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Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at the European Policy Center (EPC): “A new European agreement on the Balkans and Turkey: Greece’s role”

Monday, 22 November 2010

Main points:

[on the support mechanism and Ireland’s application]

•    With our partners we managed to build a mechanism to support Greece during its time of hardship. This mechanism now serves as the model for the future EU mechanism that will protect and strengthen our Economic Union, a permanent mechanism for support. Yesterday Ireland took a brave step by seeking the support and solidarity of its partners. I am confident that Ireland will succeed and the EU will once again live up to expectations. Greece is living proof of that.

[on the enlargement process]

•    Today, on various pretexts, we have abandoned the effort to speak politically. In the name of the least common denominator, we have lost the vision. There are too many of us for there to be broad agreement. We feel the famous “enlargement fatigue”. The candidates for EU membership are a good ways from meeting our standards. There are lots of excuses. Excuses that are an attempt to make up for our lack of vision. But we can change this if we want to. After all, the European Union was built on a vision: the European Integration of our continent.

[on the European perspective of the Western Balkans]

•    Greece will hold the EU Presidency in 2014. Our goal is to convene an EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting – “Thessaloniki II” – where we can adopt a political declaration that sets a specific, ambitious-and-yet-realistic target for completing the accession process of Western Balkan countries.

•    We are setting three basic goals for “Thessaloniki II”.

•    First, the creation of “Group 2014”, which will consist of member states who will form “preparation alliances” with candidate countries and participate actively in the process, for they, too, will be assessed on the effectiveness of the assistance they provide.

•    Second, the development of close ties of cooperation amongst candidate countries on a regional level, strengthening existing cooperation platforms and putting greater emphasis on interaction between these platforms. We should not let the cooperation that has already accrued through the SEECP and RCC go to waste. And we also need to capitalize on sectoral cooperation networks like the Energy Community of Southeast Europe.

•    Third, agreement on a date. A date that will be our target for full accession. This will be the new catalyst for change and progress. It will be the incentive for reforms and a basis for assessing governments in the region. It will be a vital commitment from Europe, saying that the Western Balkans are part of the family and that Europe will never again let the crimes of the past be repeated.

[on Turkey’s European perspective]

•    The fact is, the dithering of certain Member States – dithering that both derives from and perpetuates the public’s phobias – has not only blurred the vision, but also cut off the oxygen supply to the process. At the same time, the delays and shortfalls in Turkey’s reform process are also stifling the accession process.

•    Turkey’s refusal to meet its obligations to the Republic of Cyprus and the EU 27 has dramatically shortened the process’s projected lifespan. We are talking about the most gravely ill patient in the enlargement process – and there is precious little hope of recovery.

•    History – and specifically the run-up to 1999 – has taught us that we need vision and courage to make the leap; to keep the process alive. And as it did then, Greece can today play the role of catalyst, ending the “farce” so that this ailing process can again become a living political process.

•    Given that Prime Minister Erdogan has set Turkish elections for early June, I could think of the idea hold an EU-Turkey Summit Meeting in late June or Autumn next year.

•    The purpose of this meeting will be to adopt a political declaration that sets out a “new roadmap” for Turkish accession. A “new Helsinki”, with clearly defined timeframes and target dates, designating precisely what Turkey’s obligations are and the pace at which they must be met. And a specific date for Turkey’s accession to the EU – assuming, of course, the relevant ratifications are forthcoming from the member states and Turkey.

[on the Cyprus issue]

•    If Turkey really wants to move ahead, it needs to meet all its obligations. In the final analysis, we are talking about relations with a country – a reunified Cyprus – that will be a partner tomorrow, because it is obvious that as long as there are occupation troops on the island, Turkey cannot become a member. So I think that if the Protocol issue and the matter of Turkey’s other obligations have not been resolved by June, Turkey runs the danger that the accession process will be frozen until these situations are resolved. That is simply how it is, so there is no point in anyone hiding behind the Cyprus issue.

Full text of the speech:

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here and have the opportunity to talk with you.

During the past 14 months, every time a Greek minister stood to speak in public, everyone expected them to speak of the current economic crisis and its impact on Greece and the EU as a whole. Today, I want to break this trend and concentrate on a different issue, one that I believe is equally vital for our Union’s future: the enlargement process.

However, I won’t shy away from describing where my country stands right now on the economic front.

We have made huge changes during the past year. Greece came close to the brink of collapse, yet managed to avoid irreversible disaster. We found the courage to tackle problems that we should have dealt with for many years. We started on a huge deficit of more that 15% and managed to cut it by 6%, something unprecedented by any account. We have undertaken reforms to open up closed professions, we have made major changes in our tax system, which we already have passed, to minimise loopholes, scope for tax evasion, but also redistribute income in a more sustainable and just way. We have a new budget system that doesn’t allow hidden deficits. We overhauled our pension system. We have passed laws for green development, opening up our country to new areas of comparative advantage. We are on the right track and we are turning this story of disaster into a success story for our country.

The EU has been by our side every step of the way and we express our gratitude to all our partners for the support and solidarity. However, the EU had to face up to its own fiscal and institutional problems, a crisis it had not faced in the past. If this crisis has taught Europe anything, it is this, that you can’t have a stable common currency without a common economic policy. That’s why the EU has established a financial support mechanism. And Europe may not have acted fast enough for the markets, but we did act, and in European Union terms very quickly, because ultimately we know that we are all in this together.

With our partners we managed to build a mechanism to support Greece during its time of hardship. This mechanism now serves as the model for the future EU mechanism that will protect and strengthen our Economic Union, a permanent mechanism for support. Yesterday Ireland took a brave step by seeking the support and solidarity of its partners. I am confident that Ireland will succeed and the EU will once again live up to expectations. Greece is living proof of that.

And now ladies and gentlemen, allow me to turn to our future. Allow me to turn to EU enlargement.

In a few days, we will repeat the annual ritual of assessing candidate countries in the Council. Our evaluations will be based on the reports prepared by the Commission via the well-known procedure of compromise and political considerations. We will be tough in negotiating our Conclusions so that they meet with the PR expectations of the ‘elite’ back home and in Brussels who continue to follow the enlargement issue, while the wider public have lost interest. We will then return quietly to our jobs, until next year, when we will bring the enlargement files down from the attic and start over again.

The enlargement process has lost its political impetus. It has evolved into a bureaucratic, mechanical and technocratic process, despite the tireless efforts of the Commission and the responsible Commissioner, Stefan Füle, to make it a process that is political in nature and I would like to thank him for his tireless efforts. That, in itself, is not bad, and it is certainly necessary. In any case, coordinating and, in the end, putting together several thousand pages of legislation is not the gripping stuff of exciting James Bond scenarios, but it has to be done to bring a country into the European Union. But without a political backbone, the endeavor is bound to get bogged down in legalistic hair-splitting over the texts of legislation.

This wasn’t always the case. The history of the successive EU enlargements is a history of bold political transcendence. Let me give you two examples that directly concern my country.

The first involves Turkey and its achieving candidate-country status in Helsinki in 1999. Until that moment, who believed we would see such a development? Turkey had been an associate member since 1963 and had applied for accession-candidate status in 1987. For most of our partners, Turkey’s accession prospects were buried under the Cyprus issue, Greek-Turkish relations and a vague general impression that nothing would ever change in Turkey. And yet, Greece turned things around in 1999, saying yes – under certain conditions of course – to Turkey’s full accession to the European Union. So when Turkey finally got on track for Europe, suddenly – how ironic! – we heard concerns for the first time as to whether Turkey really belongs in Europe. But let’s come back to that later.

The second example involves the EU enlargement in the Balkans. We all know that the Thessaloniki Agenda – adopted during Greece’s 2003 EU Presidency – has so far been the basis of the region’s European perspective. But the value of the Thessaloniki Agenda does not consist solely in the stabilisation and association process described in the Agenda. It also lies in the political vision held up to the Balkan peoples: that one day the hatred would be in the past and everyone would enjoy freedom and prosperity in one unified European space.

Today, on various pretexts, we have abandoned the effort to speak politically. In the name of the least common denominator, we have lost the vision. There are too many of us for there to be broad agreement. We feel the famous “enlargement fatigue”. The candidates for EU membership are a good ways from meeting our standards. There are lots of excuses. Excuses that are an attempt to make up for our lack of vision. But we can change this if we want to. After all, the European Union was built on a vision: the European Integration of our continent. Today, I want to propose a way to make this vision vibrant again.

I’ll start with the Balkans; Europe’s ‘back yard’. Executive summary? Small in size, large in problems. A variegated population – ethnic and religious diversity – and the general sense that everyone deserves better than they have. That everyone, as a rule, has been treated unfairly by their neighbour, who has a historical debt to pay. The vicious circle of conflict and violence seems perpetual and unbroken; when Germany and Europe were celebrating their reunification, the Balkans were embarking on a new round of violence and bloodshed.

A European perspective – a true European perspective – is the only thing that can break this cycle. And the stabilizing and developmental role of a European perspective has already been proven: the speedy progress of Bulgaria and Romania, which are today at the forefront of our joint effort to once again give substance to the European perspectives of our common neighbors.

You are already aware of ‘Agenda 2014’, Greece’s initiative for adopting a target date – a compass – to guide the accession efforts of the Western Balkans. When it has been 100 years since events in the Balkans sparked the first Great War of the last century, WW I, instead of a dark day of remembrance, let’s have cause to celebrate the success of the greatest peace project in European history, the European Union. We are realists. We know that a lot of reforms have to be carried out. We know that 2014 is an ambitious finishing line. But the symbolism of our initiative, a purely political initiative, has already worked as a catalyst for putting the Balkans dynamically back on the table.

In recent months we have seen a number of developments confirming that the momentum and political interest is there. This past June we had an EU-Western Balkans Meeting in Sarajevo. A few weeks ago, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Ministers decided to drop the visa requirement for Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albanian nationals entering the Schengen area, and this measure has been in place for Serbia, Montenegro and Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia nationals since last year. The Council has asked the Commission for an opinion on accession candidacy status for Serbia, and the Commission has already returned a positive opinion on Montenegrin candidacy status. And, of course, Croatia has nearly completed negotiations on the accession chapters.

Many member states have developed initiatives in the same direction. We have heard specific target dates, like 2020. Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Spain and other countries have put their political weight behind the effort. I welcome these initiatives and want to stress that we are working closely together. Our goal is to flesh things out; to streamline all of these ideas and make of them something that is useful – first and foremost – to the citizens of the Balkans; something that makes them feel part of the European family. Something that will empower them to support the reforms and demand faster change.

Greece will hold the EU Presidency in 2014. Our goal is to convene an EU-Western Balkans Summit Meeting – “Thessaloniki II” – where we can adopt a political declaration that sets a specific, ambitious-and-yet-realistic target for completing the accession process of Western Balkan countries. A declaration that will include all of the necessary steps of progress. A declaration that will guide these countries’ efforts, casting specific member states as “mentors” who will stand by the candidates every step of the way. I can see the creation of joint working groups of candidate and member states, posting of member-state public administrators to candidate countries, provision of know-how, training seminars, ongoing assessment and preparation of candidates, close cooperation with the Commission, which will have to increase its role within candidate countries. We can’t wait for things to happen by themselves. We have to play aggressively, in the positive sense, and give this process life so that people can see results.

We are setting three basic goals for “Thessaloniki II”.

First, the creation of “Group 2014”, which will consist of member states who will form “preparation alliances” with candidate countries and participate actively in the process, for they, too, will be assessed on the effectiveness of the assistance they provide.

Second, the development of close ties of cooperation amongst candidate countries on a regional level, strengthening existing cooperation platforms and putting greater emphasis on interaction between these platforms. We should not let the cooperation that has already accrued through the SEECP and RCC go to waste. And we also need to capitalize on sectoral cooperation networks like the Energy Community of Southeast Europe.

Third, agreement on a date. A date that will be our target for full accession. This will be the new catalyst for change and progress. It will be the incentive for reforms and a basis for assessing governments in the region. It will be a vital commitment from Europe, saying that the Western Balkans are part of the family and that Europe will never again let the crimes of the past be repeated.

I won’t go into a country-by-country discussion for two reasons: first, because our approach is regional, and, second, because we will have the opportunity to carry out this dialogue during the second phase of our discussion.

I now move on to the second region of interest in today’s presentation: Turkey.

I won’t start by setting out Turkey’s special characteristics: how large, how Muslim, how different it is compared to the rest of Europe. Nor will I talk about the familiar reactions attributable to this differentness. It is my conviction that each member state and each candidate country is different – unique. And this uniqueness can be a source of strength, instead of triggering reflexes of fear and apprehension.

What I would like to focus on is sincerity. The first step in dealing with a problem is acknowledging that it exists. But instead of acknowledging the problem we have with Turkey, we are playing – and I will be provocative now – in a “theatrical farce” entitled “Turkey’s Accession Process”.

The fact is, the dithering of certain Member States – dithering that both derives from and perpetuates the public’s phobias – has not only blurred the vision, but also cut off the oxygen supply to the process. At the same time, the delays and shortfalls in Turkey’s reform process are also stifling the accession process.

Finally, Turkey’s refusal to meet its obligations to the Republic of Cyprus and the EU 27 has dramatically shortened the process’s projected lifespan. We are talking about the most gravely ill patient in the enlargement process – and there is precious little hope of recovery.

History – and specifically the run-up to 1999 – has taught us that we need vision and courage to make the leap; to keep the process alive. And as it did then, Greece can today play the role of catalyst, ending the “farce” so that this ailing process can again become a living political process.

Given that Prime Minister Erdogan has set Turkish elections for early June, I could think of the idea hold an EU-Turkey Summit Meeting in late June or Autumn next year. I will be visiting Budapest on Wednesday to discuss this idea with the upcoming Hungarian presidency and I would certainly also discuss this with our Polish friends. The purpose of this meeting will be to adopt a political declaration that sets out a “new roadmap” for Turkish accession. A “new Helsinki”, with clearly defined timeframes and target dates, designating precisely what Turkey’s obligations are and the pace at which they must be met. And a specific date for Turkey’s accession to the EU – assuming, of course, the relevant ratifications are forthcoming from the member states and Turkey. In June of 2011, we will be talking to a Turkish government with a fresh popular mandate; a government capable of – and with every interest in – exchanging guarantees for a substantial relationship with the EU. I hope it will be a government that chooses, courageous reforms over swaggering rhetoric; that will stop mooning over its own reflection and realize that the EU’s rules apply to everyone and will not be bent for any candidate – however important that candidate thinks it is.

But the success of such an initiative depends on our having a frank discussion. I do not question the qualms some member states have. What I am asking is that they not be allowed to prefigure the result or move the goalposts in mid-game. The rule we must abide by says that the road to full accession must remain open. This is the product of a unanimous decision we made when we gave Turkey candidate-country status. The moment of truth is still a long way off. But we need to be fair and consistent – we need to honor our commitments. The manner in which an individual member state decides on Turkey’s accession is up to that member state. But we have to remember that we will then be talking about another country. There is no point in my enumerating the reasons why Turkey can’t join the EU today. We would be here all day. But I know that when this question is put to European citizens a few years down the road, it won’t be about today’s Turkey. It will be about a European Turkey that respects international law and honors the principle of good neighbourly relations. A Turkey that protects the religious freedom of all its citizens and respects the rights of all the minorities living within its borders.

The Turkish government elected in June will have to make clear exactly what it wants. For the time being, the accession process is being used as a tool, rather than being an end in itself. And I think that in both Europe and Turkey there is a tendency to forget how powerful a force for reform Turkey’s European perspective has been: it put an end to outdated resistance from the old guard and allowed for the emergence of new political forces that would not have found expression in the past. The more alive the European process is, the more democratic Turkey becomes.

Let me close with a few words on the Cyprus issue, and I am ready to continue the discussion with a Q&A session. I said that we need to be sincere if we are to break the vicious cycle – even if this sincerity precipitates a falling out. And I believe that sometimes a crisis can be an opportunity for inducing changes that resolve a deadlock. Today’s “theatrical farce”, as I called it, has to stop. If Turkey really wants to move ahead, it needs to meet all its obligations. In the final analysis, we are talking about relations with a country – a reunified Cyprus – that will be a partner tomorrow, because it is obvious that as long as there are occupation troops on the island, Turkey cannot become a member. So I think that if the Protocol issue and the matter of Turkey’s other obligations have not been resolved by June, Turkey runs the danger that the accession process will be frozen until these situations are resolved. That is simply how it is, so there is no point in anyone hiding behind the Cyprus issue. Because it could not be clearer that the big winner from Turkey’s accession to the EU will be the Republic of Cyprus and its people, who will at long last enjoy the benefits of participation in the greatest peace project in history, the European Union.

The success of the enlargement process depends directly on the internal deepening of the EU. We cannot allow this crisis to lead to further introversion. It is urgent to find appropriate solution to the current economic difficulties and endow the EU with the appropriate means and mechanisms. The stability of the euro is imperative. A permanent mechanism in this direction must be created and enshrined in the Treaty. The principle of solidarity must guide our action both internally and with our neighbors.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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