A Conversation With Nikos Kotzias

Friday, September 23, 2016
Leonhard Foeger/Reuters
Nikos Kotzias

Foreign Minister, Hellenic Republic

Greek Minister for Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias joins CFR’s Leila Fadel to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing Greece. Kotzias discusses the European refugee and migrant crisis, the future of the European Union, and Greece’s relations with Germany, Italy, and other European countries.

KOTZIAS: So thank you for coming. It’s a pleasure to be here. And thank you that you found time to come for this discussion about the situation in our region and Europe. I will say, I hope not too long, some words.

We are living in difficult times. We are increasingly more difficult than in the other parts of Europe. Europe is, I will say, is the most important place, even for the Americans, than the leadership in the Western world, which belongs to America, the—(inaudible)—leadership, they have to have alliances and Europe has to be healthy.

Europe has multiple crises. The first crisis is an identity crisis. We have not discussed since 2003 about the future of Europe, which is a historical place and what kind of Europe we want to have for the 21st century, which are our values, which are our regions. We are making only sometimes politics. As I sometimes say to the council of ministers of foreign affairs, we are looking only to our nose and not far away, we have not a long-term strategy.

The second is that Europe is using the last 10 years some instruments of diplomacy, but not in a strategical framework. We are always discussing about sanctions. I think we have more than 28 country sanctions. We are discussing about embargo. We have more than 28 country embargoes. And of memorandum, we have had five countries which have been under economical memorandum. Memorandums, sanctions, embargoes are very useful instruments in the international politics, but you cannot reduce what we are doing, the European Union and the Western world, of values and dreams only to these three instruments. So Europe is not very sure what it shall be in the 21st century.

The second reason for our crisis is the economical, the financial crisis. Europe has taken another route than the Americans, and we brought our whole union in austerity politics and that is a big problem for the south of Europe who came out of balance. North Europe is much more richer than it was some years before and south Europe is much more poor than some years before, and that means that we are seeing nowadays a fragmentation process inside European Union.

Third, we have had the refugee crisis. We thought at the beginning of the refugee crisis in Syria war that we would be the example, the parádeigma for the world, that we have a model of losing such kind of social and economic problems, but we didn’t find the best answers to this very difficult question, and it has to do with the conflicts (lying ?) and the wars in the region around Europe. So I will say that the situation of Europe is not the best, and an example of this crisis is even Brexit.

The second point I want to mention is that Greece is in the middle of a destabilization triangle. The one side of this triangle is Ukraine, the second side is Libya, and the third is Middle East, Syria and Iraq. That means that Greece and the whole region of Balkans and southeastern Europe is under the press of the destabilization waves which are coming from these three areas. And we’re trying ways to create a stabilized foreign policy and stabilize relations with other important countries.

So we have followed the last years a politics to create triangular relations. We have Greece and Cyprus now in special triangular relations with Israel, with Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and other countries. And it’s in a cooperation of security fields, but cooperation in economical fields and exchange of views and information, security informations, and culture, education, and so on. So we are trying to create an all-around relation in this triangle between our country, Cyprus, and, third, non-European countries.

Last year, Jordan asked if we can make something more, because they wanted to have cooperation with Egypt. Egypt preferred to have good relations with Greece without a third part. So we have moved and we have founded this year, in September, some two weeks ago, we have met, the first conference, Rhodes Conference. That is a security and stability conference between six European countries and six Arab countries, and that’s a new structure.

But what is more important is that we are trying, through these triangular relations and this new security forum, to bring the whole region of Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East to a positive agenda. Then, whenever you are discussing about the Middle East, Eastern Mediterranean you are always (thinking ?) on war and conflicts.

And this region has been on cooperation since 3(,000), 4,000 years. We have had positive experience in our cooperation in the past. Now Greece is trying to put a positive agenda, creating networks of energy, of universities’ cooperation, of research centers, cooperation of networking on military bases, on exchange of information, in any way to bring all these countries together and having a vision and hopes for the future. We cannot always discuss only about crisis, war and et cetera.

That is our politics in the region. And I will say that Greece is a more stabilized country in the region. Through this cooperation, we are trying to help other countries which are new or do not have experience with that kind of positive agenda.

We have created, then, two formations this year, two new formations in Balkans and southeastern Europe, one formation from four countries of southeastern Europe, which belong to European Union, for a cooperation inside the European Union on things that have to do with our interests. That’s Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and us. And then we have a new cooperation, we call it the borders, south-borders cooperation. That is Sofia, Skopje, Tirana and us, so the four countries in the southeast part of Europe.

Then we have created another formation. We have done the first conference last year and next year we are going to make the second. And we are preparing it with three other countries; we had done it last year alone. That is a system for the protection of the religion and cultural communities in the Middle East. Then, as you know, there are some religions and cultural communities in the Middle East who are out of any kind of protection, and that’s what we are calling now Daesh in the Western world. What we are trying to do in Europe and you have it in a way in America and in Canada, the United States and so on, is a multicultural society which has toleration and respect for other forms of religion or thoughts of religion and culture. We have had it already in the Middle East since 2,000 years, a coexistence of religions is older than 2,000 years in the Middle East. But nowadays, we see that Christians are leaving, or other religions, people having other religions are leaving the Middle East.

So the core of our foreign politics is to create a vision for our young generation, for Europe to create new structures of stability, security, and cooperation in the south of Balkans and in the Middle East, or the Eastern Mediterranean—it’s not exactly the same; two regions.

I think it’s enough to start. And I see already my lady here with many pages—

FADEL: Many pages. (Laughs.)

KOTZIAS: —to put me questions. I can sit here, right? Have you a problem? Yes? Have you a problem?

FADEL: No, it’s fine. (Laughter.)

KOTZIAS: It’s good for my kilos.

FADEL: But I feel like it’s not a good balance of power.


FADEL: It’s not a good balance of power. (Laughter.)

So, welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting with Minister Nikolaos Kotzias.

Oh, they do want you to sit. All right.

KOTZIAS: She said I had to do it, you see? (Laughter.) You know, in our—

FADEL: Here, I’ll switch you this way, that way it’ll be easier.

KOTZIAS: Oh, sorry, ma’am. You know, in our ministry we have a dictatorship; we call it “protocol.” (Laughter.)

FADEL: So I just want to remind everybody that this meeting is on the record. So everything you say is on the record.

KOTZIAS: So they have to be very careful with their questions, or me with my answers?

FADEL: Well, it’s up to you. (Laughter.)

So I think the first—you touched on this a lot in what you said earlier, the migration crisis that’s facing Europe right now, the biggest since World War II. This week we saw billions of dollars pledged for the refugee crisis. And I want to ask you, is that the solution? Has Greece done enough? You’ve been on the front line of this crisis. Has Greece done enough for the refugees? And has the world and Europe done enough to help Greece with this crisis?

KOTZIAS: This question means that we are the reason for the refugee crisis.

FADEL: You are the front line.

KOTZIAS: And I cannot accept it. The front line, it is not that because I have—you know, I’m very honest and direct in my answers. We are the problem. There are some states who are bombing Syria and other states are getting the refugees. And then the first states who are bombing Syria, they are blaming us that we are not doing a good job with the refugees that they have created. And then if they are giving us through European institutions some money, they are blaming us that we are not doing enough with this money, which is much more less than the money they have used to bomb.

I am somebody who believes in human rights. I have to say always that to have human rights you have to have human lives. You can have human rights only if you have human lives. And so I am always wondering if we have done a good job in Libya and Syria where in a civil war there have been killed more than 400,000 people and 15 million people are moving because they do not have any house.

You know, in politics, the most important things are the results, not what you think. So have we protected the human rights in Syria with the way we have done this war? That’s a good question.

So now Greece has to pay or has to take care of some of the results of this war. And we are a country in a deep crisis who have lost in the last years 27 percent of our GDP, who have more than 24 percent unemployment, more than 52 percent by the young generation now living in other countries. So we are a country in deep crisis. And the big question is, when this country is on the front line from the refugee flows, why the Europeans are not helping us to come out of the crisis so that we can get the capacities and the capabilities we need to give better answers to the refugee flows? So we say we have done what we can do.

And I am, as a minister of foreign affairs, very proud about the philoxenia of the Greek people. We haven’t seen, with some exception, that’s true, we haven’t seen cynicism, we have seen philoxenia. That’s a Greek word, the way we are thinking about other human beings.

But I will say that Europe was not situated to give European answers to a European problem. And because Europe Union didn’t give us answers, real good answers to the refugee flows, they are asking us if we have done enough for them.

The second level I wanted to answer to you is we have made an agreement between the European Union and Turkey for the refugee problem. Turkey at the moment is doing their job. We have to keep it. We have promised, not me, the European Union, have promised to give them for two years each year 3 billion euros—that’s about 3.3 (billion dollars), I think, dollars with nowadays prices—and to give them the possibility to travel free in Europe, what I call visa liberalization.

And I think some countries in the European Union do not like this agreement. And I’m not very sure if they are going to give this visa liberalization, this free movement in Europe to Turkey. I’m not very sure.

FADEL: So is that agreement on the verge of collapse right now?

KOTZIAS: It’s not on collapse, but we have to take care that it will stay. Things like these agreements are not staying from themselves, either because (God ?) is looking to us and giving us good behaviors, but we have to work very hard on it. And we have discussed with Turkey government very often. They are destabilized in a way because of coup d’état a month before. And I always said in the last two years to all our partners in Western countries and European Union that Turkey, especially their military, have been very nervous. And everybody was saying to me, no, no way, they are so calm, they are so lovely, they are doing only what NATO is asking them. And then we have seen that this army has tried to make this coup, and that has made the government of Turkey—and it’s very normal—very nervous, too.

So we have to work very hard with the Turkish government to keep this agreement. But we have to work very hard with the Europeans, too, to keep their two promises to Turkey, because you have to deliver everything you are promising to a country from which you are waiting when you realize an agreement.

FADEL: Right. So you spoke a lot about the economic difficulties that Greece is also passing through in this moment that they’re dealing with thousands of people coming in from war-torn countries.

KOTZIAS: One million, hundred thousand people.

FADEL: One million, yeah. And there are 3 million in Turkey, 3 million refugees inside Turkey.

KOTZIAS: Yes, they say.

FADEL: So I wanted to ask you—

KOTZIAS: We are a country—sorry, only to say we are a country of 11 million people, 1 million are foreigners and then more than 1 million refugees have passed through the country. It means that you’ll have in America 35 million refugees and then another 35 million refugees will pass through the United States. And even the United States with their capacity, the greatest nation in the world, will have problems.

FADEL: It’s a huge difficulty, especially—

KOTZIAS: It is. You have to deal with human beings.

FADEL: Yeah.

KOTZIAS: That’s the most important thing. And that’s not only numbers, that’s families, that’s children, that’s women with their babies in their hands. And we have lost more than 4 ½ thousand lives in the Mediterranean Sea, and we are saying, that Europe, all of us have let those kind of things happen.

FADEL: Has the refugee crisis exposed ruptures in the European Union, flaws in the union?

KOTZIAS: You mean?

FADEL: Has the refugee crisis put a strain on the European Union? What do you see is the future of the European Union?

KOTZIAS: Listen to me, listen to me. Jordan and Lebanon have had camps of refugees since many years, and these camps of refugees are more than 4 million. But if you ask somebody who have the most refugees at the moment in the region, everybody will answer in Turkey. That’s not true. In my view, the refugees are in Jordan and Lebanon. And what happens in Jordan and Lebanon, every family was getting in these refugee camps until ½ year back, $140 per month, every family—which is not much money, but it was enough to get water, food, clothes, a place to sleep.

And then the international community refused to give more money to these two countries. And we’ve cut the money we have spent for Jordan and Lebanon—not us, but the Western. And then last summer it was 7 cents per person every day for food, drinks, water, clothes, to sleep—7 cents. Can you live a day with 7 cents? Maybe a day. But can you live your whole life with 7 cents every day? No. So as they have cut the money, I talk to everybody in the European Union, now we are creating the big flows of refugees to Europe. And the cost of these refugees will be much more higher than the austerity cuts or the money to Jordan and Lebanon.

Europe needed more than a year to understand what Greece was saying because we are next to these countries and we are smelling, as I always say in Brussels. You are not smelling, I say to them, what happens in the Middle East; we are smelling.

And in these times, more than 620,000 refugees left these camps in these countries and moved to Europe. So it was crazy politics because much more cheaper, much more rational and much more human to keep the aid to these two countries. Now we have created—I was fighting for it and I’m very proud to have now some politics for Jordan and Lebanon since this summer we are giving more money to these two countries and we’re helping the creation of five industry zones where people who live in Syria and Iraq and Pakistan and Afghanistan can find work, because to keep them all in the camps is not an answer. They have to get work. They have to be educated. We have to create for them a possibility to stay alive and to have some hopes for their future life. So that is the first part, we create these very big flows of refugees.

The second one, well, I have already discussed.

And the third is that the answer to these flows of refugees have been not common in the European Union. There are some countries who say we don’t like to have refugees, who have built walls to stop the refugee flows. And my answer is you have experience, the United States, with walls with Mexico. And so I know more than 43 million Hispanics have been moved from South and Central America over these walls to the states. And they have moved because they have been looking after a better life. The reason they moved is to have a better life.

With the refugees from the Middle East, their question is not how to become better life, but their question is how to stay alive, and that means the reasons for movements and the power, the energy they give themselves to move as refugees is much more important, has much more reasons, there are much more reasons than the economic migration which comes to the states. They are moving to Europe not only and not because of trying to have a better life. They are moving because they are trying to stay with their babies and their children alive. So I think it is impossible to stop people who are running with their children to a better place to stay alive, to stop all of them not to move.

FADEL: Yeah.

KOTZIAS: So the right way, we are to give them the possibility to create a better life and secure life in their own countries or in the countries around their own countries. And we have not done it, so now they are coming to Europe.

At the beginning, the Germans, at the beginning, they have been very liberal, they said come in. Maybe they needed more workers, and some countries have been saying, have made a choice to find the best-educated Syrians, for example, to get them in than let outside people without education come. But everybody is moving. And we see now in Europe countries with philoxenia, like ours, countries, more the eastern European Union members who have xenophobia, and countries who have at the beginning a welcome, a “willkommen” we call in German, a “willkommenskultur” to the refugees, but now they change their mind because the extremist right parties are coming back to their parliaments. So we have many contradictions in the European Union and many fights, but that’s not the worse.

The worse is that even if we have common decision, not everybody has interests for the implementation of the decision. And so that’s been a big division inside the European Union. And we have shown to the whole world that the European model is not a model answer to the refugee problem.

FADEL: Right. The refugee problem has affected an already very difficult financial situation for Greece. You mentioned before that one in four Greeks is out of work. I wanted to ask you, the Greek prime minister talked about a turning point finally after these three successive bailout packages, the austerity measures that have not been popular. What is that turning point?

KOTZIAS: I cannot write (on the table ?). But, you know, if you have 100 percent—100 percent debt, it means that by every $100 that you are producing, you have $100—I make it easy; it’s not exactly so—$100 debt. If your GDP is falling down to the 50, even if you have the same debt, it’s not anymore 100 percent, but 200 (percent).

In Europe we have the elites of Europe in the bigger countries in the European Union. More than any other, Germans have pressed the European Union to adopt an austerity politics. In the states, you have had the same crisis because the crisis started by Lehman Brothers in the private sector in the United States, but we have another common kind of politics that helps support the economy to move and to work.

So in Europe, we have done it the other way. We struggled, the economy, to bring austerity politics. And the result was to have less GDP. Immediately, our debt was very high. But what can we do? We are doing these kind of politics since eight years and now we are fighting which is the reason that we fall? Our government, our people, the programs, the monetary politics and so on?

And here we have had some very specific problems. Let me mention them. First, it was the first time after the Second World War that the elites from some European countries have not blamed specific politicians, they blamed Nikolaos Kotzias, they say he’s a very bad politician, he’s doing so many mistakes, he has to leave. OK. They didn’t blame the politics that we have implemented. They say these politics are their own politics, there are too much new liberals or too much new Keynesians, and so on.

But they have blamed countries and people. It’s not the same to blame politicians and politics and to blame countries and the people, the population of those countries, because that was the beginning of racism and Semitism in the beginning of the 20th century. So blaming countries and people and not politics and persons, they have created an atmosphere where xenophobia was very easy to come up. One of the reasons that we have in West xenophobia is the way they try to press us on these kind of stereotypes to blame countries and people, not politics and politicians. That is a negative result for the future of Europe and the future of Greece.

And the second one I want to mention is that we have always asked Germans to make another decision on their politics arena. For example, which country has held after the Second War the biggest debt? I’m not speaking about the debt that they have created during the Second World War, but debts they have taken, credits they have taken before the Second World War? That’s, of course, Germany. They took from America, Britain and France, too, credits in the ‘20s and never paid them back.

So in 1948 the American government, of course, came back to the Germans and said you have not only the cost of the Second World War, but there are some credits from the middle of the ‘20s. And between 1948 and 1953, we have a preparation and we have done a London conference, you know, from 1953. In the London conference, America put through to all the other Europeans to cut in half the debt of the Germans. They must have done this crazy Second World War and they had become a cut of their debt. Greece hasn’t done a world war. The Germans are refusing to cut the debt, as Americans said to them, today, nowadays, so there is two standards which they have.

Second, in this London conference, the decision was to cut the debt of the Germans and to put two quarters for the money that the Germans have to pay back every year. They’re right, they have to pay it back. The first was that this money is not to be more than 3 percent of GDP for Germany. And the second was that to get the 3 percent of the GDP back to the creditors, Germany has to be supported to make exports. The world-famous German as an export nation—Rosencranz wrote a book with this title, as you know—was the London decision and the support of the Americans to bring in connection the debt with the growth of the GDP and the growth of the German exports. It means that in this model the interests of the creditors and the interests of Germany have been common because both sides wanted that Germany is going to grow their economy and that this economy has to be oriented to exports. But Germans refused to do that same with Greece who are paying some years, saving 8, 9 percent of our GDP to the creditors back.

We are deep in a recession and we have no growth and we have no export. It means every year, if we implement these programs, we’ll be worse than the year before. So we are asking the Germans, the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the Americans to use the same models that all these countries have used since 1953 by the conference, that have been the decisions by the conference of London, to ease them for the Greek state. And the Germans refused that.

And I always say to my German friends, why are you refusing to do that for Greece, which has not made a Second World War, although we have this positive experience of the whole Western world was giving you the possibility for new growth and to become an export nation.

FADEL: So at this time, sorry to interrupt you—

KOTZIAS: No, I was finished.

MODERATOR —but I’d like to open up—oh, OK. (Laughter.) I thought so. I was—

KOTZIAS: You are a smart lady.

FADEL: So we’d like to open up the floor now and invite members to join our conversation with their questions. A reminder that this meeting is on the record. Wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation, and please limit yourself to one question so other members can ask.

Yes, the lady in red?

Q: I’m Lucy Komisar, I’m a journalist.

When the Italian Prime Minister Renzi spoke earlier this week, it was on the record, and he spent some time attacking the disastrous policy of austerity. And I wonder why the Greeks and Italians don’t get together and fight this policy. I don’t know if the Spanish or Portuguese with their governments would join. But here you have two perhaps left-of-center governments who have the same point of view, why haven’t you been fighting it together? And what’s the chance that you could now begin to fight it together?

KOTZIAS: Thank you, my lady, for the question. That’s a question that moves our souls sometimes. First, I have to say the positive side. Since the 9th of September, the south countries, the seven Euromed, call them seven Euromed, it’s Portugal, Spain, Malta, France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus, are working together on these questions. We have for the first time a meeting, I think that it was the 9th of September, a meeting from the prime ministers and presidents—Cyprus and France has a presidential system—to coordinate our politics of this matter.

Second, as the debt crisis in Greece started, everybody in Europe who have had the same problem with us was looking hard to say we are not like them. So everybody was afraid that if they were cooperating with us that the market will say, aha, Italy is working with Greece together, then they have the same problems as Greeks, and then they have been afraid they will be attacked in the markets. So everybody was looking to say to the whole world and to the world markets we are not like them. But they’re like us because, for example, Italy has a debt from 2 trillion, we have a debt from 300 billions, so they have seven, eight times bigger debt than us.

The third reason is that Spain and Italy was pressing Merkel, and they have got some possibilities with their bank credits. They do not add, the European institutions do not add the debt from the banks to the debt from the state, they are separated. In the case of Greece they have added so that everybody was believing that our crisis was deeper than the crisis from the other countries. So it was a strategy from some friends of ours, like Italy on the stage, to separate them from us and not to come to the same niche—Greece’s economy is small niche—not to come to the same niche with us so that they could get cheaper credits and so on.

Nowadays they know that they cannot make anymore this form of politics, the separation of the (economic ?) case, and they have chosen to work with us together. That’s the positive development. But for how long? We will see. After Christos and Mohammed have been born, you cannot be prophet anymore.

FADEL: Yes, the gentleman here?

Q: Good morning. My name is David Phillips from Columbia University.

President Erdogan has said that they would withdraw from the deal with the EU in October unless visa liberalization is approved. When the deal was originally announced, many of us, myself included, said it was illegal, immoral, and impractical. It’s now on the verge of collapse. What preparations are you making for an intensified refugee and migrant flow? Does that involve cooperation with your neighboring states, including your northern neighbor Skopje?

KOTZIAS: Thank you. Thank you for that question. As I mentioned before, we have made a new formation, four countries are cooperating, that is Athens, Sofia, Skopje and Tirana. And we have made already one meeting in April this year and we are making in October the second meeting in Salonika, and Salonika is only two-and-a-half hours far away from Skopje and Sofia, so it’s for them easier to come there than in Athens. And one of the fields we have discussed and we are now cooperating is migration and the refugee politics.

It was a big problem for us that some European countries try to create walls not between them and third countries, but between third countries to us, like our north neighbors, and that is an expression from a fragmentation inside the European Union. It was a big fight between, for example, Austria and Germany about these questions. I hope that we can find common solutions in the future.

FADEL: Next question? Yes.

Q: Hello. My name is Ken Roth from Human Rights Watch.

My question is also about the EU-Turkey deal. And probably the most controversial part of it was the false assumption that Turkey was a safe place to summarily return asylum seekers, to force them to apply to asylum there and not in Europe. Even though, you know, Turkey has never ratified the refugee convention in a way that recognizes the rights of the Syrians or the Afghans or the Iraqis and even though it is, as a matter of discretion, sending the Afghans and Iraqis back, it’s sending Syrians into Syria, you know, and now Turkey’s even generating its own refugees since the coup.

Now, interestingly, the Greek asylum courts have agreed with what I’ve said and have not approved this, you know, fiction of Turkey being safe. And the thing that nobody knows is that nobody has been sent back on this theory of safety. Some have gone back voluntarily, some have had their claims assessed on the merits, nobody has been sent back because it’s safe.

So my question to you is, does the Greek government agree with the rulings of the court so far that Turkey is not a safe place to summarily return asylum seekers?

KOTZIAS: First, the decisions of the courts are the decisions of courts and we have to respect it. It’s not a question if I’m with or against this decision. We are living in a country which is a modern democracy where politicians have to respect court decisions. This is a clear standard.

Now I will speak, I think for the question, I will speak about the Western hypocrisy about Turkey. Turkey is a member of NATO, so does not have as member countries which are safe or not safe. Ken, please, not you, I mean all of us. They are not a meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and saying Turkey is not a safe place, they have to leave now. Nobody is thinking this way.

Second, everybody’s underlined—and I think I heard this woman here, too—that Turkey has already 3 million refugees. Are these 3 million refugees safe, or not? We are always discussion about 10(,000) or thousand, 1,000, 2,000 refugees, which can be possible that they will come back from Greece to Turkey. And everybody’s saying to us and blaming to us, but Turkey is not a safe place.

Then I have the question, if for the 1,200 refugees, which maybe this year will be brought back to Turkey, for them, Turkey is not safe, why we are looking when we are so happy that they have already 3 million refugees in a not safe place? So that is a contradiction. You cannot say these 3 million people coming from Syria and Iraq they are saving Turkey, but if they have been across a Greek island Turkey’s not anymore safer then.

We have to make a choice. Turkey’s not a safe country, then America and the rich countries of Europe have to take over these 3 million refugees who are now living in Turkey. And second, if Turkey’s not a safe country, we have to throw them out from NATO and not make any kind of negotiation to enter the European Union. So that’s a crazy situation.

The whole Western world, the behavior is Turkey is a very safe country. But when it comes to the Greek islands, they say to us, oh, oh, oh, Turkey is not a safe country. We have to make a decision. Is it a safe country? Then we can bring people back. It’s not a safe country? Then we have to pick up the people, the millions of people that are there.

I’d like to explain, not for you, I’m sure that you know it, but for others the mechanism of this agreement. And the mechanism is saying, if they pass through our borders illegally, the refugees, we will bring them back to Turkey and Turkey will send refugees to Western European countries. That’s the agreement.

So this agreement can be implemented on the one condition, that we are bringing refugees back to Turkey so that the other Western countries can take the refugees from Turkey. So countries who have no interest on the implementation of this refugee agreement are asking us every day, can you bring them back? Are they safe in Turkey? The question is, if we bring them back, are these European countries going to get them in their own houses? Because saying to the Greek side don’t move them to Turkey means we don’t need to get them from Turkey out to our countries. That’s right.

FADEL: Next question, yes, in the back?

Q: Thank you. This is Rodrigo Campos, I work with Reuters.

A couple of days ago, three of the eight soldiers that ended up in Greece—

KOTZIAS: I’m not hearing, sorry. A couple of days?

Q: I’m sorry?

KOTZIAS: A couple of days?

Q: A couple of days ago, Greece rejected the asylum request from three of the eight soldiers that ended up on your shores during the night of the coup in Turkey. They can appeal, but if the appeal is not successful, will they be extradited? And what will happen to the other five? Thank you.

KOTZIAS: This week there will be a decision first instance from the court for the other five. And after, for all eight of them, there will be a decision from the second level of courts, so will they still stay in Greece.

I would like to express something. Greece is an open country, a democratic country in which we are protecting human rights. We are protecting people who are fighting for their lives. We are protecting people who are leaving their countries because they are undemocratic. We are protecting people who have difficulties in their countries because they want to have free expression of their ideas and ideology or opinion.

But we have always to rethink, what about the people, I’m not saying about the eight that they have participate, but the principal question, what about the people who try to kill this democracy? And I’m not saying it’s an ideal democracy in Turkey, but this democracy, this parliamentarism in Turkey. I work with them or against them, that’s a very big question.

For example, they have a group of officers who have bombed the parliament in Ankara. Other people who have democratic ideas and they are afraid in the not-safe-place Turkey, that they have been followed, or, for example, there has been a commando, killer commandos, to kill Erdogan. Erdogan is an elected president in Turkey. I’m not electing him, but he has been elected from a big majority of Turkish people. Are we thinking that this is a democratic act? Are we thinking that people who are trying to kill an elected president have the same rights like people who are fighting for their ideas and for more democracy? That’s always a question. I’m not speaking about courts. I’m speaking about our behaving out of solidarity.

My whole life I was fighting for solidarity with people who had been falling, who have problems with institutions because of their pre-expressed opinion. But solidarity for people who tried to make a military coup, I mean the coup d’état, I have been in prison during the Greek military junta, military fascism in Greece. And I wanted the officer who had done this military coup d’état have to go to the court; some of them have been in the court and some of them in prisons.

It’s not free expression to make a coup d’état. I’m not speaking about the eight officers, because that’s a decision that the court has to find out what they are. But the principal question is that me, as democrat, I do not have the same feelings of solidarity to somebody who is fighting for his ideas, for his opinion, to somebody who’s bombing the parliament.

FADEL: But President Erdogan came under intense criticism after the attempted coup for being undemocratic and conducting quite a wide crackdown.

KOTZIAS: That’s another question. Thank you for that. (Laughter.) I have said to my Turkish friends, I have a very good, friendly relation with my counterpart in Turkey, I have said in the Council of the European Union, one thing is to be against a coup d’état, we have to be against any form of coup d’état, if it is in the name of left’s dreams, if it is in the name of pacismo (ph), if it’s in the name of machismo (ph). We have always to fight against people who think that they have the message from God to kill democracy. I do not believe that there exists a God who is keeping such kind of messages to the military.

The second question is fighting against military coup d’état from which position you are fighting against them. And for me, it’s very important that you are fighting against coup d’état in the name of democracy and protecting the democratic institution. If you’re fighting against coup d’état in the name from your personal power and for ulterriterismos (ph), but you have the possibility to make yourself a coup d’état is not my position.

So I say to our Turkish friends, please, you have to behave as a democratic state, you have to protect democracy against coup d’état, then it will be much more easier for the Europeans to be with you.

FADEL: So we have time for maybe one, maybe two questions, depending on how long the answers are.


Q: My name is Hari Haran (ph), and I run (Honda ?) New York.

There’s a famous saying that where the elephants make love or war, the grass gets killed. So in the context of your economic situation right now, you have the IMF and Europe basically fighting over Greece. The IMF will not join your financing program unless you get debt relief, and the Germans will not get debt relief unless the IMF are part of the program.

KOTZIAS: It’s a beautiful gig, right? (Laughter.)

Q: So how do you see this resolve? Is this a passage-of-time issue until the German election, or how do you see this resolved?

KOTZIAS: Well, thank you for this question. This situation is making us very crazy. We have IMF with a positive and with a negative proposal. The positive is to cut the debt, the negative to bring through austerity measures. Then we have Europeans that have positive proposals not to make such kind of reforms, or reforms, they are not really reforms, but not to cut the debt. And then they are fighting between them and we have two results. First at the end, they are making an agreement to take the negative sides from both, not the positive sides from both. That’s the reason why we always ask the American government to bring through that they are taking the positive sides, not bad reforms as part of Europe is thinking and cut of the debt as IMF is thinking.

Second, I have written a book about the Germany and the debt story and the Greek case. And what I found out is where is Merkel’s power coming? And Merkel’s power is coming that she can play with the time factor, she has more time than us. And because she has more time than us, she can strengthen our situation and get the politics that she wants to have.

So, for example, if you are very hungry and have very nice food, you say, here, to get it you have to do this and this. They say at the beginning, no, no, no, I have principles, I’m not doing that. Then your children are starting to cry. And then I show to your children, I have here cakes and so on. And they are hungry and they are crying. Then they need milk, and I have whole milk, a ton of milk, and I say to them you can even swim in this milk. And they are crying and say, please, please, we are hungry. Who has more time, the children or me? I’m not Merkel, but you understand what I’m saying.

Well, that’s a bad situation because it’s a situation where the Germans have thought we have to punish them. They have brought to the politics a morals criteria which are not correct. So I have been written all the protocols of the German colonialists in the Western and Eastern Africa, now there’s Tanzania and Zambia, and the same arguments they have used in the 19th century to say these people are bad in the economy, they do not know—people, nations, not the specific politics—they have used it in a crisis of Greece and they have blamed us in a morality way. You know, we have been not in the government. We have done all these bad things.

We haven’t done them, but we care about our people because we are part of our people and with human values and visions for a more human future for our country. And we have said to them that’s not a game what you are doing. We are not in kindergarten. We are speaking about the life of people. We are speaking about the future, about these babies. You have to be moral, sure, you have not to moralize everything.

But the reality is that they have used morality criteria in this contradiction we have just asked. But behind it is the big argument, the problem of the German and French banks. Because you can teach to students from first semester economy, that if you have debt, first you cut the debt and then you are making programs. In the Greek case, we have to first make the programs the Germans wishes, and then we are asking to cut the debt.

Because the other way, if you were writing to me by exams first semester in your university that your proposal is to do for a solution for our problems the way they have done, I’m sure that you will fail. But they have done it because the most important question for them was to protect their banks which have had billions of Greeks’ obligation. And through the morality, they have created a wall of morality and nobody is seeing what is behind, (peeking the rest ?).

The German has a big problem. Their banks are not the best in the world. They are making big money through buying obligations in other countries, and then they don’t like to pay if they fail in their investments.

The third story is that, through the crisis in south, the Germans have made big profit. The credit that Germany is taking by the international market sometimes is by minus. You have to pay to give them credit. You have to pay to buy the obligation. It means that the financing of the German state was in the last years minus 25 to 78 billions because of this relation that they can buy very cheap or without any rate credits.

The next step was that the big German companies—and you know them; Volkswagen, for example, in America, very famous for their—(inaudible)—they have taken credits by a rate from 5 to 8 percent. Nowadays, the rate is 1.5 (percent). Why? Because all the black money which has moved from Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal to the banks of Lichtenstein, Austria and Suisse, you know, the banks, they have to use them. How will they use them? They are giving cheap credits to the big German companies. They have made big money and they are doing so and they are blaming a source if they are losing money. They haven’t lost not one cent, were to pay everything until today back and they have got all these positive possibilities to get cheap credits, to have cheap credit for their companies and so on and so on, so that’s hypocrisy and we are discussing about morality.

FADEL: So with that answer, that concludes our meeting today. Thank you, Foreign Minister.

KOTZIAS: Thank you.


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