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Your Excellency, thank you for granting Nine O’Clock an interview before leaving Bucharest. After more than four years of intense diplomatic activity here, what are your thoughts at the end of your Ambassadorship?
I have to admit that I am leaving with a feeling of having fully executed my duties. And this goes not only for the core of the diplomatic work but also for being an accurate observer of the Romanian actuality, reporting to Athens my assessments and forecasts. In the same time I am satisfied with my achievements regarding the representation of the interests of the Hellenic Republic in Romania. As a neighbouring country we have real interests in Romania and together with Romania. Next to these spheres of diplomatic activity, I also dedicated my time to the image and perception Greece has in the Romanian society. In times of unprecedented adversity, I can say that I leave Romania with a satisfied conscience. I am convinced that I have done a lot, maybe more than I would have expected from myself. That said, this is a never ending mission. It is an ongoing task, you complete some issues and you set up a list of pending issues that have to be addressed by the next Ambassador.
You arrived in Bucharest in 2008. What are the landmark changes that you have witnessed during your ambassadorial mission here?
Shortly after I arrived here, Romania entered the recession following the financial crisis that engulfed the entire world. Your country has been hit less than Greece, but it entered earlier in the crisis, before the end of 2008 while Greece entered a year later and in a more dramatic way. Romania was not in the crisis itself but it was a victim of the world crisis. Similarly to other western and eastern EU member-countries, I have the feeling just observing the daily life of Bucharest, that to some extend the situation has improved. Les annees folles, the years of irrational exuberance are gone and I think they are gone for good. We have to become more pragmatic, in Greece as well. I admire the way the Romanian people had endured the severe therapy of austerity that has been imposed starting with the year 2009. And gradually, although the international economic outlook, more specifically in the European Union, did not improve significantly and the forecasts for 2013 are quite modest and don’t leave room for much optimism, I see that things might become better in your country. On the other hand, Romania has survived a domestic political crisis last summer. I would like to conclude, with the wish that the December general elections will usher a renewed era of civic peace and economic stability and I would like to see them heralding and entering a new phase of relative prosperity.
You have witnessed positive changes during promising times just after we gained our EU membership and dramatic moments after the 2008 collapse of the international financial markets. Do you think Romania will return some day to growth and prosperity and will be able to overcome these difficult times?
I have no doubt that you will overcome these difficult times. On the other hand I cannot give a precise forecast as Romania is part of the European and world economy, more than Romanians realised before 2008. I remember the statements made in that times, I don’t want to attribute them to someone specifically, but they were over-optimistic that the country’s economy is stable and will get over quick over the crisis. If the European and worldwide economy improve by the same pace, the situation will improve in Romania as well.
Romania is a rich country to start with. You have natural resources which are not to be found easily in the neighbouring countries but you need foreign investments. Once the international climate improves and the investors are convinced of the domestic stability of Romania I believe that the economic situation here will improve as well. I think that Romania will have to keep focusing on agriculture. Agriculture is a crucial source of generating wealth for Romania and we all know that it has been a pillar for the wellbeing of the people in the past as well.
Romania and Greece are the hardest hit countries by the recession. What is in your view the solution for getting out of this dire situation? Is it more integration, more Europe, as it seems to be the adage in Brussels nowadays?
This is a philosophical question. Despite the fact that that inside the eurozone we are experiencing problems mainly in the Mediterranean Arc and not only, the prevailing conviction in Greece is that the solution to overcoming our problems lies in the very ties with the European Union and our membership to the eurozone. It is a political, economical and philosophical discussion if 12 years ago, Greece should have joined the eurozone. Back then, in the calculation of the Greek leadership was present the political criteria, meaning that being part of the eurozone your country gains a new status. For us, in Greece, there is no convincing alternative that outside the EU and the eurozone there is a realistic way of recovery and catching up with those ahead of us in terms of income per capita, solidity of the state institutions and the wellbeing of their respective societies.
What do you think the future holds for Greeks in the next few years?
I believe the future will be bright. Not because we are pushing forward everything necessary for the exploitation of the natural resources under the sea bottom. Despite the fact that many say that the crisis is an opportunity, it is true that now we are forced to have the opportunity to restructure our state in ways we should have done ten years ago during the times of prosperity. First of all we have to reduce the control of the state over the economy, to streamline our fiscal system and to bolster the tax collecting system. I think that we will get not leaner and thinner but conscious and stronger out of this difficult conditions. When? Not tomorrow that’s clear. We have a lot of good indices, even before the end of this year we will have a primary surplus in the budget (: not taking into account the payment of the debt and interests). Even if I don’t want to give great importance to this aspect, the rating agencies upgraded Greece recently, the Athens stock exchange reached on January 23 the psychological barrier of 1000 points, the deposits in Greek banks are growing again, all these in terms of trend are quite significant.
It’s a matter of trust in the government and its policies…
Certainly, I trust my government, and our partners trust the Greek government and I believe the Romanian leadership as well trust the Government in Athens. The entire political class and the Romanian society should trust Greece. And I know that your National Bank is trusting Greece. I would not be quick to claim victory. We should stay on our tiptoes for the times to come. But now I am more confident than I was before.
Mr. Ambassador, how would you asses the bilateral relations and what do you think the future of these relations will be?
The bilateral relations with Bucharest are excellent. As it happens with all relations, we have to cultivate them, by means of consultations, exchanges, visits. We don’t have to stay idle. Our countries have historical and cultural links and there is no other way for our relations but to grow stronger. Our countries have stood together in all the fights since they gained independence, except for the WWII, and we hold all the ingredients in our hands to continue on this path, acum, pururea si in vecii vecilor (now, forever and forever after). We have lots of converging interests from a political, economical and geopolitical point of view. At the same time we have a few differences due to our respective geographical position, yet both being South Eastern European countries. We have to keep into account the rich common heritage that will always be the strongest possible link between our people.
How would you explain the fact that Greek banks are doing well in Romania and are among the ten strongest banks in Romania?
They are not the strongest but I admire them because they did well during times of extreme adversities. The first foreign bank in Romania was Alpha Bank. We entered on the Romanian banking market along with the Austrians. Greek businessmen saw in Romania, from an early stage, a propitious place to make business. It is in a way in our genetic heritage. Greeks, mainly from the North, came to Romania to do business since the beginning of the 19th century. The Greeks, with all the banking crisis and problems, have been welcomed here. The foreign minister of my country, was the first to visit post revolution Romania, on January 2nd 1990. Undoubtedly, this political dimension helped the Greek investments in Romania.
Your diplomatic activity has been praised by the Romanian leaders and fellow diplomats alike. Last week you have been awarded by President Traian Basescu who called ‘a friend of Romania’. Now, that you are heading back to Athens, would you say “Mission accomplished?
Yes, of course I say Mission Accomplished! Mission accomplished but not terminated.