Kotzias described himself and his colleagues, Alternate Minister for European Affairs Nikos Choundis, and for International Economic Relations Efklidis Tsakalotos as Europeanists, noting that they hope to “build bridges with emerging nations.”
“We don’t believe that our relations resulting from our European integration are in conflict or contradict our relations with emerging powers,” he said.
This transitional bridge between Greece and the EU and the emerging markets requires the development of our abilities, said Kotzias, adding the country can play an important role as a factor of stability.
“Greece is located within a triangle of instability and constitutes a bright beacon of stability. Any lack of the necessary instability in our region could signal many ills, both for the Greek people and the EU.”
Commenting on the upcoming extraordinary Council of EU Foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday, which will discuss a new set of sanctions against Russia, Kotzias said some EU partners violated EU rules and tried to present us a fait accompli before the new government was even sworn-in. “We made that clear from the beginning, it will not be accepted, he said.
“Anyone who thinks that Greece will resign from its sovereignty and its active contribution to European policy because of its debt is mistaken,” he added.
On his side, outgoing Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos welcomed the new leadership of the ministry and said he delivered a personal 16-page letter to Kotzias with his notes and experiences concerning the open issues of Greece’s foreign policy.
Venizelos also thanked his deputies and general secretaries, as well as the officials of the ministry for their cooperation, adding that foreign policy is the policy of achieving the widest possible consensus.
Chountis said he would focus on Greece’s equal treatment in Europe, including its obligations and rights, while Tsakalotos said that SYRIZA would build on what was already there but bring new analyses and ideas that would be open to constructive criticism.
Both thanked outgoing Deputy Foreign Ministers Dimitris Kourkoulas and Kyriakos Gerontopoulos for their welcome and briefings. Gerontopoulos thanked the previous administration and expressed the hope that the new government “will be strict with us but fair.”
Greek Government Questions EU Bid for Russia Sanctions
By James G. Neuger and Nikos Chrysoloras Jan 27, 2015 2:21 PM ET
Alexis Tsipras, Greek Prime Minister-elect, speaks as he is sworn in as prime minister… Read More
Greece’s new government questioned moves to impose more sanctions on Russia, adding a foreign-policy angle to its challenge to the status quo in Europe.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s Syriza-led coalition said it opposed a European Union statement issued in Brussels Tuesday paving the way to additional curbs on the Kremlin over the conflict in Ukraine, and complained it hadn’t been consulted.
“Greece doesn’t consent,” the government said in a statement. It added that the announcement violated “proper procedure” by not first securing Greece’s agreement.
Whether the government in Athens turns that rhetoric into reality will be tested when Greece’s new foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, has the opportunity to block further sanctions at an EU meeting in Brussels on Thursday.
Sanctions require unanimity among the 28 governments. A Greek veto would shatter the fragile European consensus over dealing with Russia, potentially robbing Syriza of early goodwill as it lobbies for easier terms for Greece’s bailout.
It would also deepen a looming stand-off with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has signaled her support to keep up the pressure on Russia amid an escalation in violence in eastern Ukraine.
Kotzias, a politics professor and former communist, has advocated closer ties with Russia, spoken out against a German-dominated Europe and, in the 1980s, praised the Polish government’s crackdown on the Solidarity movement.
He said the new government objected to the “rules of operation” within the EU regarding the Russia statement.
“Anyone who thinks that in the name of the debt, Greece will resign its sovereignty and its active counsel in European politics is mistaken,” Kotzias said at the ceremony to take over the Foreign Ministry. “We want to be Greeks, patriots, Europeanists, internationalists.”
He’s part of a cabinet in Greece named on Tuesday by Tsipras after he formed a coalition with Independent Greeks, a more socially conservative party that also opposes austerity. After winning the election two seats short of a majority, Syriza decided against seeking a deal with To Potami, a new party whose leader has pledged to steer a “European course.”
The new government also includes Yanis Varoufakis, an economist who has called Greece’s bailout agreement a destructive “trap,” as finance minister. He advocates defaulting on the country’s debt while remaining in the euro.
Germany warned about rolling back budget cuts, pressing Tsipras to endorse the fiscal tightening that underpins the 240 billion-euro ($272 billion) aid program for Greece.
Volker Kauder, the parliamentary caucus leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, told reporters in Berlin on Tuesday that Germany “bears no responsibility for what happened in Greece.”
“Tsipras’s initial decisions, especially his coalition with a nationalist-hooligan party, point toward an exit from the euro,” Luis Garicano, an economics professor at the London School of Economics, said on Twitter. “If he wanted to negotiate, he’d have teamed up with To Potami, he wouldn’t have opposed sanctions against Russia.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is cultivating the new government in Athens as an ally within the EU, wishing Tsipras success in “difficult conditions” in a congratulatory telegram after Sunday’s election.
The sanctions controversy started with EU President Donald Tusk saying he spoke on behalf of all the bloc’s leaders in calling for the Jan. 29 meeting of foreign ministers to consider “further restrictive measures” on Russia.
Tusk issued the declaration after no EU government objected, in a “silence procedure” commonly used by international bureaucracies. Tusk’s political apprenticeship came with Solidarity, making him the ideological opposite of many members of the Syriza movement.
Foreign ministers will consider widening a blacklist of Russian political and military figures accused of destabilizing Ukraine, while a discussion of further economic sanctions awaits a Feb. 12 summit of EU leaders.
As EU president since December, Tusk has brought to Brussels the uncompromising stance toward the Kremlin which marked his seven years as prime minister of Poland.
Tusk is still working out a division of labor over foreign policy with the EU’s chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister. Tusk’s appointment partly reflected a desire to offset what some eastern European governments saw as Mogherini’s softness toward Russia.
To contact the reporters on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at email@example.com; Nikos Chrysoloras
Greece’s New Left-Wing Cabinet Signals Willingness to Confront E.U. Over Policies
By JIM YARDLEYJAN. 27, 2015
ATHENS — From the makeup of his cabinet to an early warning sent to the European Union over Russia policy, Greece’s new prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, on Tuesday signaled a sharp shift in direction for Greece as he unveiled the first government led from the far left in the country’s modern history.
Two days after he ousted Greek’s conservative government in an emphatic election victory, Mr. Tsipras, 40, assembled a new, streamlined cabinet dominated by members of his radical-left Syriza party, among them academics, labor activists and human rights advocates.
His most closely watched selection was his new finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, an economist and avid blogger who has described Europe’s austerity policies as “fiscal waterboarding.”
European leaders began to send their congratulations on Tuesday after a mostly chilly initial response to the victory by Syriza, which is demanding a renegotiation of the tough terms of Europe’s 240 billion euro bailout of Greece.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany wished Mr. Tsipras “much strength and success,” if also noting that “you are taking office in a difficult time in which you face great responsibility.”
Mr. Tsipras quickly demonstrated that Europe must not treat Greece as a weak junior partner. His government on Tuesday denounced a European Council statement in which European leaders blamed Russia for the escalating violence in Ukraine and raised the prospect of new economic sanctions.
In its own statement, Mr. Tsipras’s office said the European statement had been issued “without the consent of Greece.” The prime minister also complained by telephone to Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.
Mr. Tsipras has been a sharp critic of European sanctions against Moscow and has displayed past good will toward Russia, a sentiment common among many Greeks.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sent Mr. Tsipras a congratulatory telegram on Monday, the day he was sworn into office, while that same day, Mr. Tsipras met with the Russian ambassador in Athens.
Having a Greek prime minister with a strongly dissenting view on Russian sanctions could greatly complicate European Union foreign policy, which has benefited from a German-led unanimity among heads of state on confronting Mr. Putin.
Further sanctions cannot be approved without a unanimous vote from the leaders of European Union member nations, and Mr. Tsipras might find sympathetic partners in countries like Hungary or Slovakia, which dislike sanctions but generally go along.
Political analysts in Athens interpreted Mr. Tsipras’s early warning shots as clever political positioning, given that his government will soon open negotiations with the country’s European creditors over the punishing bailout provisions. Showing that he could complicate European goals in Ukraine may give him leverage in his economic negotiations, analysts said.
“He’s maneuvering all the time,” said Stelios Kouloglou, a political commentator who last year ran an unsuccessful campaign with Syriza for the European Parliament. “But he has a main direction.”
That direction is forcing Europe to ease the bailout’s tough, belt-tightening conditions, which have crippled the Greek economy and contributed to rampant joblessness, foreclosures and shuttered businesses.
Political opponents have warned that Syriza’s leftist roots would infuse Mr. Tsipras’s government with a populist, radical agenda.
Costas Karagounis, a spokesman for New Democracy, the defeated conservative party, warned that some cabinet members had “expressed dangerous views” on economic growth and privatization.
But the broader public reaction to the new government seemed to be one of elation, if also concern about the future.
Mr. Tsipras worked assiduously in the weeks before Sunday’s elections to reassure Greek voters that he was not a wild-eyed radical but would defend Greek interests and reverse the most punitive aspects of the bailout conditions.
“Syriza is a new reality in a new Europe,” said Panagiotis Kouroumplis, the country’s new health minister, in an interview. “We don’t want to disintegrate Europe. We believe there will be voices who will listen to Syriza.”
He added, “What is most frustrating to citizens is they see wealth being created in Europe, but that wealth is being distributed to just a few, instead of equally.”
Mr. Kouloglou, the political analyst, predicted that the new government would steadily target the oligarchical businesses that have dominated the Greek economy and enjoyed close political ties to past governments — and which actively opposed Mr. Tsipras’s campaign.
“He has no reason to pay them back or to make a compromise,” Mr. Kouloglou said. “He was not given a gift, and he is not obliged to give a gift back.”
In assembling the new cabinet, Mr. Tsipras streamlined the number of ministries, but he did create a new one to fight corruption, led by the former head of Greece’s anti-money-laundering authority.
He also gave the job of defense minister to Panos Kammenos, the leader of the small, center-right party Independent Greeks, with which Syriza formed a coalition to achieve a parliamentary majority.
Even as many Greek leftists winced at Mr. Kammenos’s holding such a prominent position, some analysts saw the move as further evidence that Mr. Tsipras was more a dealmaker than a leftist ideologue, and that his party’s primary focus would be the formidable tasks of confronting Europe over the bailout and reviving the Greek economy.
“Today, Syriza is not a left-wing party,” said Mr. Kouroumplis, the health minister. “It is, first of all, a patriotic party, which believes in peace, democracy and social justice. We demand the right to live in dignity.”
Of Greece’s creditors, he added, “They should know that they are dealing with proud people.”
Dimitris Bounias and Niki Kitsantonis contributed reporting.