“In the EU, we have a deficit in leadership,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said in an interview with the US magazine National Interest. His remarks about Germany, Turkey, Russia, the refugee crisis and the conflict in Syria are “noteworthy for their clear stands,” the magazine notes. With the European Union at a crossroads about its future, Kotzias’s remarks about the need for a clear plan of action are particularly timely.
Jacob Heilbrunn: Does the West have a future?
Nikolaos Kotzias: The West can have a positive future only if we use our capacities in a smart way. Second, it must work hard enough to form new identities, and third, it has to find the best possible solution and implement it. If the West does not work on a new program or any alternative scenarios and does not have the ability to implement the scenario we choose, then there is no future. I think that there is a future for the West only under these three conditions.
JH: The refugee crisis has hit Greece very hard.
NK: Yes Greece was hit very hard. And the refugees were hit hard too.
After January of 2015, I had warned that we would have substantial problems with the refugees and economic migration because the UN and the EU were reducing the money earmarked for the camps in Southern Lebanon. And nobody was listening to me. The European press was carrying out a campaign against me. I was describing a problem and they closed their eyes, chose not to recognize it, and they blamed the messenger instead of focusing on the real problem.
JH: Do you think that Chancellor Merkel exacerbated the problem? Made it worse?
NK: I think Angela Merkel was at the time focusing more on the financial crisis in Europe and the Ukraine problem and failed to see the refugee problem.
JH: What is happening in Europe with the rise of these anti-immigrant movements? What is your assessment?
NK: The anti-European or the anti-Euro movements have existed before the anti-immigrant movements. For example, the AFD in Germany did not start with a campaign against refugees; but with a campaign against the European Union and the euro. In France, the anti-immigrant movement did not begin with the refugees; they do not have so many refugees.
In the EU, we have a deficit of leadership. There is not enough democratic discussion on what type of Europe we want for the twenty-first century. The EU has some useful tools, but not all of them are useful for the future. There are many young people going to school and hearing that the EU can sanction nations, then they hear it can impose an embargo on nations, then they hear that Greece is facing austerity. When you see the whole picture, the EU is not so attractive, if only reduced to these instruments. This is why we need to discuss the vision of the EU, to focus on our values and democracy. The populist movements are on the rise because this discussion never took place.
Nikos Kotzias said he believed that the multiple crises in Europe (Brexit, eurozone crisis, refugee problems) are “individual crises, but they all stem from a leadership crisis in the EU.
“If we tried to create a system based on rules and European values, things would be much better,” the Greek FM underlined.
He added that the European leadership needs to realize that “there are losers in the globalization process” and that the political forces need to focus more on the problems of the workers, on the concerns of the middle class.
N.K.: “The members of the middle class are scared they will lose their jobs and need reassurance and answers. The problem is that politicians are not answering the people’s questions. The longer we delay the answers to the people, the more they will turn to populists or far right groups. We also underestimated the future. We thought the U.S. would decline and that the twenty-first century would be a European century. America is not in decline. Southeast Asia is also rising. Europe is not as important as the Europeans thought it would be, and its leadership is not happy. There is also too much bureaucracy and not enough investment in people, in the Second Machine Age and in the future.”
Full interview in National Interest.