'It's a time to get closer'

  • Ashok Tuteja

    May 8, 2017 | 03:00 AM
India-Greece relations, Panos Kalogeropoulos, Greek Diplomatic Service

Panos Kalogeropoulos (Photo: Facebook)

Born in 1956 in Athens,Greek Ambassador to India Panos Kalogeropoulos, joined the Greek Diplomatic Service in 1982. He has served at various postings within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs apart from being the Chief of Protocol.In between, he has been posted at the Embassies of Greece in Bonn and Moscow, the Permanent Mission of Greece to the OSCE, Vienna,and as Consul General of Greece in Istanbul.

His Ambassadorial postings up to now have been to Beirut, Lisbon, and Berlin. Since 9 December 2015, he is the Ambassador of Greece to India with parallel accreditation to Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. In this interview to Ashok Tuteja, he speaks about his country's relations with India and its support for India's admission to the NSG and a reformed UN Security Council. Excerpts:

Greece is a member of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group (NSG). Do you support India's candidature?

It has been discussed between our governments. Greece does support India's admission in NSG because India can bring added value to that group and its record on matters of peaceful uses of nuclear energy can vouch for this.

You are also a member of the European Union (EU) with which India has been negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) for 10 years. What are the hurdles?

When we talk of trade, we talk of money and the sides become very very serious. Hurdles exist on both sides. India wants to protect its own manufacturing bases, especially when it comes to automobiles. However, what both sides have to understand is that in a world where nationalist and protectionist barriers are being raised, two large economies like the EU and India need to find a solution in order to put off the table this pending issue. Greece trusts that the Indian side can also show flexibility so as to meet the EU half way.

Do you support the call for reforms of the United Nations with the inclusion of countries like India in the Security Council?

What we support is clear: India should occupy a permanent seat on a reformed Security Council.

What is the nature of defence relationship between India and Greece?

Greece is a NATO member that sits in a very unstable region. We are at the end of a triangle whose corners are Syria, Libya and Ukraine. That says it all. India on its part is far away from this area but the massive presence of Indian nationals in the wider Middle East and Gulf regions together with the expanding horizons of the Indian foreign policy beyond South and East Asia create the right environment for the two countries to come closer and exchange views on how they can upgrade their security and defence cooperation. Let me note here the visit of the Greek Defence Minister to Delhi in December 2015 and the possible fields that were explored for this cooperation. Only a few days ago, four units of the Indian Navy visited the big Greek Naval base of Suda on the island of Crete.

Are there any high-level exchanges between India and Greece in the pipeline?

In expressing the wish for strengthening relations between two friendly nations, this Embassy is trying to have some member of the Indian government visit Greece. On our side, we had the visit of the Greek Minister of State for External Affairs and the visit of Minister of Tourism in February 2017.

What are India and Greece doing to promote people-to-people contacts?

There has been a constant rise in the interest of Indian tourists visiting Greece. In 2016, this Embassy issued 27,000 visas. This year, the numbers show an increase of 40 per cent in demand. The visit of the Tourism Minister of Greece and the participation of Greece in this year's OTM Travel Mart in Mumbai are proofs of how welcome Indian tourists are in our country.

What is the level of trade between the two countries and what steps are being taken to enhance trade links?

Our bilateral trade is to the tune of 360.113 Euro and steps are being taken to further promote trade links. Among other things, we are in the process of finalising an air transport bilateral treaty. We are also providing assistance to Greek entities, which express interest in entering the Indian market and to Indian companies, which wish to invest in Greece.

Greece also faces the threat from terrorist organisations. What steps are you taking to protect your citizens and foreigners headed for Greece?

Greece is the first mainland destination in Europe from the troubled Middle East region. So our authorities try hard to control the huge migratory flows and to screen elements that could hit Greece and its people and 27 million foreign tourists we receive every year.