Τηλεφωνική Συνέντευξη ΥΦΥΠΕΞ Δ. Κούρκουλα με δημοσιογράφο Σουηδικού Πρακτορείου Ειδήσεων ΤΤ, Joakim Goksor (21 Νοεμβρίου 2013)
This will be the fifth Greek Presidency, we have already done four rather successful ones. This will be a Presidency of a new type, after the Lisbon treaty entered into force, which means less responsibilities at the level of the European Council, the level of Prime Ministers meetings, and less responsibilities in the area of foreign policy. But of course there are also in both these levels an acting role for the Presidency, it means much more responsibility in the legislative procedure where the Presidency has to be the mediator between the council and the EU Parliament.
There is already an established program of legislative work with the two previous presidencies, Ireland and Lithuania, and we are not in the final stage of establishing the pieces of legislation that we will try to push through during our Presidency. Our Presidency has the particularity that it coincides with the EU elections, which of course will bring up the more general issue of the future of Europe, but it also limits our scope of pushing legislation through the EU parliament to three and a half months, because the parliament will stop working in mid-April. Taking all this into account we have established three main political priorities which are more or less obvious, given the economic crisis in Europe.
The first priority address the issue of growth and unemployment and there we will try to promote the implementation of the measures that have been agreed in the framework of the new European budget (2014-2020), but also other initiatives like the use of the European Investment Bank to improve liquidity for small and mid-sized enterprises in Europe. Another priority would be the completion of the institutional framework of the monetary union, which means mainly the banking union, but not only. A third priority will refer to the very important issue of mobility and migration, because there are some important decisions that have to be taken during our semester. There is the Stockholm guideline that expires in 2014 and the EU has to decide on the new guidelines for the next period, but also unfortunately, for very dramatic reasons, like the drama in Lampedusa, this issue of migration is now becoming more important among our citizens, not only in the southern countries but in all EU member states. So we believe that for the credibility of the EU there is a need for a more comprehensive approach on the issue of migration and the issue of refugees coming from countries like Syria and Libya, where unfortunately stability will not appear tomorrow.
These are the main three priorities, but there are many other issues that we will deal with, like the digital market, the competition of the digital market in Europe, which will help job creation and growth. There is the more general issue of the completion of the internal market. There are some very important trade negotiation going on with Canada and the US, for a free trade area. On the issue of enlargement, and especially in the Western Balkans, we will continue to be, as Greece has always been, supportive of the enlargement. We believe that we will be able to start negotiations with Serbia during our presidency, but if we are politically speaking, the EU has a roadmap now for all the candidate countries. There are clear benchmarks and conditions that have to be fulfilled in order to move forward in this process.
This is an overview of the political context. Now in terms of organization, we have the smallest budget compared to all the other presidencies of the last 3-4 years and we will try to not even use the whole budgetary envelope that is available to us. For this reason all the meetings will take place in the same place in Athens, in the same premises. We don’t want to promote diplomatic or bureaucratic tourism in the middle of an austerity policy.
There is a very nice neoclassical building called “Zappion” where some previous presidencies have taken place with all the necessary equipment and infrastructure; it’s in the center of Athens. We have used very limited human resources, both in Athens and in Brussels to reinforce our Presidency team, so we have only hired nine people from outside the public sector, all the rest is done with the staff of the ministry of foreign affairs. Just to give you an example in our permanent representation in Brussels, which has to be reinforced, because now we have to have a representative in every meeting, as president, and another one as national representative, we have reinforced the staff, but in a much more limited way than other presidencies have. We went from 110 to 150. Just to give you a comparison our Danish friends went up to 220, the Cypriots 260, and the Polish 300.
To conclude, for us, keeping the budget down, and having a decent but Spartan presidency is a must. Both for our internal public opinion but also for the European public opinion.
The fact that the Parliament will not be in session prevents us from pushing through legislation but the preparation for new legislation and other decisions will continue to be very intensive, there are a lot of legislative initiatives that we have to prepare for the next presidency, the Italian presidency. So the normal decision making of the council will continue, it’s not the end of the presidency, it just prevents us from going up to the parliament and ask to approve or comment on this legislation, but the normal decision making process for the council will continue without any interruption. There will be a lot to do even after mid-April.
The ministry of Finance has given us for the 2013-2014 period, 50 million Euros. In comparison to that, the last presidencies had between 62 and 70 million. One important clarification is that this 50 million will cover all the needs of the presidency, this means not only the need of the foreign ministry, which has the main responsibility to coordinate, but also the line ministries, which means that any additional cost, provoked by the presidency will be covered by this 50 million, but we are optimistic that we won’t even use the whole amount.
We are going to be able to cope with all the challenges, as I said before our administration has a long and rather successful experience with these Presidencies. This is a matter of national interests, not of one party or the other. We don’t see any direct link between the fact that we are under the programme of the troika, and that we have the presidency. We are going to do a European presidency, not a Greek presidency, so we are going to take into account the interest of the union as a whole, we are not going to misuse our presidency for the very delicate issue of the readjustment program, which by the way has already given spectacular results in the area of the deficit. My country has managed to reduce its budget deficit, which was astronomical in 2009, and we are going to have, for the first time this year, a primary surplus in our budget, meaning a surplus if you don’t count the servicing of the debt. There is no other country in the OECD that had done such an adjustment in such a short period. Next year we are going to have an even bigger surplus. Of course the price we had to pay was very heavy, we had six years of recession and we have huge unemployment. But we believe that 2014 will be the first year of growth after six years of recession.
I don’t really see any possible conflict because as the presidency is an institution within the framework of the EU foreseen in the treaties etc, what is happening with the troika negotiations, is a special relationship between a debtor and a lender and there is a memorandum which has been signed, but this is not within the normal institutional framework of the EU. I don’t see any possible conflict of interest. In any case the talk with the troika will continue and I don’t see any interference between the two.
There are very tough debates and tough decisions that have been already taken and will have to be taken in the future. On the real estate taxation there is an agreement between the two coalition parties, which is endorsed by everybody, which will be soon presented in the parliament. This is indeed a very tough time; imagine your country after six years of recession, and 25% of the GDP lost. It’s not something easy to deal with politically, but the fact that we have been able to preserve the political stability of the country in such a difficult period, indicates that our political system is quite strong. I don’t see or even want to think of the possibility of political instability in my country, not only during the presidency, but in the near future. We have now done the toughest part of the adjustment. It would be a pity and stupid to risk what we have achieved with a lot of sacrifices. I don’t think there will be any political instability during this period.
I would have hoped that it would be like this, as you said, and this is what one has to do in such a situation. Unfortunately I am not so optimistic about the willingness of the main opposition party to behave in such a way. But I still hope that they will understand that this is a national interest issue. Until now they have not shown any positive signs towards this direction.
In any case the institutional continuity of the state, whatever government is in power, is assured. If you look in the recent history there have been cases where you had elections or new governments during the presidency. I believe that we should not do it as this will have a negative impact during the presidency, but if for whatever reason this happens, Greece will be able to assume its responsibilities as a Presidency as it has happened with other member states. If I remember correctly the last example was the Czech Republic.
We take our role as Presidency very seriously and we want to have a good European presidency. This does not mean that, in most cases, if not in all, I believe that European interests and Greek interests are not in conflict. I think all of us who have an interest in stabilizing our common currency, for those who are part of it, and also for those who are not part of the Euro zone, we all have a common interest to do whatever we can to promote growth. It is not only Greece but many other countries that are in recession. To secure our banking system, to secure liquidity which is necessary for growth, to have a more comprehensive migration policy. In all these issues I don’t see any conflict between Swedish, Greek, or European interests. Of course there always different views and this is how it will remain, but the objectives are common, we have a very good cooperation with your government, your Minister of European Affairs was in Athens a few weeks ago, we had a very fruitful discussion, and we will remain in contact. So there is a continuity of the decision making process in the EU, which is not disrupted by the Presidency but each presidency of course brings in some new ideas or some new priorities.
Thank you very much.