Greece's Foreign Minister on Trump, Germany and the Future of Europe

Nikos Kotzias in Russia. Flickr/Creative Commons/Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“In the EU, we have a deficit of leadership.”

JH: One of your neighbors that is not part of the European Union, Turkey, has been making a lot of noise. What do you think about Erdogan’s recent comments about Nazis?

NK: Since I became Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, I’ve been dealing constantly with issues related to Turkey. Look back to the classical balance of power Bismarck wanted and shaped. After his departure, Germany became nervous because the balance was gone. With whom would Germany make an alliance? The German nervous power of the previous century is Turkey today. There are many political and social contradictions in Turkey, many different religions and many economic contradictions.

One side in the government seems to be insecure. The other side in the government is arrogant. This combination of fear and arrogance is making the regime even more nervous. They need though to respect the other nations. With regard to the Nazi comments, I must say that the killings that Nazis organized were beyond genocide. It was like an industrial process. That is unique in human history. When you start dealing with every problem with this mentality—that is, calling everyone you don’t like “Nazi”—then you are underestimating what the Nazis did and downgrading their crimes. Very frankly, you are normalizing what they did.

JH: What do you think is Germany’s role in the EU right now? Do you think Berlin is still too bent on austerity and that its policies are crippling the economies of the south?

NK: We have been arguing during the negotiations for the future of the EU since the 1990s about the need to upgrade democracy in the EU and enhance the role of the European Parliament. After the euro crisis, the parliament lost power for the benefit of informal institutions of the EU that are not democratic: the eurozone and the euro group. The parliament is not participating in the decisionmaking in these fields, so in reality there is a formal structure that is democratic, and an informal system where the parliament has no power. The structure of power is based on economic, not political or democratic power. Thus, the Germans are the strongest; they have a leadership role and they call for more and more austerity in Greece. They believe that Greece must be punished because of the behavior of its elites.

The big question is: what do the Germans themselves think? Germans had accumulated a massive debt after both World Wars. After the London Conference in the 1950s, the Americans realized that the creditors and Germans needed to find a compromise. They realized that Germany could only pay back her debt if there was growth. That was a win-win situation. If Germany grows, then creditors can get their money back. Now people talk about how good the German economy is, but forget that they had debt relief by the Americans because of Washington’s good will. Although the Germans committed many crimes during the war, the Americans were generous to them afterwards so that there could be growth.

But the Germans have not been so kind to us and haven’t treated us like the way Americans treated them. Germany does not want growth; they just want to suck Greece dry. Germans are not paying high interest rates for their own loans; there are companies that are getting very low rates in the country. Making it, thus, easier only for Germans. Germany is part of the problem since they have interests in the EU, but they fail to think constructively for the common interest of the EU member states.

JH: There is a long history between Greece and Germany, down to the color of the flag; the Greek flag is even the same colors as Bavaria.

NK: Germany was trying to establish itself in the nineteenth century. First, they took elements of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. They based their views on Kant and the Enlightenment, and then went back to the ancient Greek heritage. They formed a cultural and linguistic identity and then they created a state. The positive aspect is that Germany rediscovered ancient Greek culture and ideas. Germans found in ancient Greek culture a way to identify themselves. So, modern Germany finds itself in an interesting contradiction. They love ancient Greece and understand the impact it had on the German state, but they are having trouble dealing with modern Greece. In a strange way, they like Greece . . . but without the Greeks. They like to visit, but they don’t like to deal with us.

JH: What about Syria? What do you envision there as a way to stop the war and deal with Russia in Ukraine? The Trump administration may have an idea of how to work with Russia to stop the wars.

NK: I think that the new administration is going to organize a new coalition of states dealing with the Syrian crisis and it may be able to find a way to win. I did not like the behavior of some European nations that behaved towards Trump in the way they might have behaved towards third-world countries. They need to understand why he won and what lies behind this huge support to him. You have to respect democracy. It is not about liking the results; it is about respecting the results.

JH: How do you see the future between Trump and Europe?

NK: He is rethinking our relations. It is useful to give our views and to discuss how things should go. Which are the ways that through which we can deliver together security and stability in our region? This is the most important question.

JH: So how do we solve Syria?