Question: Why has a caucus on Greece -U.S. relations been founded in the Greek Parliament?
Arsenis: There is a general consensus that the legislative branch can play an important role in enhancing relations between the two countries. Surely relations between the two countries are determined by the executive branches, by the development of trade and business relations, but a number of things concerning the political climate, the incentives for trade relations and investments, and the removal of obstacles to economic relations are issues that are of direct concern and responsibility of the parliament here and congress in the U.S. Therefore I believe there is a role for us to play and that is why we have decided to go ahead. Question: Who is responsible for putting forward such an idea?Arsenis: The idea, in fact, is not a new one; it is an old idea, and indeed in the context of the work of our parliament, we have a number of friendship caucuses with a number of countries, but with the United States we have not as yet made essential use of this instrument. A number of people in the parliament thought it is high time to upgrade the channels of communication between the parliament in Athens and congress in Washington. The initiative, if you like, was a grass roots initiative and was supported by the president of the parliament, Mr. Kaklamanis, whose responsibility is to formally establish such a caucus.Question: How shall the caucus operate?Arsenis: The caucus was recently formed and we are now at the first stages of establishing our work program and objectives. Participation in the caucus is open to interested members of Parliament, and consists of 18 members from PASOK and New Democracy. The reasons for participation vary from member to member. We have members such as Mr. Pangalos, Mr. Dimou, Mr. Spiliotopoulos and Mrs. Yiannakou, whose responsibilities in the past governments brought them in touch with the United States, and we have members who have had a personal relationship-either due to their studies or work experience-with the United States. The members know the United States quite well, as I do, and are deeply interested to improve communications between the two countries, adding to the dialogue of ministers, businesspeople, and diplomats. It is, after all, vitally important for legislators in each country to understand better the views of each other. Question: Is Foreign Direct Investment one of the issues that has a priority?Arsenis: Yes it is. I believe, and I can speak as an economist, that we have not made effective use of the important possibilities that exist for economic cooperation between the two countries, not only in trade but also in direct investment and research and development. Greece and the United States are important trade partners but we import far more than we export and it is necessary to organize better the Greek exporters to move into the huge U.S. market. The possibilities and prospects are quite good but these responsibilities lie more in the hands of the chambers of commerce in the two countries. But regarding investment, there are a number of things that should concern parliament. Regulations exist which unintentionally create obstacles to a smooth flow of investment in a country. One has to see what incentives exist both in Washington and here for targeted investment, not only for the Greek market, but the greater Balkan market, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea region. We must make sure that the Unites States understands that Greece is an ideal springboard for this huge developing market.Question: Do some areas have greater potential than others.Arsenis: I believe that the advantages of Greece exist in the area of science and technology. We have first rate Greek-American scientists, first rate scientists in Greece, and we are developing important laboratories in a number of our universities, so that Greece can become a regional center for research and development in a number of areas and for training and graduate studies. Potential for cooperation between Greek and U.S. universities is high. Surprisingly, there has not been such cooperation as yet. Of course we must do this within the framework of our constitution, which stipulates that universities in Greece are state universities. We must start with that understanding, but there are a number of flexible arrangements for co-operation that can be established with the existing legal framework.
Question: Do you see a role in this new initiative for the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce?Arsenis: I am familiar with the Chamber. As a minister, I have spoken to its members often, and think it has done an excellent job. I believe that on a number of issues we can be in touch and I look forward to the cooperation of the American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce with this caucus. Businesspeople should understand that they may avail themselves to the workings of the caucus and indeed may make suggestions and proposals so that we better serve their needs and understand their concerns. Question: In that other areas do you hope to be active? Arsenis: It is necessary to have a good channel of communication on political issues and issues of foreign policy, especially with our American counterparts who do not always see eye to eye with us or are not adequately informed of issues relating to Greece. In other words, those who need to know Greece a little better. Overall, I believe we do have excellent relations but the single issue which must be better understood is that Greece is a unique agent in the region for stability and economic development. We are interested in and trying to promote peace, democracy, stability, and economic development in Southeast Europe and the Middle East. It is very important to have a locus in the area which could become a catalyst for these activities and Greece should be seen in this light. Question: What is the current status of the caucus?Arsenis: We have had a meeting recently with Ambassador Miller, who warmly welcomed the idea, and whose support and cooperation I look forward to. We have also called on the Greek Embassy in Washington for support. We must take into account the U.S. elections in November, so our real contact work will not get underway until after the elections. Gerassimos Arsenis, PASOK, President of the caucus:
Stavros Dimas, New Democracy, Vice President
Panagiotis Fassoulas, PASOK, Secretary