NEWS

Bilateral relations need to be based on realistic assessment of strong ties

What are your main priorities? The key priority has got to be to achieve still more progress in the ways in which Britain and Greece can work together on a whole range of issues, but starting perhaps from the international sector. Greece and Britain are both important countries within the European Union, within NATO. We are now both members of the Security Council for the next two years and there are real opportunities for us to work together on global issues. Some of those I think are quite obvious. of course, both Britain and Greece, in varying ways, have a close interest in Cyprus. We have a close interest in the Balkans in different ways. Greece has both economic penetration of the Balkans and strong political interests there. Britain of course has been one of the countries that has invested a great deal in the peace operations in the Balkans and the political process there. We need to deepen our cooperation in the Balkans, but there are also some other areas which, partly through Greece’s membership of the Security Council, are rising up our joint agenda. The Security Council spends about 60 percent of its time on Africa. Of course there’s also a very strong European agenda that we both face. We have a lot of shared interests in Europe – some differences but some shared interests, in things like the Lisbon agenda around the European economy. Then there are issues to do with our bilateral relations in terms of commercial and investment relationships between the two countries and also the human contacts that exist through tourism and education. The fundamental point is to try to make sure the relations between our two countries are as substantial as our historical and human links suggest that they should be. One of the things that has most struck me coming back to Greece is how strong those ties are. We have about 3 million British people coming to Greece every year in the tourist trade. In the other direction, we have more young Greeks studying in British universities than any other nation apart from China – we have about 25,000 Greek students in British universities. I think that provides a very strong basis for the sort of development or relationships we were talking about earlier. I think it’s also, particularly in the latter case, an indication that the UK, in the education field, in the field of innovation and research, has a great deal to offer in a partnership with Greece. We have a very lively research and technology sector in the UK. We have universities which are offering a very high quality of education, particularly at the top end, and I like to think that young Greeks will want to continue to take advantage of that. I was struck the other day by reading the statistic that the UK has produced more Nobel Prize winners than any other country apart from the US, which I think is a measure of the advanced technology and research capacity which we offer in the UK. Bright future So, when we’re thinking about relations between the UK and Greece, I like to think not only of the history of the two countries – which is interesting and rich and in many cases strong – but also of the future relationship, which I think is based on human contacts, on the educational links which we have, on the technological links which we can develop. I think there’s a very interesting and exciting future relationship between the two countries in those areas. The history is fantastic. But as British ambassador, whilst I want to not forget that history and to pay tribute to it, the relationship has to be based on a realistic, modern assessment of the relations between two partner countries. And the history is great; when we have celebrations of the battle of Crete, the battle of Navarino, we remember those links and that is absolutely right. My job, though, is also to create new links which are of modern relevance to the two countries. I think that’s absolutely vital and great fun too. Is cooperation on fighting terrorism continuing between Greek and British authorities? Yes, it does continue. I mean there are two aspects of course. There is the worldwide fight against terrorism. So we have strong cooperation with Greece in that area. There is also the issue, of course, of terrorism within Greece. On Sunday I was at a church service to commemorate the victims of terrorism and I was very struck when the bishop of Piraeus was reading the list of names of predominantly Greek citizens of course who have suffered at the hands of domestic terrorism over the last 30 years or so, how deeply Greece has suffered and how deeply Greek families and fathers and children have suffered losses. We had very good cooperation with the Greek security authorities both in offering our support in helping with terrorist issues in the past, and through the Olympic period. I think that that level of professionalism is now very good and we have a lot of confidence in the Greek forces. I think it’s very important that we maintain that state of vigilance because the Greek government is clearly very determined to ensure that terrorism does not once more return as a significant issue in Greek public life. And I applaud that. Regarding the murder of the special guard outside the British military attache’s house, have British security authorities been involved in the investigation? We have to make the safe assumption that that was in some way terrorist-related. I think that that has to be the hypothesis from which we work. Of course we have been cooperating with the Greek authorities. This is a Greek investigation into a crime which took place in Greece. Where we can offer support, of course we are very willing to do so. Of course we have an interest in following the progress of that investigation.