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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras
[on the European Commission progress reports]
· It is very important – in order for these reports to be reliable tools – that the reports objectively present and set down the reality of the domestic situation, external conduct and reform progress of the candidate countries. For our part, and given the position of our country, which is surrounded by candidate states, we take care to have frequent consultations with Commission agencies in order to exchange views and information on the candidates’ progress and to point up issues that are of major importance to Greece.
· Greece is not merely a believer in the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans – it is a strategic choice that we promote consistently. That was and continues to be the purpose of our “Agenda 2014” political initiative: to reinvigorate the accession processes of our immediate neighbourhood, with 2014 as a target date and point of reference. We are happy to see tangible progress being made in this direction.
· Greece’s position is equally clear on Turkey’s accession process. We think that Europe needs to send a clear message to Turkey, to the effect that the road is open. Europe needs to insist – without lowering the bar – on full compliance with the acquis and implementation of commitments to the Union and all its member states. For its part, Turkey needs to move from rhetoric, from statements with no practical result, to tangible reforms and fulfilment of obligations on good neighbourly relations, respect for human rights and religious freedoms, respect of freedom of the press, implementation of the Ankara Protocol, recognition of – and normalization of its relations with – the Republic of Cyprus.
[On the meeting convened by the UN Secretary General with President Christofias and Mr. Eroglu]
· We hope to see progress in this meeting, but we have to remain cautious and the reality is what makes us cautious. The reality of the positions presented to the negotiating table by Mr. Eroglu.
· Mr. Eroglu is essentially moving based on a mindset on partition and on every given opportunity he has been trying to stress this logic of two states, two peoples, the logic of partitioning. But there obviously cannot be progress on this basis.
· We hope that more mature views will prevail. We hope that Mr. Eroglu will present different views to this meeting, and Turkey naturally has a fundamental role to play on this eventuality.
Complete transcript of the briefing (translation):
Mr. Delavekouras: Good morning. I’ll start with the Ministers’ programmes.
On Monday and Tuesday, 15 and 16 November, Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas will accompany the Prime Minister to Paris, where they will participate in a meeting of the Council of the Socialist International.
During his stay in Paris, the Prime Minister is to meet with French President Sarkozy, with whom he will discuss the whole range of Greek-French relations, developments in the European Union, and regional issues.
On Wednesday and Thursday, 17 and 18 November, Mr. Droutsas will accompany the President of the Republic on a state visit to Bulgaria.
On Friday and Saturday, 19 and 20 November, Mr. Droutsas will accompany the Prime Minister to Lisbon, where they will participate in the proceedings of the NATO Summit Meeting.
This meeting of the NATO Council is expected to see the adoption of the new Strategic Concept, and there is to be a discussion of, among other things, the new command structure, the anti-missile defence issue, and NATO cooperation with international organizations.
The strengthening of relations with strategic partners is a basic pursuit of the Alliance, and within this framework, there will also be a NATO-Russia Council meeting in Lisbon. Finally, the NATO Council will also hold a special session on Afghanistan.
Mr. Droutsas will be in Brussels on Monday, 22 November, for the Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Councils.
The Foreign Affairs Council will discuss relations with strategic partners, the Union for the Mediterranean, the situation in Myanmar, and preparations for the EU-Africa, EU-India and EU-Russia Summits.
The agenda for the General Affairs Council includes preparations for the European Council on 16 and 17 December, as well as the presentation of the Commission’s work programme for 2011.
Moving on to Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou’s programme, at 13:15 on Monday, 15 November, she will host a working luncheon for Turkish European Affairs Minister Bagis, who will be visiting our country to take part in a foreign policy conference.
Later that day, Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou will give a welcome speech at a Hellenic Centre for European Studies (ΕΚΕΜ) conference on “Euro-Mediterranean Developments and the Role of Greece,” which will take place at the Foreign Ministry’s Kranidiotis Amphitheatre.
At 12:00 today, Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis will receive Cuba’s outgoing Ambassador to Greece, and at 13:30 he will meet with Messrs. Papastefanakis and Santamouris from the Center for Renewable Energy Sources and Energy Saving (CRES).
Tomorrow and Saturday, 12 and 13 November, Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis will be in Istanbul, where he will be received by the Ecumenical Patriarch.
The Foreign Ministry’s Secretary General left today for London, where he will have meetings tomorrow with Foreign Office officials, including, Permanent Under Secretary Frazer.
The 23rd Meeting of the Council of Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) Foreign Ministers will take place in Thessaloniki on 26 November, as we near the end of the Greek Chairmanship of the BSEC (June to December 2010). This Meeting will look at the progress and achievements of the BSEC in the direction of strengthening regional economic cooperation in the wider Black Sea region.
With the slogan “Black Sea Turns Green,” the Greek Chairmanship’s priorities include promotion of green development and green entrepreneurship, with the aim of increasing environmental awareness and encouraging business initiatives in the fast-developing Green Economy sector.
Within this framework, the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers will also adopt a joint declaration on combating climate change in the wider Black Sea Region. This joint declaration will be submitted by the Greek BSEC Chairmanship as the organization’s contribution to the upcoming Climate Change Conference in Cancun.
I will give you more details on the BSEC meeting programme next week. I remind you that there is an accreditation procedure for anyone who wants to attend the proceedings of the BSEC Ministerial, so you need to visit the Secretariat General of Communication website to move ahead with your accreditation.
I would like to refer briefly – and then we can go on to discuss them more – to the recent European Commission progress reports.
This procedure, as you know, is one of the EU’s main tools in the enlargement process. It is a procedure that proceeds from the European Commission, and we need to note here that the main role in this process belongs to the European Council, which, in December, will take a position on the candidates’ progress.
It is very important – in order for these reports to be reliable tools – that the reports objectively present and set down the reality of the domestic situation, external conduct and reform progress of the candidate countries. For our part, and given the position of our country, which is surrounded by candidate states, we take care to have frequent consultations with Commission agencies in order to exchange views and information on the candidates’ progress and to point up issues that are of major importance to Greece.
Greece is not merely a believer in the EU enlargement process in the Western Balkans – it is a strategic choice that we promote consistently.
That was and continues to be the purpose of our “Agenda 2014” political initiative: to reinvigorate the accession processes of our immediate neighbourhood, with 2014 as a target date and point of reference.
We are happy to see tangible progress being made in this direction.
I want to refer here to a few specific examples, such as the fact that the Justice and Home Affairs Council decided a few days ago to remove the visa requirement for Albanian and Bosnia-Herzegovina nationals entering the Schengen area.
I remind you that at about this time last year a similar decision was taken regarding FYROM, Serbian and Montenegrin nationals. And in its October Conclusions, the Council decided to refer Serbia’s request for candidate country status to the Commission for an opinion.
Regarding Montenegro, the Commission has already made a positive recommendation for candidate country status, and the negotiation process for Croatia is in the final stretch, and we hope to see it completed in the coming year.
Greece’s position is equally clear on Turkey’s accession process. We think that Europe needs to send a clear message to Turkey, to the effect that the road is open. Europe needs to insist – without lowering the bar – on full compliance with the acquis and implementation of commitments to the Union and all its member states.
For its part, Turkey needs to move from rhetoric, from statements with no practical result, to tangible reforms and fulfilment of obligations on good neighbourly relations, respect for human rights and religious freedoms, respect of freedom of the press, implementation of the Ankara Protocol, recognition of – and normalization of its relations with – the Republic of Cyprus.
I think that we have an objective basis on which to discuss things within the framework of the December Council.
I’ll close with that. Your questions, please.
Ms. Fryssa: I would like your comment on the progress reports concerning Turkey and FYROM, as well as on the strong reactions of these two countries to the European Commission’s reports.
Mr. Delavekouras: Regarding the report on Turkey, I think that we have an objective record of the important developments we had in our neighbouring country. In the time since the last report, we have had major developments, including the referendum on the constitutional reforms, but there were also delays, there we significant shortfalls on a number of issues, some of which are of particular concern to our country.
I want to refer here to specific mention that is made of Turkey’s obligation to respect the rules of good neighbourly relations, references to Turkey’s conduct in the Aegean – this unacceptable conduct – the references to minority rights and the protection of religious freedoms, to the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, to the difficulties Turkey is facing at home, to the unfulfilled obligations Turkey has to the Republic of Cyprus and the European Union as a whole with regard to the implementation of the Ankara Protocol.
We also have clear references to Turkey’s obligation to protect minorities – and the Greek minority specifically – to cooperate more effectively on confronting illegal migration, to confront with the appropriate attention the issue of the construction of a nuclear plant at Akkuyu. So we have an x-ray, essentially, of what has been done and the situation as it stands in Turkey today.
With regard to reactions, I don’t want to comment, because they differ widely, depending on what agency is taking a stance on behalf of the Turkish state. But I do want to say, once again, and this is a consistent message from Greece, that we have a very dynamic relationship here – the EU-Turkey relationship – that we want to see move ahead, and that is why it needs to be governed by sincerity.
Turkey should not be cajoled. This will benefit neither the relationship itself, nor the European Union, nor even Turkey. There are very serious weaknesses and shortfalls that need to be pointed out, and Turkey needs to take the corresponding steps to approach the European state of affairs.
If this doesn’t happen, we can’t have progress – and we want to see this progress. So that is why Europe needs to speak clearly and say, yes, Turkey can become a full member of the Union, but only when Turkey has met all of its obligations.
For its part, Turkey needs to speed up these reforms, and here we need to look another myth head on and make it clear that the pace of Turkey’s progress towards accession is in Turkey’s own hands.
Right now, we see that another chapter opens every six months, with difficulty. And this is due to the fact that the reform process is slow; the reforms needed for chapters to open faster are not being carried out. And that is why Turkey needs to once again give the momentum needed to this accession process.
It is a given that Turkey will have all the support it needs from us, but we are waiting to see conduct that is consistent with the obligations of good neighbourly relations and respect for the principles and values that are the foundation of the European endeavour.
With regard to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we see that the European Commission has essentially noted a slowdown or backsliding in certain areas; areas very important to the functioning of the state itself: in the judicial sector, in public administration, in the functioning of society itself, in the educational system, in the divisions that exist within the country. These are all very important issues – issues that need to be confronted if our neighbour is to really move ahead and take steps toward the European Union.
For our part, once again we have made it clear that Skopje’s accession to the European Union is a priority for us – a desire and a political decision that we have taken – and we support this through deeds. But we cannot avoid the fact that we need to speak on a clear basis, and this basis – as adopted unanimously by the European Union – is the resolution of the name issue, and this is something that is set down in this report as well.
The leadership in Skopje needs to focus its energies so that this decisive step can be taken. When it is taken, our neighbours should know that Greece will be their most important ally during their accession process.
Mr. Pallas: In a recent article in the Times, the former UK Foreign Secretary argues that if talks do not have a successful outcome by December, the island’s partitioning will become official. What do you have to say? Do you have a view on that?
Mr. Delavekouras: Of course. First of all, I would like to say that apart from this specific article, we have seen such thoughts voiced in the English-language press by anonymous or eponymous diplomatic sources.
These are unacceptable thoughts – thoughts that are diametrically opposed to Security Council resolutions and the self-evident sense of justice that should prevail. The Cyprus issue remains an issue of invasion and occupation. There is no way the international community is going to legalise this situation. Turkey should take those steps which will allow for progress in the negotiations.
The Republic of Cyprus has taken specific steps, it has made specific efforts in order to give a fillip to the negotiating process. There are proposals made by President Christofias that are very realistic and can truly help us get out of this deadlock which is caused by the Turkish Cypriot leadership’s intransigent stances.
This is why I want to repeat that such views are completely unacceptable and they will naturally not be adopted by anyone.
Mr. Fourlis: First of all, a logical comment is that the latest Commission Progress Report on Turkey doesn't mention anywhere that the Cyprus issue must be resolved and this is a prerequisite for its accession course to move ahead, so I would say that our conclusion is rather subjective, in that no one else is going to accept it or discuss it.
Mr. Delavekouras: I want to be crystal clear: a partitioning mindset is not going to go through, it is not a basis. The basis are Security Council resolutions, which provide for a unified Republic of Cyprus. We cannot talk on any other basis.
Those who are trying to set false timeframes or intimidate us with false dilemmas follow a specific policy that we know very well. But this policy has not led us anywhere, nor can it lead us anywhere.
The Cyprus issue will be resolved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions and on the basis of the European acquis, because no one can ignore the reality of the Republic of Cyprus’s participation in the European Union. This will be the basis and this will be the only guarantee of security that the people of the Republic of Cyprus need in 2010; this is the reality of the situation.
For its part, Turkey can facilitate negotiations, it can give impetus to negotiations, if it sends clear messages. Turkey needs to withdraw its occupation troops and must do it. Turkey should respond to the proposals of President Christofias. Turkey should return Varosia. These are the realities.
Mr. Fourlis: Mr. Spokesman, I am bringing this up again and I am asking it in a more detailed manner to make myself clear, I agree if you clearly tell me that this is your view. But what I am asking is, do you see that others share this view?
Because I don’t see from the mindset that you rightly presented that there is any continuation of progress for Turkey, and by the way, I see no continuation of progress on Skopje either, what you yourself have called a basis for the further accession course of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, that is, the resolution of the name issue. What you call a basis is not anyone's concern in this report.
Mr. Delavekouras: It says so, clearly: “a negotiated and mutually acceptable solution to the name issue … remains essential.” This is stated in the report and I think that it is crystal clear.
With regard to the Cyprus issue, I would like to repeat that this is the position of the international community as well, on which the position of the international community has not changed. UN Security Council resolutions are in effect, so this is the view of the international community. There are ongoing negotiations between the two communities and we want to see them move ahead.
President Christofias is undertaking unremitting efforts precisely in order to reach a solution. But he is finding difficulties, because he is faced with a Turkish Cypriot leadership that is still stuck in an outdated mindset of previous decades, which essentially approaches the issue in a mindset completely set on partition. But we are never going to adopt this mindset.
Mr. Fourlis: (Off microphone, question regarding the article of the former UK Foreign Secretary)
Mr. Delavekouras: Look, the UK’s views have not become known just now. And we know what the role of the United Kingdom on the Cyprus issue has been throughout the years. But this does not mean that we will ever adopt such mindsets and such coercive dilemmas.
Right now, Mr. Straw decided to set out a coercive dilemma and tell us that if nothing happens, there will be a partitioning of the island. We have heard such expressions in the past, we have heard such positions in the past. Does this mean that we must adopt them? Far from it. We must remain committed to international legality.
And international legality is laid down in UN Security Council resolutions, in agreements between Heads of State of the two communities, in the European acquis, this is the basis for a solution. Now, if Mr. Straw thinks that he needs put a gun on our head, this does not mean that we are willing to accept it.
Mr. Vlavianos: According to a wire report from the Athens News Agency yesterday, we see that there are reactions in Skopje about the report, mainly on one issue, at least as it is being reported in this wire report, I read that there is not mention in it of the term “Macedonian" etc.
The same wire report mentions that this term is mentioned in the Commission’s Progress Report on Albania. Will we do something, will we complain about something to the European Union, about it being mentioned, because there is a contradiction here?
Mr. Delavekouras: The European Commission and all the other institutional bodies of the European Union follow a specific practice on the issues of the usage of terms within the framework of the texts we have been drafting.
The reactions by the FYROM leadership are indicative, but should not divert our attention from the substance. What I want to insist on is the substance of the report on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And the essence is that this country’s leadership received a very clear warning from the European Union right now, i.e., that the reforms they must undertake, the changes they must make in order to achieve convergence with the European Union, are already falling behind.
This is a very substantial issue which is of concern to us, because we want this country to continue to take steps towards the European Union. This is where we must focus on the need to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, which will allow us to start accession negotiations with Skopje.
The fact that there is no reference to this term in the report on FYROM indicates the Commission’s perception on this issue.
Mr. Vlavianos: (off microphone regarding the upcoming visit of President Christofias and Mr. Eroglu to UN headquarters)
Mr. Delavekouras: With regard to the meeting that the UN Secretary General has called with President Christofias and Mr. Eroglu, I want to say that we hope to see progress in this meeting, but we have to remain cautious, and the reality of the situation is what makes us cautious. The reality of the positions presented at the negotiating table by Mr. Eroglu.
Mr. Eroglu is essentially moving on a mindset of partition and at any given opportunity he has been trying to stress this logic: for two states, two peoples, the logic of partitioning. But there obviously cannot be progress on this basis.
We hope that more mature views will prevail. We hope that Mr. Eroglu will present different views at this meeting, and Turkey naturally has a fundamental role to play in this eventuality. This will be a discussion mainly focusing on the property issue, which is one of the thorniest issues in the negotiations.
As you know, President Christofias has made clear proposals which must show the way out. And one of these proposals is to associate the different but intertwined chapters of the property, the territorial issue and the issue of the settlers.
We believe that this association is necessary if we really want to see progress. And we hope that something like this will be possible through this meeting.
But in any event, it must be clear that there has to be a change of stance on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot leader if we want to see progress.