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Joint press conference of FM Droutsas and Alternate FM Xenogiannakopoulou at the GAC/FAC (Brussels, 22 November 2010)
Mr. Droutsas: I will say a few words – a short briefing – about today’s discussions and the proceedings of the General Affairs and Foreign Affairs Councils. First of all, we discussed the preparations for the European Council in December, and specifically the course toward the agreement on revision of the treaty in combination with the establishment of a eurozone stability mechanism – a permanent support mechanism. General positions were taken by the countries, and the Presidency set out the course of the proceedings from here on in. In the coming days, bilateral meetings will begin between the countries and the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, his team and the Commission, and after that – depending on the results – the presidency will propose the rest of the procedure to be followed. Whatever the case, the issue will be discussed at the upcoming GAC, ahead of the December European Council.
Greece stressed that we are preparing for one of the most critical European Councils in recent years, so good preparation is a prerequisite for the success of the European Council and avoidance of divisive messages during the critical period we are going through right now. So we need to proceed with caution, and we stressed that we must observe the procedures that have been agreed upon, and we also stressed that any sort of sudden surprises must be avoided. Regarding the revision of the Treaty, along general lines, all of the representatives of the members states support a limited revision with the so-called simplified procedure, so referendums will not be needed – though ratification by national Parliaments will be required. Greece’s agreement to the revision of the Treaty to allow for the creation of this permanent support mechanism clearly hinges on the form and nature of this mechanism. So we are waiting for the conclusion of the consultations and we insist on the need for close cooperation with all of the member states. Everyone underscored the need for the creation of a permanent support mechanism. But today, only general stances were taken, without going into further detail. It is expected that the basic characteristics of this mechanism will be worked out through the process I mentioned earlier – for submission to the December European Council.
We, of course, support the creation of a permanent support mechanism of a European nature, just as we stressed that recent developments confirm, I believe, the need for such a support mechanism.
The Community budget for 2011 and afterwards was also discussed, following the recent impasse. But Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou will give you more details on this.
I still want to mention the Foreign Affairs Council. The main discussion at the luncheon was developments in the Middle East and Lebanon. There was a review of developments. But I would like to stress that these discussions produced a new decision from the Council for a joint statement supporting President Obama in his effort for immediate ratification of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by the U.S. Congress.
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Thank you very much. I would like to welcome you as well. Following on from what the Minister said, you are aware that right now, in addition to all the other problems, there is a budget crisis. We are already at an impasse regarding the 2011 budget.
What we stressed was that very serious efforts need to be made for this impasse to be resolved. And, in fact, we supported – and we were clear on this – the relevant initiatives that have been taken by the European Commission and the presidency of the Council. But we want to stress something in this regard, and we made it absolutely clear that right now we cannot have a process that will predispose the discussion that is under way and will be under way next year in any case with regard to the financial perspectives.
This is something we were very clear on – something we cannot accept. And whatever the case, we cannot have a discussion at the December Council that will negatively predispose the discussion on the Community budget, which has no relation to this, and they are trying to imply an interrelation between the financial discipline of national budgets and the Community budget.
And you will remember from the last time there was a discussion on the financial perspectives, the famous letter sent at that time regarding the 1%. You are aware that at the most recent European Council a similar approach was attempted, with the letter we saw presented on the second day of the European Council, and for that reason our position is clear: We have to separate the two discussions.
We want the discussion on financial perspectives to be carried out based on a proposal drawn up by the European Commission, and, moreover, we think that in any case the European Parliament, in accordance with the Lisbon Treaty, has a decisive responsibility with regard to the Community budget. And that is why this effort, which has started, and which we think will conclude in a timely manner, so that we won’t be obliged in the end to have a 2011 budget implemented by the regime of provisional twelfths. This discussion is directly related to that referred to earlier by the Minister, in a twofold political sense:
On the one hand, because, as you can see, in a time of economic and social crisis, the manner in which the discussion on financial perspectives proceeds is of decisive importance for the overall policies developed on a European level regarding development, regarding cohesion, but also because it will be a negative sign if the European Union – at a time when it is being called upon to confront all of these serious economic problems and the general crisis – cannot come to an agreement on the text of the budget.
So our position is clear, and I will remind you that the Prime Minister – in the debate at the last European Council – was among the prime ministers who clearly supported the positions heard from the European Parliament. As you well know, the European Parliament’s positions on financial and budget issues are positions that we consider allied with critical policies like cohesion and a number of other policies that interest our country.
I would also like to note something else, because although today was just an initial exchange of views, it is a matter that will come before the GAC again on 14 December and is of special interest to Greece. International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Commissioner Georgieva presented the European Commission announcement on a strengthened European response on disaster issues.
As you know, this is an issue that we have taken many initiatives on in the past, because, unfortunately, the reality of the situation with climate change and various natural disasters in general that happen from time to time, or wildfires, or other issues – and we are talking about disasters in our beyond the European Union – advocates for an enhanced initiative, better coordination, which, however, as was clarified, is not replacing – and, naturally, it couldn’t – the organized civil protection in every member state. But it coordinates and brings an added value.
So this will be among the issues at the December GAC. And we believe this is something we should support and monitor the implementation of. Thank you.
Journalist: What is Greece’s position on the European Support Mechanism?
Mr. Droutsas: I think the Prime Minister was clear in his statements, and, as we said, the consultations are just beginning. We have our own meeting in the coming days with Mr. Van Rompuy’s office, which has undertaken the initial preparations, and we are preparing intensively and systematically, in a very serious manner. And I think that we will soon be able to present all of the details of our positions.
Journalist: Have you discussed with other countries the matter of organizing a summit meeting with Turkey? Do you think such an initiative is feasible?
Mr. Droutsas: We haven’t had any official discussions regarding this thought. It is an idea that I had the opportunity to present during my speech today at the European Policy Center. There will be discussions, of course. As you know, it is often good on the EU level to put an idea on the table and discuss it – see what the reaction is. EU-Turkish relations is an issue that concerns all of the EU member states. Everyone sees that the matter is not moving ahead at the pace and in the direction we would like to see. For that reason, I think it is our obligation to put some new ideas on the table, to discuss them with our partners, to see what their reactions will be. This is what we are doing, and we will see how feasible the implementation of this idea is.
Journalist: Are we for or against the private sector sharing bailout costs?
Mr. Droutsas: Once again, the Prime Minister’s statements were very clear that private sector participation is problematic. Of course we can look at this, and that is what we are doing and that is what we will do, in a serious and systematic manner. We will look at how we can give our support to this mechanism and see how the various ideas that have been expressed by others as well can be implemented. Once again, the participation of the private sector will, it appears, be a negative element. That is how we see it, but this doesn’t mean that we, too, can’t look at proposed solutions that might provide a solution to any impasse that might arise in the negotiations. There are thoughts here. Some thoughts have already been expressed by the Greek side. But because this is not my exclusive area of responsibility, allow me not to go into detail. As I said, the Greek side is making serious preparations, and as soon as this work is completed, we will be able to announce the details to you.
Journalist: A procedural matter: Will the ECOFIN meeting be held before, at the same time as, or after the European Council?
Mr. Droutsas: That matter hasn’t been settled yet. There is the thought of holding the ECOFIN meeting before the European Council. It could also be held at the same time. These are issues that the presidency is still looking at, and, as we said, in the coming days we will have a full picture from the presidency regarding the final procedure and the details of the process.
Journalist: What member of the government will see European President Van Rompuy?
Mr. Droutsas: The procedure starts with all the meetings of the member states, representatives of the member states with representatives of Mr. Van Rompuy’s office. This will take place in the coming days, and right now we are arranging the date on which our delegation’s meeting will take place. As I said, this will take place sometime in the coming week. The process will be completed within 7 to 10 days. One or two days ago, all of the member states were sent the initial details. As I said, today or tomorrow we will settle on the precise date of our delegation’s meeting.
Journalist: I can’t see whether the problem that has arisen in the European Parliament is being caused by member states exerting pressure or by the Parliament itself barging in …
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: You’re right, because the picture is a little complicated. First of all, the European Parliament, ahead of the second reading of the 2011 budget, raised the issue of raising appropriations for 2011, and raised some issues that concern the future of the financial perspectives. In the end, the European Parliament accepted a compromise.
It accepted a compromise at 2.9%, having begun at 6%, if I remember correctly. So the Europarliament showed great willingness, and the Commission came and made a joint statement that in a sense guaranteed the Europarliament’s competencies in practice, because it is essentially the first implementation of the Lisbon Treaty as concerns the Europarliament.
Despite this willingness on the part of the European Parliament, and despite the fact that most of the member states agreed to this approach, there was unfortunately a fixation – mainly from the UK – against this statement from the Commission, and so this inter-institutional dialogue stalled in the end.
But this is not totally unrelated to what we are discussing now and the whole process of preparing for the European Council, because I remind you that the letter from the 12 prime ministers came on the second day of the European Council, and there is an attempt to table a notion of financial discipline with regard to the Community budget, essentially predisposing the discussion on financial perspectives.
So the effort now – from us and most of the member states – is that we support the European Commission’s and the Belgian Presidency’s finding a solution on this. And we insisted very strongly on there being no relationship that would predispose how the financial perspectives will go, as the financial perspectives are the next major package of negotiations that will start next year.
Journalist: In terms of time, can we avoid the provisional twelfth? Are we concerned about the rationale behind the provisional twelfth? Is it certain that there will be delays in the approval of new programmes …
Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: Regarding your first question: As you know, solutions can always be found in time. And it is for this reason, I think, that there is provision for a meeting of the European Parliament on 21 or 22 December, I think – after the European Council. And there will also be another inter-institutional meeting – from what they announced today a the GAC – on 6 December.
So, in terms of time – assuming there is the requisite political will – we can have a solution. You are right that the provisional twelfth is a process that we have seen before in the past – I think we had such a crisis in 1998. It will create disbursement problems. But on the other hand, the fact that the European Parliament is raising such issues – and, unfortunately, there aren’t many institutional officials raising them in the EU – has its value, strategically, for our effort and negotiations.