The Ambassador of the German Federal Republic to Greece, Jens Plötner, said that his country and Greece are both members of the Schengen system and that the airport checks are an exception, which is, however, provided in the Treaty. The target is to stop the activities of human traffickers.
“Yes, things are going better, but cautiously so, still not so much as they would be immediately felt by the Greek citizens”. This is what Mr. Plötner, who is learning Greek, believes about the country. Speaking to “Thema” newspaper, the German Ambassador points out that “it is important that this course should continue unabated over the next years”, making it clear that this should occur not because the institutions want it, but in order for it “to bring about a sustainable social and economic recovery”.
In terms of the financial assistance programme, Mr. Plötner underlines that “now Greece really does have the possibility of successfully completing the third programme. The basic economic rules, however, apply for the period after the programme.” Regarding the recent checks at the airports, he clarifies that “Greece and Germany remain partners within the Schengen system. Implementing airport checks to flights from Greece, which was decided and put into effect in November, constitutes an exception, which is expressly provided in the Schengen Treaty”. The German Ambassador will spend Christmas in Athens. As he says, he wants to discover a different Greece, one that he is not familiar with, “a winter Greece”, as he tells “Thema”. Commenting on the efforts in Germany for the formation of a government, he notes that “Regardless of the outcome of those efforts, I would not overestimate its effect on Greece.”
Asked about the issue of the reparations he points out: “Apart from the legal aspect, there is the matter of moral responsibility”, labeling Manolis Glezos a great personality.
Do you believe Greece is currently at a stage of economic recovery, as the Greek government says?
“Yes, things are going better, but cautiously so, still not so much as they would be immediately felt by the Greek citizens. From our experience in Germany, we are aware that time is needed before the positive results of the reforms become widely felt. That is why it is important for that course to remain on steady over the next years. Not because the so-called institutions want it, but due to the understanding that this is the only way by which sustainable and social and economic recovery will come about.”
Do you believe that we will need a new financial assistance programme and new measures, or will we get rid of austerity once and for all? Will there continue to be oversight until we pay off the loans?
“From what I hear, the current review is going very well and there has been no new needs for further fiscal measures. This week the 10-year Greek bond yield fell below 5% again. This shows that the country is gradually gaining trust. Now, Greece has a real chance of successfully completing the third programme. The basic economic rules, however, apply for the period after the programme. In the long run a state can only spend as much as it yields. Sometimes I read ‘all the reforms over the past years were imposed by the institutions to punish Greece’. That is, in my opinion, a dangerous view, because the positive results of the structural reforms will only become apparent if they (reforms) continue in a consistent manner after the end of the programme. And I can’t see, for example, how a modern administration, a strong health care system, a modern social welfare system, or a successful vocational training system can constitute punishment.”
Are there security reasons at airports that jeopardise Greece’s position in the Schengen Treaty?
“No. Greece and Germany remain partners within the Schengen system. Implementing airport checks to flights from Greece, which was decided and put into effect in November, constitutes an exception, which is expressly provided in the Schengen Treaty. Our collaboration with the Greek authorities is exceptional and our goal is common, to stop illegal immigration and the activities of human trafficking rings.”
What do you think of the formation of a government in Germany? What should Greece expect from any changes?
“The formation of a government in Germany is delayed substantially this time, something quite unusual. The creation of a coalition in a parliament, which is now made up of seven parties, is more difficult in comparison to the past when the parties were only four. At the same time, however, it is positive that through the Federal President’s initiative new efforts are again being made for the formation of a government to avoid new elections. Regardless of the outcome of those efforts, I would not overestimate their effect on Greece. It is true, of course, that we are all dependent on each other in Europe. The future of Greece is decided in Athens, not Berlin.”
You attended the screening of Panagiotis Voulgaris’s film “The last note”, which is based on the true story of the men who were executed at the Kesariani shooting range on May 1, 1944. What made you go? Has the issue of the WWII reparations closed?
“I was really impressed by the movie. It shows how close good and evil are. The night before their execution the Greek prisoners found the courage to dance and sing together for one last time. That touched me deeply. It was something very special for me to be watching the movie with Manolis Glezos and his wife. We have met a few times. He is a powerful personality. The matter of the WWII reparations has been legally closed from our perspective. I am aware, however, that Greece holds a different view. The important thing for me, however, apart from the legal issue is the matter of moral responsibility. The German Federal President asked for forgiveness at the Lingiades memorial for the crimes committed by the Germans. Many Germans, especially youth, are active in communities affected by atrocities to maintain the memories alive. The memories and responsibility will never close.”
What is the future of politics in Europe in your opinion? What mix of ingredients will it include in terms of the economy and social solidarity?
“The EU finds itself before a crucial year. In 2018 we will have to decide how bold we want the transformation of the Union to be. The French President, Emmanuel Macron has tabled detailed and specific proposals. Chancellor Merkel noted it was a serious starting point, a solid basis for an intensive German-French cooperation. During the upcoming discussions it will be important to find a good mixture: on the one hand we need a competitive, economically robust Europe, which can stand competitively on the global stage – because if we are weak, others will dictate the rules – and on the other hand, we want to maintain our “European way of life”, in which unchecked capitalism has no place, and which has functional and viable social systems.”
What role can Germany play in Europe?
“Germany will assume its share of the responsibility for Europe’s future. Europe has always been more than the sum total of 6, 12 or 27 separate national viewpoints. There is what we would call Europe’s interest as a whole. I hope everyone is aware of this responsibility.”
You have dubbed the relationship between Greece and Germany “family”. What exactly do you mean?
“As the members of a family, we are inexorably tied to each other via our common European history and culture. And as is the case in families there can be feuds among the members. But even then, they remain closely tied and work it out among each other, because they know very well that they are members of the same family, they share something that binds them together.”
Do you think the typical stereotypes used by people in both countries, as a result of the economic crisis, are still present or have they subsided?
“It was a difficult period. I am glad it is over. For anyone who knows both countries these stereotypes are nonsense. Yes, we are different, just like with the Italians and Portuguese. Every people, every country has their strong and weak points. But that is what defines Europe. Our goal should be unity through diversity. Our differences make us stronger, under the condition that we bring together our strengths and not our weaknesses. That is the duty of the leaders, but also of every one of us in our daily lives.”
Why should the youth study in German universities? You have studied in a country other than your own and have said that you have a second country. How is something like that achieved via studying?
“Studying abroad – it doesn’t matter which country – is wealth for the young people. It broadens the horizons and reveals that there are different ways of thinking and learning. You also learn a lot about your own identity when living outside your country. It is not incidental that the “Erasmus” programme is one of the most successful student exchange programmes. Whoever goes to study abroad is not considered a loss for their country. In an ideal scenario, they return to their country with new knowledge and experiences.”
How much have the dual vocational training programme, “Mentoring Dual International-MENDI” and the Hellenic-German youth Institute progressed?
“The vocational programme MENDI is coming to a conclusion very soon. 150 young people completed their 3-year training courses last year and this year. Over 80% will acquire a full-time job immediately, while 10% will have a full-time job within the upcoming months. The secret to its success is combining theoretical education in the school with the practical learning at the business over the course of the 3 years of study. In this way, the students are ensured to learn everything they need to know. At the same time, the employer becomes closely acquainted with their interns. Thus, a relationship of trust is developed, which almost always ends in a full-time employment position. Unfortunately, the programme comes to its conclusion and will not continue. The Hellenic-German Institute of Youth is moving forward at a rapid pace. Currently, structural issues and equipment are under discussion. I hope it will officially open in 2018.
You recently visited the Ellinogermaniki Agogi School and sat at the student desk. What is your relationship with the kids?
“It is always refreshing for me to talk with high school or university students. Their questions are honest, straightforward and intelligent. They push you to come up with new answers. I also learn a lot from such encounters.”
You welcomed your guests at the Embassy in Greek on occasion of the anniversary of the reunification of Germany. Do you continue to communicate in Greek?
“I have a Greek lesson once a week with a very good teacher, who, thank God, is very patient. My 6-year-old son, who is learning Greek at school is constantly correcting me: ‘Dad, intonation, intonation!’ My goal is not to speak perfect Greek. Just to be able to sit down at a taverna with a nice glass of wine (that helps with the accent), and hold a simple conversation.”
How is life in Greece? What do you miss from your country?
“Our first six months in Greece were outstanding. I met very interesting and nice people. I traveled a lot and enjoyed the renowned Greek hospitality. Which is why we will spend Christmas here in Athens. And I am really glad that I will be able to discover a different Greece, which I do not know, a winter Greece.”