There is a huge deficit of democracy in EU: Greek ambassador

June 30, 2015 - 0:0

TEHRAN – The Greek ambassador to Tehran complains of the European creditors’ approach toward his country and says “there is a huge deficit of democracy in the EU.”


Ambassador Georgios Ayfantis asks: “To whom people like (European Central Bank President Mario) Draghi are really accountable?”

In a nearly two-hour long interview with the Tehran Times in his office, Mr. Ayfantis, who sometimes looked deeply affected by the financial crisis in his country, said, “The Greek debt and the way it is dealt by the EU institutions is just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is the huge deficit of democracy, the deficit of accountability to the European citizens which is embedded throughout the EU structure.”

He also drew a comparison between Iran and Greece, saying one is negotiating with the 5+1 group to come up with a final solution for its nuclear program and the other is seeking to find a way out of differences with its lenders.

“I can only think of better days ahead between Greece and Iran, because both countries are in the middle of very difficult negotiations, different ones but critical for each nation’s future. For our future our negotiation about the debt is critical, for your future your negotiation about the nuclear deal with 5+1 is critical,” the ambassador explained.

The following is the list of our questions and the ambassador’s answers:

Q: Centuries back, Iran and Greece had strong relationship. Even people from Greece immigrated to Iran to spread what they called “Hellenistic” culture, the spread of Greek culture in the non-Greek world after Alexander’s conquest of Iran. Why is it that we see the least interaction between the two countries in all aspects, economy, trade, commerce, even in cultural affairs?

A: Well, it is a matter of geopolitics. I can talk for Greece. Greece is part of the Western block of nations. We have been looking towards the West for the most of the 20th century, at least since 1922. But we also had to watch towards the East, because we’ve had severe security problem with Turkey. But that was as far as we were allowed to do with the East. That has been a choice of the previous Greek elites. They wanted to become Europeans and possibly, North Americans!! And that was a model of looking at things and a model of development that failed in a miserable way, in the sense that this model resulted in having now, in Greece, people searching for food in the garbage beans. It is an economic model that has crumbled.
Currently, the Greek people are reconsidering many of their previous options. For example, we turn back to our historical roots regarding our trading partners. Traditionally, we have not been trading with the Vikings or with the North American first nations. We had been trading with people from the East. So we are getting back to this. We have been through many ups and downs in our history. Over the last decades we went through a sort of --quite familiar-- Greek hubris. We have been part of the so called first world, part of Europe, part of a prosperity which was proved to be fictional and very fragile. There is not prosperity in Greece any more. People are reconsidering their way of living and their perspectives. People of my generation were thinking that year after year life would be better and enjoyed better living conditions before 5 or 10 years. Now they know that this will not be the case anymore. We are in a deadlock. So we are trying to find our bearings again. And our bearings are that, because of our 3,000 islands, we are part of Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. And that our mainland is part of the Balkans. So this may come as a sort of surprise for the Greeks of my generation, because my father’s generation knew very well where and for what they were standing and fighting, during the last World War. But in the late 70s and 80s, euphoria was spread in Greece; we were thinking of Athens as some sort of suburb of London or of Paris. But, of course, this was not true and it has never been. This was the erroneous perception of the Greek elites and it was not vindicated by the turn of events.
So we are now in the process of reconsidering our status, the way we participate to the European Union, to the euro zone, we are reconsidering everything. The fact is that people in Greece are in the process of asking themselves about their identity and their perspectives. After the military regime collapsed, after 1974, the European Union was considered by the traumatized Greeks as the only possible way out for their country. And the main advantage of such an avenue for the future was common prosperity, common European prosperity. Right now, if you look at Europe there is not much prosperity and it is certainly not common; it is for some nations and for certain kind of people only. In the name of prosperity for the north European banks, the Greek society is disintegrating. Our EU partners and lenders suggest that pensions in Greece must be cut to 1/3 of what they used to be. For example, after 5 years of austerity and pension cuts, my mother’s pension shall --according to the EU suggestions-- be downgraded to less than 300 Euros. How Latvians make a living with much less than 300, we are asked! The answer is that Latvians used to live with less than 50 euros 15 years ago, so now 150 or 200 look like paradise to them.
For me as a diplomat it is not difficult to choose my words in order to embellish the description of the European Union. Still, for the average Greek, the European Union is what it is right now: austerity, war in Ukraine, and threats that Greece may become the next Ukraine. We have witnessed other nations, our northern neighbors, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to be ravaged by war. So this is the reality of Europe that Greeks, along with everybody else, are confronted with. Of course, there is a European ideal somewhere in our textbooks; but this has gradually become more part of a fiction than of reality. The reality is what we get at hand.
Still, we are a member of European Union, we are a member of Euro-zone and we will not walk out. We cannot be kicked out. Some are trying to force us out by threatening to cut off liquidity, in an attempt to strangle the Greek economy. We want to be part of Europe, because Europe was founded on the very values of the Greek civilization. Europe is our home. We have been there much earlier than other peoples. So, why should we go away? Is it because we have a debt that we cannot repay? Who created this debt? As far as I know, the Greek tax-payer never went to German tax-payer asking for money. Some Greek governments went to French and German private banks and asked for loans. And these banks gave them loans in quantities that Greece could never pay back. Why did they give us these loans? They gave us these loans because Greece was to immediately use them in order to buy German or French industrial products, mainly armaments and equipment for the 2004 Olympic Games. Let me give you a very characteristic example. Greece decided in 1997 to acquire 4 German-made “214-type” submarines, at a cost of 2.5 Euros. We took a 2.5 billion loan from German and French banks for these 4 submarines. We immediately returned 90% of that amount as a down payment to the German shipyards of Kiel. So far we got only one submarine, in 1997, and it is faulty. The whole purchase and loan were rigged by corruption.
This is a typical way of how a significant part of the Greek debt was contracted. The important thing is to remember that, now, Greece is not asked to pay this loan back to the private banks that issued it to us. Instead, we owe it to the French and German governments, who, in 2010, assigned this loan to their tax-payers and did not let those private banks involved to sink, like Lehman Brothers was left by the U.S. Administration to go down and under. Greece never borrowed money from the German and French tax-payer.
For the submarines scandal, the then Greek defense minister, serves currently a long prison term. He received a 10% commission of the 2.5 billion cost. So, debt constructed on corruption is odious debt and shall be written off. Part of the 380 billion Euros of the Greek debt is odious. The rest is to be paid back, once the Greek economy is given the necessary time and funds to recover. Our creditors will get much less and eventually nothing, if they insist to slaughter the Greek pensioners to get “their money” now!
Q: What seems to salvage the country from its financial crisis? What expectations do you have from the rich EU countries to help resolve the issue?
A: Let me be clear. The problem is not between the Greek and the German people, the Greek and the French people. Problems exist at governments’ level and have to do with the influence of powerful economic interests upon the political process and upon the political personnel. The real problems are between the Greek society and the IMF, the Greek society and the European Central Bank. One shall bear in mind that Mr. Mario Draghi is not elected and was appointed to the ECB on the grounds of his achievements at the top echelons of Goldman Sachs. There is a huge deficit of democracy in the EU. To whom people like Draghi are really accountable? The Greek case, the Greek debt and the way it is dealt by the EU institutions is just the tip of the iceberg. The iceberg is the huge deficit of democracy, the deficit of accountability to the European citizens which is embedded throughout the EU structure.
Technically speaking, Greece has been paying her maturing debt by its own resources since August 2014, draining money out of its own economy. We have done it so far, though our EU partners failed to fulfill their obligations that is payments to Greece of 7.3 billion Euros. They have not given that money under the pretext that the Greek economy has not been reformed enough and, therefore, will produce future deficits. Should we default, the Greek economy will suffer further, but so the rest of the EU economies. There is no textbook instruction about a default within the Eurozone. There has not been a precedent and nobody knows the repercussions and consequences.
Q: Mr. Ambassador Iran and Greece were two powerful empires and rivals in the ancient history and inevitably at times at war with each other. Now some accuse Iran of trying to revive its empire once again. What do you think?

A: We don’t see any Iranian empire around. The Greek government does not consider Iran to be an expansionist country. We don’t think this is the case. Iran has been for millenaries a highly influential factor in this part of the world, the broader Middle East. Culturally speaking, economically speaking, geopolitically speaking, what is new about this?

Q: Some believe that Iranian foreign minister’s trip to Greece, which didn’t grab much media attention, was of high importance. Both parties had vital conversations. What is your assessment of the visit?

A: His Excellence Mohammad Javad Zarif met with our foreign minister and then he met with our energy minister. He also met with the prime minister and the deputy prime minister. So he held very substantial meetings in Greece. Mr. Zarif is a diplomat and negotiator of world caliber and we were very much interested in hearing his point of view on the negotiations between the 5+1 and Iran. For the simple reason, we are also conducting negotiations with practically the same nations, of course on a different issue.

We wish to cooperate with Iran in all sectors. We take into account the fact that there are sanctions. But sanctions are like icebergs in the sea. We Greeks have traditionally been apt in sailing and we intend to navigate around them, avoid crashing and sinking. Greece and Iran have been cooperating since time immemorial and I cannot understand why we should not reiterate the ages-old tradition of trading goods, ideas, knowledge, and culture. In fact we are planning to exchange visits of our ministers of culture. We wish to reinforce and reinvigorate our relationship in all possible, significant fields.

Q: The Greek prime minister has called the sanctions on Iran “unjust”. Has Greece been able to open up its trade particularly in the economic sector to Iran since Alexis Tsipras took office?

A: I am certainly not going to contradict my prime minister’s evaluation about sanctions.

Q: Many countries have already sent or beginning to send their delegations to Iran to test the water for future trade. They have already cranked up talks on economic areas so that once Iran’ nuclear deal gets finalized they are not lagging behind entering Iran’s market. These delegations were from Switzerland, Germany, and even as rumor had it from the United States. What about your country?

A: People will keep on coming and this doesn’t depend on whether the sanctions will be lifted or not. We already had in March one high-level Greek delegation to Iran headed by Mr. Yorgos Tsipras, who is the first cousin of our prime minister and currently serves as secretary general for international economic cooperation in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So, yes, we will exchange delegations on variety of issues. Our economies are complementary, and there is a field for substantial economic cooperation between our two countries. Iranians and Greeks are very intelligent people; they can find ways to develop their bilateral economic cooperation without being impressed by temporary impediments.

Q: What do you think of the nuclear talks between Iran and the six major powers? Are you hopeful that the deal will go through? And if so, what will be its impacts on the region in particular and the world in general?

A: First things first. I hope there will be an agreement. I also hope that sanctions will be lifted as soon as possible after the deal. We in Greece do not believe that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear arms. We consider that Iran is entitled to have a peaceful nuclear program for peaceful purposes, under the existing treaties and that it also has inalienable rights to conduct nuclear research.
After an agreement between Iran and the 5+1, the potential for cooperation among Iran and the rest of the world will explode. So, the deal will mean an improvement of the international climate and will enhance stability in the region. And we sincerely hope that this will be the case. There is a genuine will on the part of the Iranian government to get a deal. But this also depends from 6 other sides, not to mention forces who are not sitting around the table but behind the scenes. So it is a difficult thing. But we think the agreement is within reach. And then everything would be easier.
I can only think of better days ahead between Greece and Iran, because both countries are in the middle of very difficult negotiations, different ones but critical for each nation’s future. For our future our negotiation about the debt is critical, for your future your negotiation about the nuclear deal is critical. We are at a turning point of our modern history and I am sure that each nation will turn around the corner and then have we will have many possibilities to cooperate bilaterally.



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We want to be part of Europe, because Europe was founded on the very values of the Greek civilization. Europe is our home. We have been there much earlier than other peoples. So, why should we go away? Is it because we have a debt that we cannot repay? Who created this debt? As far as I know, the Greek tax-payer never went to German tax-payer asking for money.

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In the name of prosperity for the north European banks, the Greek society is disintegrating.

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Should we default, the Greek economy will suffer further, but so the rest of the EU economies.

************highlight*********************

Iranians and Greeks are very intelligent people; they can find ways to develop their bilateral economic cooperation without being impressed by temporary impediments.

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We in Greece do not believe that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear arms. We consider that Iran is entitled to have a peaceful nuclear program for peaceful purposes, under the existing treaties and that it also has inalienable rights to conduct nuclear research.

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We had been trading with people from the East. So we are getting back to this.

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We have been part of the so called first world, part of Europe, part of a prosperity which was proved to be fictional and very fragile.



Edited by Mohammad Ali Saki