIL-OSI Mediterranean: Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias’ interview in the Athens College Alumni Association magazine “Ermis”

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Source: Republic of Greece – Foreign Affairs

JOURNALIST: The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Greece’s accession to the -then- European Economic Community. How do you evaluate these years?

N. DENDIAS: The question is self-evident, but the answer is particularly difficult. Greece today is a completely different country from the one that Konstantinos Karamanlis led to join the European Economic Community. Joining the European family means taking part in one of the most ambitious projects in human history. If we recall how many wars Europe went through in the twentieth century and that there has been no war in the last seventy years thanks to the European Union, these facts alone are enough to justify the importance of the project. In Greece, a huge internal transformation took place as a result of its accession to United Europe. Of course, I have to say that due to mistakes, both our partners’ and ours, there have been problems or inability to adapt. Nevertheless, the overall assessment can only be utterly positive.

JOURNALIST: You were the first foreign minister of an EU member state to travel to Israel and the Palestinian Territories during the recent crisis. Is there a possibility for the EU to play the role of peacemaker in third countries?

N. DENDIAS: The EU should have such a role. Europe is located in an extremely complex region, situated between Eurasia and Africa. It is the most democratic area; it protects human rights, and it is absolutely interested in the stability of the region. So far, the EU has allowed situations to arise – failed states – either in Libya or in Syria, it has allowed situations to develop in the Middle East without taking any substantial initiative, as well as instability to emerge in regions of great interest to it, such as the Caucasus. When the current European Commission took office, its President stated that it would be a geopolitical commission. That remains to be seen.

JOURNALIST: In a recent videoconference of the Foreign Policy and United Nations Association of Austria, you referred to the Greek aspiration to hold a non-permanent seat in the Security Council for the period 2025-2026. What would this mean for Greece, strategically speaking?

N. DENDIAS: It would mean bringing to the foreground our ability to intervene in a positive manner in global challenges. Greece is a country that considers the implementation of international law as its fundamental principle. That is, the existence of a system that will apply the rules of law rather than the law of the “jungle” in relations between states and nations. This geopolitical perception would be given the opportunity to be promoted through the United Nations Security Council, and that would be exceptionally helpful for both our region and the world.

JOURNALIST: What is the EU’s position on the construction of a nuclear power plant in Akkuyu by Turkey?

N. DENDIAS: There is an international framework that requires every country that builds a nuclear power plant to inform the countries of the wider region, to make sure all possible precautions are met. The Akkuyu plant is located in a very active earthquake zone. Therefore, it is clear that it should incorporate cutting-edge technology in order to avoid the devastation of both the narrow and the wider area, in case anything happens. During the last visit of the Turkish Foreign Minister, I stressed the Greek side’s concerns and Mr. Çavuşoğlu promised to ask the Russian construction company to provide us with relevant information. This would signal a change in Turkey’s attitude, from secrecy to open communication. I hope this understanding applies to other issues as well.

JOURNALIST: Why do you think the EU maintains a reluctant attitude towards Turkey’s provocative stance in the Mediterranean, while at the same time the Union has immediately taken a clear position on other issues such as the hijacking incident in Belarus?

N. DENDIAS: I think the EU by itself has not integrated into its policy the important geopolitical role it is called to play. Moreover, the contradiction of one NATO member state threatening with war another country that is both a NATO and EU member state has not been resolved. This contradiction holds some states from activating the framework that in other cases is immediately activated. A careful approach is required, but also a campaign to persuade Germany. The most powerful country in Europe should also accept its leading role in situations such as the imposition of sanctions on a NATO member state that violates international law. After the elections in Germany in September, we will have a fresh opportunity to try to reach an understanding with the new federal government.

JOURNALIST: Since the Turkish provocations are a European and not merely a Greek problem, the question arises as to why EU member states continue to arm the neighbouring country, a situation that undoubtedly burdens our country financially. Is it possible to achieve a change of stance on such issues?

N. DENDIAS: This is not unrealistic. There is an ongoing discussion between our German friends and us. There are voices in Germany with an institutional role that fully understand the problem posed to us by the export of technologically sophisticated submarines from Germany to Turkey. The contradiction is even greater if you take into account that we are obliged to keep our deficit at the 3% threshold and therefore we cannot borrow to buy weapons to deal with what the Germans or others export to the Turks. However, I think that a first explanation for the contradiction is Turkey’s NATO membership, which complicates the situation. Within the European family to which we belong, we will continue to try as much as we can to convince other countries that arms exports to Turkey, which could upset balances in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, should not be made.

JOURNALIST: What are the chances of Turkey becoming a full member of the EU? Do you think that this perspective exists, under the circumstances?

N. DENDIAS: I want to be frank. This is up to Turkish side. Greece would like the Turkish society and the Turkish government to maintain the choice of convergence and participation in the European project. Firstly, because this project has a huge value in itself, secondly, because I believe that this will be the best for Turkey and Turkish society and thirdly, because we believe that it will resolve most of the outstanding issues between Turkey and us, and with any other EU member state; but also with other countries outside the Union, as in this way Turkey will be subject to a comprehensive system of rules.

For example, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is part of the European acquis. The EU has signed it; therefore, Turkey’s membership in the EU would almost automatically resolve the only dispute between us in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. But also on issues such as human rights and minority issues, Turkey’s participation in the European acquis would create a context of cordial understanding. Unfortunately, however, Turkey is lately deviating from, than converging towards the European example.

JOURNALIST: Could the EU play an active role in resolving the Cyprus issue? To what extent should it be involved in the process of resolving the issue, which has been in its current condition for almost 50 years?

N. DENDIAS: I am sorry to say that after my last experience in Geneva, [it seems] the settlement of the Cyprus issue is put off further into the future, because Turkey appears not to accept the United Nations Security Council resolution framework and, consequently, international law, that is, the bi-communal, bi-zonal federation, which has been the common framework for Greece, Turkey, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots since 1977. And of course it still stands.

So, we are further away. The EU should have a more active role. Cyprus is a member state; therefore, the EU would have every reason to claim full participation in the process to resolve the Cyprus issue. However, the EU, demonstrating reluctancy, did not even manage to participate in the negotiations in Geneva.

JOURNALIST: How do you assess EU’s involvement in addressing the migration issue? Are there any additional steps that could have been taken at legislation or security level?

N. DENDIAS: It could have done much more. Migration is an issue of historic proportions. It was always there in the history of humankind and it will continue to be. Movements of people do not cease and if we are led to the conclusion that we can turn Europe into a “fortress”, then we are making a very big mistake.

We need to move from uncontrolled migration to controlled migration. We want young people to come to the EU. Europe has lagged behind in having rules that will allow it to attract creative young people to its territory and prevent the creation of uncontrolled flows. Of course, this is not easy to achieve. It requires a whole mechanism that entails the obligation to invest in the countries of origin, to provide education for the people in these countries, in order to prevent this uncontrolled flow, and it also requires a better return mechanism. However, the EU acts in a phobic way and not in an effective on. Of course, the problem itself is by no means simple. There is no magic solution.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to share with us a vivid memory from your years in School? Do you particularly remember any of your teachers?

N. DENDIAS: I have a vivid recollection of my expulsion, which I had to explain to my parents. But I have great memories from School. I do not hide from you that because I was a boarder, the school greatly influenced me in what I became in my life. There was a military dictatorship in Greece when I went to school. I have not forgotten how it felt to speak in fear that someone might hear what you said. In this unacceptable climate, Athens College ensured freedom of expression. There was never any “criminalization” of the opposite view, because there was no view that was considered mandatory ex cathedra. The most prominent advocate of this attitude – not the only one, but maybe the most interesting personality – was a language teacher named Nestoras Bouras, who I think was one of the best language teachers in the country. He was a very interesting personality who influenced me.

The School was established to provide Greece with the human resources that a then backward rural country on the periphery needed to develop. The country still needs quality human resources. I think a great effort should be made to realign the School in Greek society. The great risk is to become a school for the nouveau riche, for the few that can afford it. This would be tragic.

JOURNALIST: No doubt your leisure time must be extremely limited. But when you do get a little time off, is there something you like to occupy yourself?

N. DENDIAS: One needs to find the opportunity to read, because if you are cut-off from the impulses that have nothing to do with your work, then you are at risk to become “institutionalized”, which is always catastrophic.

I am reading at least one hour a day, even if this is at the expense of my sleep. These days I am reading “The inconceivable nothing”, a book by Ramphos analyzing a movement called “Philokalia”. If I were to suggest a book, it would be “Vasilis o Arvanitis” by Myrivilis, which was the first book I considered important in my life. In fact, when they required us to read it in school, I did so grudgingly, but after reading it I realized that it is a masterpiece. Mario Vitti also characterizes it a masterpiece. And if I were to suggest a film, it would be the original “Blade Runner” by Ridley Scott, starring Harrison Ford. I think it poses and provides answers to all questions on the human condition.

Beside that, to be honest, there was not any other leisure time left because of the protracted crisis. Even my summer holidays were restricted to one night. I left one evening and the other day in the morning, I had to return, because, on account of the Turks, naval forces were sent to the Eastern Mediterranean.

JOURNALIST: During the COVID 19 pandemic what is it that you miss the most from life as we used to know it?

N. DENDIAS: Social interaction and human contact. We are a Mediterranean country, we are not Scandinavians. Bodily contact is a large part of our lives. People shake hands in the last five centuries. Handshakes began in the Middle Ages to attest that you are not armed. It has been established throughout the Western world and suddenly a pandemic breaks out and what once was cordiality, now it stops. The way someone shakes his hand is an indication of his character. It matters.

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