John Faraclas interview: Where does Greece stand now?

Yvonni Efstathiou speaks to John Faraclas about the current state of Greece and where it’s future may lie

John Faraclas

John Faraclas

In January Syriza, the radical leftists who have pledged to roll back austerity and renegotiate Greece’s mammoth debt, won the general election. Not gaining the 151 seats needed to govern alone in the 300-seat parliament, they were soon forced to form a coalition government with The Independent Greeks. What are your thought about our new government? What do you think are its strengths and what are its weaknesses?

These thoughts, although very personal, yet they express the hope to bring the current Syriza/ANEL government to its senses before they come down to their knees and destroy in both the short and long term Greece and the European Union; needless to say with impact on peace in Greece’s periphery.

For a start, both parties, and in particular Syriza, appear and appeared not to have a concrete plan on how to tackle the Greek saga in its entirety.  One hundred days have passed and simply, as we say in English, they have Mickey Moused about… Not even a plan A exists. Being a shipbroker, which entails highly skilled negotiation capabilities, given the immense value of ships and charters involved, not to mention responsibilities in reaching always a square deal, I find the government’s negotiation skills totally out of any context. Whether the negotiators wear a tie or not, it really doesn’t matter to me, the end result matters. The image of Greece has already been tainted. We are becoming a joke although we are absolutely right in contesting the colossal debts, which exceed now 180 percent of Greece’s GDP! The package to save Greece is officially over 300 billion Euro. The actual debt in my estimation has reached One Trillion Dollars, I am now citing it in dollars, as the parity with the Euro has changed dramatically, and this is the world’s governing currency. Take off the haircut and the assistance so far and you will see that we are even worse off, as austerity imposed by the ND/PASOK/DIMAR coalition and the previous interim regimes post the 2009 GAP’s regime, has spectacularly failed. The Thessaloniki SYRIZA pre-election rally and manifesto was simply a lefty loony populist’s scam. There is no way one can deliver an iota on all these issues promised; Tsipras and his clan and party nomenklatura are failing day by day. I guess their strength was just to gain power with a totally undemocratic electoral system by which Greece was governed lately. On this, please see the British electoral system and have your comparative say.

For forty years Greece was living on borrowed money given by every single financial source; the regimes of Nea Demokratia and Pasok who ruled the country, had to borrow money, embezzle money and simply pay their voters. They had to favour their own nomenklatura and now a revenge on this, the worst I have seen, takes place with SYRIZA in particular appointing …even dead people – that’s an expression to state the out of any proportion use of government cronies… Never have I ever seen this before. I don’t need to go any further to understand why there are no strengths, but only too many weaknesses. The country needs a team of Aristos, just Ministers, Deputy Ministers and General Secretaries to run the show, until Greece stands on its feet – that will need at least ten years. There are very specialist Greeks within the country but most of them who can perform this task are abroad! They will be able to demonstrate that the debt is not viable and I can assure you they will make a square deal. One should never compromise; remember King Solomon and never to compromise!

It is the lenders to blame mostly, as you don’t throw good money after bad. Come on, how come for forty years they continued to lend money to Greece’s regimes? They had a criminal plan, that is to say, lend them money to fatally wound them and then ensure we either sell them at a piecemeal, or take away all their wealth! The European and all lenders including the IMF have skeletons in their cupboards. They are those fully responsible for Greece’s debt and together with traitors and collaborators from within Greece, they strangle Greece. See how many out of court settlements have taken place until now; with foreign companies being involved. See the scandal of the shipyards and of course that of the submarines and make up your mind. Ex-ministers and others are already in jail and there are more to follow. Finally, one of the current government “strengths” is to buy out the media who are deep down in the red… shame, is this a blackmail or what?

Do you think Grexit is a possible scenario and what consequences would it have for both Greece and the EU?

If one wishes to see Greece successful, Greece must remain in the European Union as well as in the Eurozone. There might be a total exit, a double GREXIT, and after all why not! Only under this proviso, to remain in the EUROZONE, one can see reforms, true reforms taking place and shape to the benefit of all. Grexit will only basically help SYRIZA voters, something like 1.5 million. They will “cut”, “print” trillions of Drachmae or “New Drachmae”; the parity will skyrocket to nearly two thousand drachmae per Euro…from the 342,400 of ‘today’… and yet, one day, they have to pay the debt. The consequences are against the Greeks, not for Greece…The Greek tax payer will suffer, his/her sufferings will grow ten-fold… You bet!

Privatisation, proper privatisation is the name of the game. I reiterate the view that privatisation means that the state owned company becomes a private company and not a public corporation! Greece is a self-sustained country, blessed by nature and its Twelve Gods, yet it imports even …Greeks, just to put you in the context of what really happens today! From an exporting nation, we import now everything! Shame! We have the best working industrial climate very favourable for say heavy industry, say the shipyards. Four seasons to make 50 billion Euros from tourism and maritime tourism in particular!  Tourism and shipping are our biggest earners! We thrive through the connections with abroad!

The Hellenic fleet is the world’s most valuable at $106 billion. Although Greek ship owners flourish the Greek economy sinks. How can the shipping industry serve Greece best as a country?

There is envy within Greece and an envy outside Greece against the country’s shipowners! I am pleased that you put forward at this stage this question! Actually the value of the Hellenic merchant fleet is triple your figure as there are also the beneficially owned ships by Greek interests under flags of necessity! Add the newbuildings and you will verify this.

Greece’s success and development after the Second World War, needless to say even before this, rests with shipping. With seafarers employed on Greek ships, but the unions, governed from unions abroad, destroy day by day the seafarers’ position and well-being.

I will begin with maritime education and training: we do not have a single training ship, yet we are the world’s superpower in shipping! For this I personally blame both the UGS/GSCC and to a largest extent the Greek state, as the ship is financed/donated by the owners, then they, I mean the unions and the government will find something else to…blame them for!

We are the Champions of the Shipping Industry, the best clients of the world’s major shipyards, in the past, now and for the foreseeable future. It is an oxymoron, thanks to bad unionism and the Greek politicians, that Greeks build ships abroad and not in Greece’s ailing shipyards. Same applies for shiprepairs and conversions…. Thanks to the unions’ attitude. But why did the Greek shipbuilding industry flourish from 1967 onwards, eh?

Greek shipowners are the best ambassadors for Greece with their ships, principally flying the Greek flag, but with other flags too, as all know who those interests represent!

Greek shipowners’ offshore investments too, in Greece and abroad are well known and respected.

Greek shipowners’ charitable stand for nearly 200 years, is globally known! Hospitals, libraries, museums, scholarships, infrastructure projects, you name it, come from shipowners.

Greek shipping companies, over a thousand of them offer from 1967 onwards with Law 89 and other favourable laws, jobs, employment to thousands of Greeks . See also their presence in other shipping centres, London, New York, Singapore….

Valuable foreign currency comes from both shipowners and seafarers!!

How would you describe Alexis Tsipras’ move to visit Moscow and call on Europe to end its sanctions against Russia?

There is nothing wrong with this, subject there is not a hidden agenda, hopefully… Timing obviously is of the essence but all in all, despite one has to be good, just, but bold with all, I guess nothing is wrong. The sanctions though, that fatally traumatised the Greek agri products economy, traditionally being exported to Russia, must have a counter benefit from EU’s coffers to the ailing Greek economy and agriculture growers, particularly in this austerity period. Greece has always maintained a proper relationship with the Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and New Russia if you like, without jeopardising its obligations to its allies. I strongly believe that other than the loss of revenue from the fallen oil prices, Russian people having gone through a despicable austerity during the 72 years of Communism, they are not really touched or affected by these sanctions. Sanctions never really work; they are counter-productive in my humble view. There are counter-sanctions too if you like. One has to say the truth! There are joint space projects between the US and Russia, even from the days of the old Kremlin boys, don’t tell me the Western intelligence were ignorant on the Crimea and Ukrainian sagas… Come on! How do you start bedding with the other side if you are not sure of a perfect match…?

What relationship should Greece have with Russia and China?

Now this is an interesting question and let me elaborate a bit so all understand what must be done and maintained, as at the international politics level, Greece’s great asset is its geographical location, at the south-eastern end of Europe, facing Asia and North Africa. Another is its democratic tradition and relative democratic stability, against the odds of economic recession.

Geopolitics, as I have always stated in my articles and analysis in the shipping markets, is the name of the game as far as Greece is concerned, and it is on this that Europe, I mean the European Union, and NATO should count, with Greece as the bastion of stability in this region of instability  – I am referring to western Balkans, turbulent Turkey, further down Libya and Egypt and of course to the southeast of Greece is the Middle East question, with Israel as defiant as ever, and the Kurdish issue, straddling four states.

It has often been said that Turkey is in an even more enviable position geopolitically and it is on Turkey that the US, NATO and the EU should rely. This may have been true at other times, say for example when Turkey was under Ozal or perhaps in the early years of Erdogan when he seemed moderate, mildly Muslim and relatively democratic, but this is no longer the case with Turkey, under the increasingly autocratic and erratic Erdogan, who now also threatens secularism in Turkey and is pursuing his hidden agenda which is no more mild Islam, but short-sighted, almost fundamentalist Islam. The only hope in the case of Turkey is that Erdogan’s power will erode in the next elections. This would be a great gift to the West and to Turkey itself.

In the wider region near Greece the other liability for the West and potential foe, apart from Turkey, is Israel under Netanyahu, whose coalition government not with Labour, as some in the UK had hoped, but with the ultra-nationalists and fundamentalists is bound to create even greater problems for Obama and all the attempts to resolve the festering Palestinian question.

I would submit that in both instances, in the cases of Turkey and Israel, the only approach that they can understand and appreciate is might, acid diplomacy, threats that if they continue in their provocative and self-defeating course, they will be seen as pariah states, as was the case in previous decades with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq or Milosevic’s Serbia.

Within this troublesome neighbourhood Greece is a bastion of stability and the EU, NATO and the US should rely on Greece as a force of reason and as constructive presence in the wider region, instead of doing the opposite, as is the case presently with the EU, which is pushing Greece to the limit, to the end of the precipice, to even an alliance with the devil as it were; by which I mean Putin’s Russia.

Greece and the Greeks may have old religious and cultural links with Russia and the Russians, but if given the chance Greece will avoid coming closer to Russia, which is the very opposite of what Greece and the Greeks are all about, Putin’s Russia is a nasty, increasingly undemocratic state with a blunt power politics attitude to boot, bullying its neighbours, not least Ukraine and Georgia.

Needless to say Greece should not receive a carte blanche from the West, I mean EU, NATO, US, or be pampered; but the opposite which is taking place these days, namely pushing Greece to the limit, should stop here and now. Greece for its part, once it stands on its two feet again, economically and prestige-wise, can and will contribute to peace and stability in the region and become once again a role model for the region, as was the case in previous decades (in the years 1974-81 and 1996-2004).

Greece would then be in the position to resolve all its outstanding problems with its neighbours, by which I mean FYROM and Turkey, and also assist in the settlement of the Cyprus problem. So long as Greece is down, facing the ground, due to the relentless, and may I say unjust and short-sighted policy of the EU, it would not be in the position to contribute in this regard, for any attempt to resolve its bilateral problems will be seen domestically as a sell-out on its part due to its present weakness.

If the EU, and Germany in particular, change their ways, Greece’s importance and role will be enhanced – and this will benefit the EU and the West in general.

Now, given the above let me narrow my reply in saying that it is Greece’s geostrategic position that prompted the Chinese with its major shipping company Cosco to invest in Piraeus, the best transport and logistics intermodalism hub following a successful 60-plus years of cooperation in the shipping field, headed by Greece’s ship owners who owning 1,000 ships in 1963, half of them where transporting goods to Mao Zedong’s China, an issue that all Chinese regimes have acknowledged, as well as during the new shipbuilding spree in the 90’s until recently in Chinese shipyards. They have calculated that if their goods reach Piraeus they save time and money for same entering the European Markets and will be more competitive. No other port in the region, except Kavala in the future, can ensure Chinese competitiveness! This Greek-Chinese relationship has never jeopardised the US – Greek relationship; on the contrary!

Now as for the Russian relationship, may I remind you that during the Colonels’ Regime in Greece, Russian experts came to assist the then regime’s efforts to extract peat in Greece and in particular Northern Greece – the Kavala prefecture including the island of Thassos? Greek ship owners built ships in the Soviet shipyards, both cargo-ships as well as coastal ones, the flying dolphins in particular! Did Nixon declare war on the Soviets due to their presence on Greek soil, as well as due to Greece’s ship owners dealing with them? Add that since the 1917 Revolution, Greek ships carried the bulk of the Soviet Union’s goods, both on import and export! The Greek ship owners were the darlings of the Soviets. Oranges, lemons and other agriproducts were in demand as always!

Greece for decades has faced the challenge of illegal immigration. The Greek PM on 18 April urged for more EU aid to deal with surging illegal immigration, chiefly by sea from Turkey. What role do you think the EU should play?

In defiance of all in power today in Greece, let me simply mention that they are totally ignorant on how to challenge and tackle illegal immigration, chiefly, as you said, from Turkey.

For a start, where is the FRONTEX mandate? Can FRONTEX really deliver? Can we have the official and uncensored interception chart and info of FRONTEX’s aircraft when patrolling the eastern Aegean Sea, being the sea-frontiers of the European Union, of Europe, in which Turkey has aspirations to enter, by the Turkish airforce? How many times, almost always, same have they been intercepted? Always!

For every illegal immigrant that enters say from the Anatolian coast to the Greek and European territory, Turkey should pay half a million Euros! The traffickers of these migrants, which amongst them are elements of the Turkish Armed Forces, Special Forces mostly checking the reaction of Greece’s defences, should end up, as and when arrested, in a Berlin jail! Let the rich of Europe shoulder the burden.

The Greeks do not want any sort of financial aid from Europe, just military and security forces aid to defend their territory. You might have read that the up and coming European Commissioner Chief of Foreign Policy Federica Mogherini has urged an end to the blah blah and take a united, a concrete action on Africa, Libya in particular with respect to the issue of immigrants crossing over to Italy and Italy’s dependencies in the Med, such as Lampedusa, Sicily and others. She has given an excellent and honest interview on the BBC on the 21st of April, if my memory doesn’t fail me, and the same action for Africa, must be used “against” Turkey if you like it. She was specific and urged to trace all involved in the chain of this despicable issue, stop same as it takes shape and form! She was speaking as an Italian, a mother and a politician! A great interview and to the point. With money to build or maintain centres for migrants, legal or illegal, you gain nothing Mr. Tsipras.

Humanitarian issues are arguably one thing, looming future troubles, endangering Greece and Europe, yet another. Terrorists are many amongst this lot of would-be migrants! It is not the war issue, an excuse many mention as in the case of Syria and the IS incursion and destruction, that people as far as from Afghanistan cross over from the Turkish Anatolian coast to the Greek Islands and mainland Greece and or Europe, if you see the routes in respective maps… there is more at stake here. We must end this situation and all countries involved should be heavily fined.

You might wonder why I take this stance. Well, do please read and study the issue of stowaways on board merchant ships and what the master, crew and owners go through for over seventy years after World War Two, to see why. Well, it costs an arm and a leg and let me tell you: you couldn’t and can’t disembark anyone in the first port of call, not even a single illegal immigrant, asylum seeker, political refugee, you name it! We know of cases where stowaways were thrown into the sea!

The fear of “losing their job” made a few ship masters behave totally out of proportion. Do please ask for this matter the P & I Clubs. Then you can understand why Mr. Tsipras is wrong and with this he can get the message!

One comment

  1. A lot of crying but no shoulder to cry on.

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