Lundi 22 Avril 2019  

N°124 - Quatrième trimestre 2018

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  S.E.M. / H.E. Dimitrios Paraskevopoulos

Spearheading EU Diplomatic Efforts


Greece, having one of the most dynamic economies in the EU, is right in the center of Europe’s biggest geopolitical challenges: successfully integrating the Balkans and Turkey, and stabilizing the Middle East. H.E. Dimitri Paraskevopoulos, the Ambassador of Greece to France and a former director of Foreign Affairs Minister’s Cabinet, talks to our readers about the high-stake goals of Hellenic diplomacy.

The Diplomatic Letter: Mr. Ambassador, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis has made great strides since winning election in June 2004. Two years after taking office, he pumped fresh life into the Greek government by reshuffling his cabinet. Could you tell us what he hopes to achieve by this move, and outline his top priorities?


H.E. Dimitri Paraskevopoulos: Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis reshuffled his cabinet on 16 February 2006, with the aim of pushing forward with even greater determination and speeding up the implementation of the reforms needed, especially as concerns the economy, education, health care, and state-owned companies. Thus, the government is laying firm foundations for developing the economy, and is intently implementing its plan to rationalize public services and to streamline the bureaucratic apparatus, in order to create a more effective and more citizen-oriented government.


T.D.L.: The Greek economy has posted average annual growth rates above 4% since 1999, making it more dynamic than the average European economy. What is the government doing to keep the economy expanding and still respect the budget restraints imposed by the drive to catch up with the standard of living in other EU-15 member countries? Has it taken steps to make the economy more competitive and make it easier for companies to do business in Greece?


H.E.D.P.: The government lowered corporate taxes after the 2004 Olympic Games, to ensure that our economy continues to grow at a strong pace . They were cut from 35% to 30% in 2006, and should fall to 25% in 2007. A new investment law was also passed to bolster investment projects and foster regional convergence. 1.23 billion euros have been invested within the scope of this law, which has already had a significant impact. At the same time, private investments have increased by 3.8%. There have also been structural changes in the labor market, giving the workforce greater mobility and making it easier to hire workers. The government has taken measures to streamline the bureaucracy and make easier the creation of new businesses. Greece’s 2005 growth rate was 3.7% of GNP (gross national product), one of the highest rates in the European Union. A new public-private partnership law was passed in 2005 to this same end. Profits for companies listed on the Stock Exchange rose 39% in 2005, as exports increased 13.5%. For the very first time, higher exports accounted for 20% of Greek GDP growth. The unemployment rate dropped below 10% over this same period. Inflation held steady at 3.5% of GDP in 2005, despite rising oil prices. Real earned income rose 2.9% in Greece, while it fell 0.2% in the euro zone. Greek per capita income stood at 75.4% of the EU-15 average in 2004. It rose to 77.1% in 2005 and is expected to climb to 80% by 2007. Public debt is still quite high, at 110% of GDP. New tax measures will be launched in 2007 to lower personal income taxes and increase the tax threshold. Finally, a new law will bring more transparency to the Stock Exchange and ensure its smooth running. All of these measures have helped create a strong pro-business climate in Greece.


T.D.L.: Education and employment are key points on Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’ political agenda. With the unemployment rate still running rather high, especially among young people and women, how does the prime minister intend to get the unemployed back into the working world? How does Greece feel about the rekindling of the campaign to build a Social Europe?


H.E.D.P.: The Greek government is indeed making great efforts to resolve the employment problem, especially as concerns young people and women. It is concentrating on fostering the creation of new businesses, offering up to 50% in State aid to micro and small-sized business, and up to 55% to companies operating in Greek regions outside Athens and Thessalonica. The new investment law was designed with the same goal in mind. There are also professional reorientation programs that teach unemployed young people new skills. While we are on this subject, let me say that the Ministry of Education is in the process of reorganizing technical training in Greece. As a general rule, we believe that expanding our economic activities will help to reduce unemployment among these categories of workers. Making working hours and business operating hours more flexible is another important measure taken by the government. Finally, I believe we have every reason to be optimistic at this time: unemployment should continue to fall in 2006, thanks to increased exports and the excellent business climate we have forged in Greece. The banking sector and state-owned companies have also been reorganized to this same end.

The Greek socioeconomic system is founded on understanding and wage agreements between the concerned social partners. Last April, labor and business leaders signed a 2-year collective bargaining agreement. The government wants workers to share in the profits earned by the companies that employ them. We have also launched an open debate on the problems of social security and retirement pensions, with the aim of finding a solution to retirement fund deficits before the year 2008 and the next parliamentary elections. Simply applying the French employment and insertion model here in Greece is obviously out of the question, as every country has its own unique characteristics. Our country does, all the same, support the construction of a Social Europe.


T.D.L.: Athens remains Greece’s main demographic and economic pole. If inequalities are to be diminished, then regional differences will also have to be reduced. Are steps being taken to that end? Does decentralized cooperation play an important role in Greece’s regional development policy?


H.E.D.P.: The government has adopted an investment support program that fosters the launching of projects outside large urban areas to counter the problem of regional differences, which are, it is true, still quite vast in Greece. Aid is also available for developing infrastructures and tourism, and for creating new economic activity poles. The number of administrative regions will be cut to seven, from the current 13 regions. Finally, the government has earmarked 80% of the European aid allotted to Greece in the 4th European funding packet specifically for these regions.


T.D.L.: As a country opening onto the Mediterranean basin, Greece has long been a land of emigration as well as immigration. These migratory waves have stepped up considerably over the past decade. Is controlling this flow a major concern for your country, in order to ensure social integration and continued security? Has Greece set up joint programs with the European Union or other countries in the region? Inversely, has the vast Greek diaspora around the globe proved to be an asset for your country?


H.E.D.P.: Greece has received large waves of immigrants since 1990. They are living testimony to the great political and economic strides made by our country, which has gone from being a labor exporter in the 1950s and 1960s, to being an importer of human resources. Immigrants now account for nearly 10% of the population. Greek authorities have launched three separate amnesty campaigns for illegal immigrants, granting residency permits to some 700,000 people. Granting these people legal status has also given them controlled access to medical care and to the Hellenic education system. Having them here has been good for the Greek economy. But as is the case in other countries that take in immigrants, their presence has also caused adaptation problems and criminal behaviors which the government has had to address. The massive arrival of illegal immigrants, especially after the collapse of the Communist bloc at the start of the 1990s, has been brought under control. This is due in great part to closer surveillance along maritime and border zones, in compliance with EU directives. We have set up a vast surveillance system that includes a border patrol corps, coast guard officers, and a maritime surveillance system. The Greek government has also implemented an immigrant integration program, focusing on social integration and education. But first and foremost, we advocate launching a cooperation program between the EU and the immigrants’ home countries, so we can find solutions to the problems that are driving these people from their homelands, which are usually of an economic nature.

Greece, on the other hand, has been a country of emigration for many centuries, since Antiquity. There is now a vast Greek diaspora in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, and Russia. Greek communities have taken shape in several other countries around the world as well. This diaspora has been a key factor in boosting our relations with these countries, and has helped to enrich our cultural, scientific, economic and political heritage. This is why the Hellenic State comes to the assistance of Greeks living abroad. It works to maintain its ties with this diaspora, most notably by offering programs that teach the Greek language, forming a council to represent the Greek diaspora, and organizing cultural programs and events. There are now Greeks living in more than 140 countries around the globe.


T.D.L.: Turkey began accession negotiations with the European Union on 3 October 2005, opening up the prospect of eventually normalizing relations with Greece. What does your country think should be done to settle the ongoing bilateral disputes in the Aegean area? It has been nearly two years since the Greek Cypriot community rejected the Annan Plan. What is the key to resolving the Cyprus question, as you see it?


H.E.D.P.: Let me start by reminding you that Greece supports Turkey’s bid to join the EU. It goes without saying that this support is contingent upon Turkey respecting all of the obligations and terms of the accession process. It should also be mentioned that Turkey’s commitment to implementing the Additional Protocol will be judged later this year, as outlined in the conclusions of the European Council.

As regards our bilateral relations, the only dispute Greece has with Turkey in the Aegean Sea concerns the delineation of the Continental Shelf. This is a delicate matter that must be handled with full respect for international law, working through the mechanisms it makes available to us. Finally, we have made tremendous efforts in recent years to build a climate of trust, which has already led to improved economic and political ties. It must nonetheless must be said, regrettably, that certain action taken by Turkey contesting Greece’s recognized rights have only fueled military tensions in the Aegean Sea. The most recent example of this had a tragic ending for a Greek pilot, who died last May when Turkish and Greek fighter jets collided.

To answer your second issue, let me remind you that Cypriot issue involves an illegal military occupation by one State, namely Turkey, of territory of another State, which has become a member of the EU. Finding a mutually acceptable solution to the Cyprus problem is one of the Hellenic government’s top priorities. This solution must be based on United Nations resolutions and decisions, and must grow out of the efforts of the UN Secretary-General. It must also take into account the new EU acquis communautaire. It should be mentioned that, in 2006, Turkey has commited itself towards the EU that it would extend the Customs Union Protocol to the ten countries that became new EU members with the last enlargement. This commitment has not yet been put into practice as concerns Cyprus.

The Cypriot question was given a fresh boost on 28 February 2006, when the President of Cyprus Mr. Papadopoulos and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan met in Paris. It was subsequently proposed to begin holding technical talks. They should help to steadily build a trusting relationship between the two communities, so they could eventually try to reach a solution to the Cyprus issue that would be viable and acceptable by all parties, within the framework of the UN Security Council Resolutions.


T.D.L.: Apart from forging stronger ties between the Greek and Turkish peoples and stepping up economic exchanges, what more can be done to build true trust between Athens and Ankara? Greece has voiced its support for Turkey’s bid to join the EU. What more can it do to bolster Turkey’s efforts to integrate the European Union?


H.E.D.P.: Considerable strides have been made in recent years to strengthen cooperation between the two countries. We have signed bilateral agreements in an array of areas, such as cultural relations, environmental protection, economic issues, tourism, crime fighting, energy, agriculture, and natural disaster prevention. This improvement is due, in large part, to contacts between representatives of the entire social fabric of the two countries. It is an outgrowth of the desire shared by all concerned parties to work towards the same common goal of building good neighborly ties. It is also the result of the positive public attitude in both countries, which has been enhanced by the mutual assistance they gave each other after the deadly earthquakes of 1999. Thanks to this positive situation, there has been a great many contacts between local authorities, journalists, business leaders, representatives of non-governmental organizations, scientists, academics, high school and university students, etc. These exchanges have led to the organization of visits, a variety of events, and twinning programs. On a broader level, they have ushered in wide-scale cooperation. The role played by citizens has clearly been decisive in this matter since they have helped to boost mutual understanding, which was lacking in years past. In this way, an initiative has gradually taken shape to foster rapprochement and greater cooperation between the two countries on issues of mutual interest that are not politically sensitive. This positive climate must obviously be maintained and reinforced, each party respecting the commitments it has made, especially as regards abstaining from any action that could spark tensions or interrupt the dialogue between the two countries’ relevant authorities.

Greece recognizes the need to establish certain confidence building measures in order that tensions could be eased and our relations improved. New strides were made during the visit to Turkey this past June by Foreign Affairs Minister Dora Bakoyianni. Minister Bakoyianni and her Turkish counterpart, among others, agreed to set up a line of direct communication between the air force control center in Larissa, Greece and the air force control center in Eski Sehir, Turkey. This line has been operational since July 1st of this year. They also agreed to extend by two or three months the period during which the two countries should not conduct military exercises in the Aegean Sea. This period falls within the

summer months, which are key tourism periods for both countries.

Greece also reaffirmed its support for Turkey’s campaign to integrate the European Union by sharing its own experience with European institutions with its neighbour. A special task force has been set up to share Greek knowledge of European issues with Turkish officials, to further boost Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Numerous seminars and bilateral meetings have been held to that same end, during which high-ranking Turkish government officials were briefed by their Greek counterparts on the EU regulatory framework in a variety of different areas. This cooperation covers numerous sectors, including the economy, customs issues, the judicial system, agriculture, the environment, and EU programs.


T.D.L.: Greece held the yearlong presidency of the South-East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) until May 2006, laying special focus the axes of neighbourly relations and cooperation. Could you describe inter-Balkan cooperation for our readers, starting with the ongoing political dialogue? What can be done to help guarantee lasting stability in this region, apart from concluding negotiations on the final status of Kosovo? Would you outline the top cooperation priorities between Athens and Belgrade, and between Athens and Skopje?


H.E.D.P.: We believe that the Greek presidency of the SEECP (from May 2005 to May 2006) has given this process a fresh boost. Our goal was to strengthen neighbourly relations and cooperation in the region, and to help Southeast European countries put themselves in a better position to join the EU. A regional free-trade agreement was also signed during this period, as well as an agreement creating a high-speed railway network to improve the transportation of people and goods and to boost regional and cross-border trade. We laid special emphasis on expanding infrastructures in the energy and transportation sectors, which we believe are of key importance to the future of this region. The creation of the South Eastern Europe Energy Community, in October 2005 in Athens, has opened up additional prospects for cooperation in the energy sector. Several important decisions were taken as well, as laid out in the Thessalonica Summit declaration, with the aim of fostering the establishment of open societies in Southeastern Europe that respect democratic principles and citizens’ rights and fight corruption, organized crime, terrorism, violence and extremism.

All of this falls within the EU’s strategic objective for the Balkans, which is of course shared by Greece. Our goal is to create conditions that guarantee stability, smooth functioning institutions, cooperation, development and prosperity, and also enable these countries to respect EU political criteria so that every one of them, without exception, can join the EU.

WIth that in mind, we believe that respect for and full implementation of UN Security Council agreements and resolutions regarding the problems in this region is the sine qua non condition for ensuring stability and peace in this region.

Greece’s stance on the future status of Kosovo is based on the following principles:

– the solution must grow out of in-depth negotiations, and cannot be adopted under pressure or within a timeframe.

It should:

– respect international law, as guaranteed by the UN, and must be in compliance with Security Council resolutions;

– enhance stability in the region, be compatible with EU principles and values, and be in line with the region’s goal of joining Europe;

– envisage to create a multiethnic and multicultural Kosovo, in which each and every inhabitant has a place and enjoys the same rights;

– lay emphasis on the parallel implementation of European norms, starting with decentralization, in order to establish conditions that guarantee security, so that non-Albanian refugees and all other displaced persons can return, the orthodox cultural heritage can be protected, and ravaged monuments can be restored.

We currently have excellent bilateral ties with Serbia and Montenegro. Greece actively supports both countries’ bids to join the EU, as well as those of all other countries in the region. It is also doing all it can to support their efforts to integrate Euro-Atlantic structures. Serbia and Montenegro have participated alongside Greece, in the form of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, in the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), the Black Sea Economic Cooperation organization, as well as numerous other regional initiatives. In addition, Greece has carved out a strong economic foothold in Serbia. With regard to trade and cooperation, it should be noted that Greece is one of Serbia and Montenegro’s leading EU-member trading partners. In fact, our volume of trade has risen sharply in recent years. Total investments by Greek companies in Serbia and Montenegro, direct and indirect combined, total roughly 1.4 billion euros and have helped create some 24,000 jobs. We must, of course, continue to strengthen this cooperation across the board, especially as concerns development aid, investments, and trade. We are convinced that our bilateral ties will become even more dynamic as Serbia and Montenegro move towards joining the EU, a quest that Greece steadfastly supported during the time it held the SEECP presidency.

And finally, as to the question of the name FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia), let me remind that we favour a mutually acceptable solution. Greece is in favour of the procedure laid out in UN Resolution 817/93, and is willing to find a solution to the name issue, which should lead to full normalization of bilateral relations. Until now, the intransigence shown by the FYROM has prevented us from finding a mutually acceptable solution.


T.D.L.: Your country has taken a leading role in fostering the economic development of the region, working within the framework of the Greek Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans (GPERB). Could you summarize this plan’s main priorities? Are there economic synergies between Greece and this region that could be exploited?


H.E.D.P.: In the wake of the political changes brought by the collapse of the Communist bloc, Greek companies and industries were among the first to invest in countries on the Balkan Peninsula. The Greek Plan for the Economic Reconstruction of the Balkans is an initiative launched in 2000 that will run through the end of 2006. It has a budget of roughly 500 million euros and targets infrastructure work in priority, along with smaller scale state-approved work. The priority project is the construction of Route 10, which will create a land link between Belgrade and Thessalonica. In light of its high cost, the Greek government asked the European Investment Bank (EIB) to supply the necessary funding. Greek capital invested in the Balkan region now totals more than 8 billion euros. If we include recent Greek investments in Turkey, the figure climbs as high as 10.7 billion euros. A total of nearly 3,500 Greek firms are now working in the Balkans.


T.D.L.: The Burgas-Alexandroupolis pipeline project, which will bring Russian oil to Europe via Greece, has reinvigorated Greek-Russian energy ties. As the former Ambassador of Greece to Russia, do you think the geopolitical developments in the Black Sea region will have an impact on the strategic partnership between Brussels and Moscow?


H.E.D.P.: The project to transport oil by sea from the Russian Black Sea port of Novosibirsk to the Bulgarian port of Burgas, then on to the Greek port of Alexandroupolis, by pipeline, is moving along well. Key decisions are in the process of being finalized. This project will most certainly make it easier to get oil from Russia and Central Asia to the West, and thus assure the unimpeded deliveries of oil.

As regards geopolitical developments in the Black Sea region, the position of Greece is that we must continue in the same direction, working to forge closer ties between Russia and the EU in this region. This has become all the more important since the enlargement of the Union to include countries bordering the Black Sea, namely Romania and Bulgaria. Like both these countries, Greece maintains close ties with Russia, which could help build even stronger cooperation between Russia and the EU in this region. This is a clear and much needed opportunity for, firstly, ensuring complete stability in this region, and, secondly, forging a partnership advantageous to all parties in a part of the world that is of utmost importance in both the energy and geopolitical arenas.


T.D.L.: Your country has stepped up its role in the region considerably, working in the framework of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative and taking part in the NATO campaign in Afghanistan and its efforts to stabilize Iraq. How can your country help to guarantee regional stability, with the Iraq conflict dragging out and tensions escalating in the Middle East?


H.E.D.P.: Greece held the presidency of the United Nations Security Council during the month of September. During this time she was also closer involved in the handling of the Lebanon crisis, working with the other Security Council members and the broader international community. Thanks to its long-standing and trusting ties with the peoples of this region, Greece could maintain a steady and functional dialogue with all parties involved in the crisis. In addition to our contribution to the UNIFIL and our assistance during times of crisis (the evacuation of European citizens and other parties from Lebanon), we are also playing an active role in EU initiatives in this region.

We maintain a same approach regarding efforts to help stabilize the Balkans. The objective should be to maintain stability by supporting neighboring countries’s endeavors to be integrated into Europe and by strengthening bilateral and regional cooperation, especially in the areas of energy and transportation.


T.D.L. During a trip to France in September 2005, Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and President Jacques Chirac issued a joint declaration on the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). Will the measures laid out in this declaration usher in stronger military cooperation between Greece and France in the construction of a European defense program? In what other arenas could bilateral cooperation be expanded? What can be done to boost trade between the two countries?


H.E.D.P.: I would start by saying that France and Greece have very strong relations all across the board. Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis has made two official visits to France since I took up my duties here, in August 2005. The Greek Foreign Affairs Minister has also visited Paris twice, while the Greek Defense Minister met with his French counterpart this past June. Then French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy traveled to Greece in July, offering further testimony to the frequency and closeness of bilateral contacts, which are not limited to ties between government officials. Our countries’ political parties are involved in fruitful exchanges as well, helping to foster an even broader political dialogue between the two countries.

The already close ties between our two countries have taken on a whole new dynamic since 1974, and all the more so since 1981, when Greece joined the European fold. The French and Greek peoples understand each other well. In fact, they are very close. During a recent trip to Athens, I had a chance to reread a speech made by the Director of the French Institute of Salonica during a visit by General Charles de Gaulle. In it, he spoke of the intellectual character of the interactions between the two societies. The ties between our two peoples stretch well beyond the traditional scope of French-Greek state relations. They date back to the 18th and 19th centuries, before the war of independence in Greece, with large philhellenic communities in France. Since the modern Greek State was founded, French has become the most widely spoken foreign language in our country. France has had a strong influence on Greek culture and throughout the entire Mediterranean region. French-Greek ties were strengthened over the course of the 20th century’s two great wars. They were further bolstered during the dictatorship that took over in Greece, as Greek intellectuals, writers and thinkers took refuge in France. Finally, I can personally attest to France’s support for our drive to join the European Community, as I was a member of the delegation that accompanied, in 1979, President Konstantin Karamanlis when he met with President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the main suporter of Greece’s integration into the E.C., expressing a relevant attitude of the French people.

Our countries’ prime ministers issued a joint declaration on the EU’s defense and security policy, offering another illustration that our ties run much deeper than a traditional strategic dialogue. We share the same vision for laying out a European defense and security policy, and for fostering European military cooperation. In this framework, we are considering to take part in cooperation programs and projects in the field of armament (as the construction of frigates), which were launched by France and which are also carried out in the perspective of the activation of the European Defense Agency and the military cooperation of the EU member-states. In this regard, we are already participating to the Helios program.
Greece and France also have dynamic ties in the economic and trade arenas, as evidenced by bilateral trade figures. Finally, it goes without saying that Greece remains deeply attached to the French-speaking world. Last September, just two years after becoming an associate member of the International Organization of the Francophonie, Greece applied to become and was accepted as a full-fledged IOF member.
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