WASHIGKTON, DC – Ambassador of Greece in Washington Christos Panagopoulos, in an exclusive interview with TNH spoke about the Greece in the presidency of the European Union, and what that means to both the country and the continent. He also spoke about the economic crisis, the Greek-American relations – which he called “excellent” – the Greek-American community, terrorism, and economic development.
Panagopoulos said that “the EU presidency is not an option; it is an obligation according to the ordinances of the EU and we are going to exercise it with full responsibility towards Europe and the big issues that are open today.” He emphasized that “it is an opportunity to show, despite the economic crisis, that Greece is here, a credible partner that looks towards the future.”
As to how much, if at all, the economic crisis influences the presidency, Panagopoulos, who is experienced diplomat with previous tenures in the U.S. as Consul General of Greece, said “let us not kid ourselves: an economic crisis influences everything and, of course, the presidency in the sense that you don’t have the ability to do things that were done in the past. It is also an opportunity to correct some of the bad habits of the past.”
The five previous Greek presidencies were marked by some huge and serious challenges such as the crisis in Serbia and Iraq. Panagopoulos stated that “we have some external issues of global dimensions that are open, such as the situation in the Middle East which influences Southern Europe, and also the situation in Ukraine, which is taking a difficult turn these days.”
The ambassador said that “Washington cares deeply about the Greek presidency. I remind you the two visits of the Prime Minister of Greece Antonis Samaras to Washington. He met with President Obama in August and Vice President Biden in September, and also with prominent members of the Congress and representatives of think tanks with global sphere, and all these expressed interest about the Greek presidency. Also, recently the minister of external affairs of Greece and vice-president of the government visited Washington and met with his counterpart John Kerry.”
Panagopoulos believes that Greece is nearing the end of the economic crisis. He said that “our top priority is growth” and that “economic crisis is not only a Greek issue, it is a pan-European issue as well.” He said that “the first signs of recovery are already visible. Greece has regained a big part of its ability to compete, but much more should be done in order for Greece to regain its credibility and go to the markets.”
The ambassador stated that “growth is synonymous with small businesses, which are the backbone of economic activity. Today, even healthy businesses in Greece face difficulties because they don’t have access to inexpensive capital funds and financing. The interest that a Greek businessman pays is 7% or 8%, in comparison to a German businessman, who pays 5% or less. The German pays 30% of the energy cost that a Greek does. Just imagine the conditions of competition in which the Greek businessman finds himself. These issues should be dealt with in the long run. For now, we want Greece to exit from the economic crisis.”
When asked how and why Greece got to such a point of crisis, he said “it is a long story. Of course, many things went wrong not only in the economic sector but in general, and also Greece found itself in the eye of storm. The crisis was imported to Europe and consequently to Greece, which had some weak structures, and, accordingly, we arrived to the present situation.”
If Greece was used as an experiment, Panagopoulos said “it has proven itself by the events that the mechanism of Euro was ill,” and even that there was no mechanism to facilitate a successful exit from the crisis.
Panagopoulos said that “the government of Greece is doing everything possible to recapture terrorist Christodoulos Xiros,” referring to killer from the notorious terrorist group November 17, which spread terrorism in Greece for decades. He was furloughed from prison but never returned.
The ambassador said that “the Greek-American community is very well-respected by all Americans starting from President Obama, to Congress and the American People,” and that relations between Greece and the United States are excellent. He also said that “the climate of the Greek-Turkish relations is not bad between the two governments; there is communication on all levels, but the essence of the problems has not been dealt with. The issue of Cyprus remains unsolved. A new effort is underway for a permanent solution.”