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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias’ and the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, following their meeting (Athens, 15 May 2015)
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning. I welcome the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg. I am pleased that we have here with us a friend, first of all, of mine and of Greece, the Foreign Minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, with whom we talk frequently in the European Union, when we meet, and he was the person who welcomed me with a heartfelt embrace at my first meeting of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers.
The Minister and I have had long and important discussions in the past, but especially today, during the one-on-one meeting and the meeting we had with our delegations, and we will continue at our working luncheon. These talks are very important because, as you know, Luxembourg is the heart of Europe. We are the history of Europe, as we abducted her from Libya, once upon a time, through the god Zeus.
And these talks are important because this friendly country is assuming the Presidency of the Council of Ministers of the European Union. And the Minister was kind enough to brief us on the priorities of Luxembourg’s Presidency.
Europe is facing a major crisis at this time. It has to look at new issues, like the surge of migrants, the destabilization of our region, and I believe Europe will be in very good hands during the next semester. And I say this because Luxembourg has always been, throughout our presence in the European Union, a firm friend and supporter of Greece’s needs and positions.
As you know, Luxembourg’s priorities, like the priorities of the President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker, who was the prime minister of Luxembourg, include the plans for major investments aimed at helping to resolve the employment problem.
We share a common outlook with Luxembourg: That Europe, if it is to survive, needs to have cohesiveness and strong social mechanisms for protection and development of personality, people and society. We agree with the plans of the Luxembourg Presidency for strengthening the social state, for a proper system for receiving and allotting refugees and illegal immigrants.
Finally, I briefed my friend the Minister on my recent meetings in Turkey – in Istanbul and Ankara, because we were together in Antalya.
Regarding the Cyprus issue, under the new conditions in which the talks are reopening. Regarding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. And also regarding a number of initiatives we are taking as the Foreign Ministry – and me, personally, as the Foreign Minister – on the international stage.
Both countries support the Euroatlantic perspectives of the Western Balkans, provided these countries meet the requirements of democracy and the Copenhagen criteria.
The Minister and I discussed Ukraine, Syria and Libya, but above all we support the friendship of our two states and our personal relationship through our common interests, common concerns.
Once again, Jean, welcome in all languages. Welcome.
J. ASSELBORN: Thank you very much, dear Nikos. I must say I am enthusiastic at this invitation to Greece, at this important moment for the European Union and Greece.
As the Minister correctly said, if the heart of Europe beats in Luxembourg, we can say that Greece is the heart of democracy, mainly Athens. So the heart of democracy beats in Athens.
In my opinion, the next semester will be important for the European Union, as well as for Greece and Luxembourg. I say from the outset that, during our Presidency, we will do everything possible, not to help Greece, but to be at Greece’s side regarding the challenges, the problems and the solutions we can find together.
We met personally in Brussels some months ago. I can say that we immediately felt that there was chemistry between us. And yesterday we returned from Antalya together, and here today, in Athens, I had the opportunity to talk with the Foreign Minister about the major issues our Presidency will be dealing with.
This morning I had the honor of meeting with the Prime Minister, with whom the conversation was very intensively about Europe, about Greece. Later, I will meet with Mr. Chountis, the Alternate Minister for European Affairs, and with the Speaker of the Hellenic Parliament.
With regard to the Presidency, I think that, starting out, we need to be on the right trajectory, from a political perspective. First of all, we have to look at the impact of the elections in Great Britain, which will have repercussions for the European Union in the second half of this year, and of course there won’t be negotiations between Great Britain and the European Union, but talks. As you know, Prime Minister Cameron won the elections, and he will do what he said he would do in the run-up to the elections. This isn’t a bad thing. So there will be a referendum on Great Britain’s position in relation to the European Union.
I believe, and Minister Kotzias is of the same opinion, that we need to do everything we can to keep Great Britain in the European Union, because, from a strategic standpoint, Europe will have less political weight without Great Britain. On the other hand, we shouldn’t weaken the notion, the significance of the European Union, the principles as set down in the Treaties. A Union that is ever closer, if you will, within the framework of the European Union. So it will be interesting to see how the situation develops, and I think that Greece, like Luxembourg, is on the same trajectory: that we shouldn’t lose Great Britain, of course, but that of course we shouldn’t lose the European Union’s significance.
We will talk later about the important meeting that is to take place in November-December, in Paris. We will try to reconcile the European positions in the context of the Council. And of course in cooperation with the European Commission.
A third priority, and now I am talking somewhat hierarchically, is the TTIP, this agreement. I imagine we will have the opportunity this afternoon to talk about this agreement between the European Union and the United States, in all its intricacy, also in relation to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA); that is, the treaty between the EU and Canada. And of course, on a humanitarian level, as Nikos said earlier, the migration issue. On Monday it will be one of the main subjects of the meeting of Foreign Ministers taking place in Brussels. All of us in Europe are well aware that Greece has a problem.
Much more, we are talking about what exactly is happening around Lampedusa, but Greece also has need of European solidarity on this issue.
And I believe that the European Union’s credibility is at stake. We can discuss the burden sharing and question the burden-sharing proposal that wasn’t made by the European Commission, but it is the job of the European Commission to propose solutions. We will discuss it. And I believe that there will be states that don’t want to participate, that don’t want to show solidarity in sharing the burden, but I don’t think this favors the European Union. Everyone needs to participate.
In closing, I would like to say a few words about the European Union and Greece, mainly as regards the eurozone.
Personally, in 2010, I was present at the Council where we decided, as the European Union, to support Greece. To help Greece at the highest possible level. We did it. I think there was a great show of solidarity with Greece.
Now, if we look at the millions and billions that were disbursed to Greece, we can see this, without forgetting, of course, the major sacrifices the Greek people are making so that the country can stand on its feet again. I wanted to stress that here. No European country is pushing Greece towards a Grexit – officially or unofficially.
Now, with regard to the repercussions mainly of the social measures, I must say that we understand very well what is happening in Greece. We want to redress the balance of the measures being taken, without causing problems with the reforms that need to be carried out, of course.
I believe that there is very good will in Greece, just as there is very good will in almost all of the European countries, and almost all of the European countries want to help Greece. And it is this good will that will help us to reach an agreement. We see this here in Greece, and I think that we are fast approaching a decision, because there is no alternative solution. Any alternative solution would be unsound. So Greece needs to remain in the eurozone, and we should be able to find the right fuel that will enable the two sides to agree.
So everyone is working, and I am convinced, after what I have heard hear in Greece, that the government is acting with urgency. And this good will that exists in the eurozone will soon lead us to a solution to this situation that, as the Prime Minister said, is not impacting only Greece and the eurozone – and I agree with him completely – but also the political vision of the whole of the European Union.
That’s what I wanted to say. And of course I am prepared to answer the questions you would like to ask.
JOURNALIST: I’m Katerina Fryssa, and I am with the State Radio. I would like to ask you what your priorities are as the EU Presidency in a few months.
J. ASSELBORN: I tried to explain the Presidency’s priorities to you. As is the case with each Presidency, we don’t have choices. There is continuity. In Europe, we now have the three consecutive presidencies: the Italian Presidency, the Latvian Presidency, and the third is ours. The biggest challenge, in my opinion, from a social and economic perspective, is to jumpstart investments in the European Union. And of course we have the plan for the €315 billion, which will not be used just for the countries that have good economies, but mainly for the countries that have needs, and I am in one of those countries.
So this is very important, and through the investments we need to achieve something that we somewhat overlooked in recent years. That is, we need to focus more on social policy and get to a Europe where there won’t just be the “third eye”, which belongs to Luxembourg and a few other countries in the world, but also a social “third eye”. And in my opinion this is a very important priority. I don’t know whether we will achieve our goal, but we will nevertheless try.
As for the other priorities, I enumerated them earlier. Migration, of course, is, from a humanitarian perspective, the biggest priority we have, and the COP 21 meeting I mentioned, and the TTIP. All the issues that I referred to earlier.
Now, as regards our foreign policy. You know that, since 2009, we have had a High Representative who chairs the Council of Foreign Ministers. We are now assuming our 12th Presidency. Our 11th Presidency was in 2005. Things were completely different. Foreign policy was also the responsibility of the state holding the EU presidency. This is no longer the case. Fortunately, in my opinion, so that there can be continuity. But, as you know, the High Representative acts only on the instructions that we will give her, almost unanimously. And we will do everything we can so that our priorities on foreign policy issues are followed, dealing with the substance of each issue.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, did you mention the possibility of economic cooperation between the two countries?
J. ASSELBORN: Yes. We are prepared for economic cooperation. With the Prime Minister, and later with my friend Nikos I will discuss this again – in Luxembourg we have a container rail transport system. The containers reach Trieste, and from there they continue to Turkey. And on this issue, Greece could participate in this plan. Moreover, if there is a request at any time, and if we can do something from our Ministry, we are prepared to bring the two countries’ economic forces together and move ahead. For the time being, things are a little complicated, but I am convinced that in a few months, and after Luxembourg’s Presidency, we will be able to move ahead in this sector.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, you are a country, as you said, at the heart of Europe, just as Athens is a country that is at the heart of democracy. You said earlier that no one in Europe – officially or unofficially – want Greece to leave the eurozone. However, don’t you think that the issue of social policy is too important to allow for a just solution that will allow Greece to stay in the eurozone? Thank you very much.
J. ASSELBORN: Listen, I expressed myself very clearly before, and I will repeat it. The social repercussions of the terms requested of Greece by Brussels certainly weren’t rightly understood. This is very probable. I must admit that I was always in favor of help for Greece, of supporting Greece, but at some point we didn’t see what precisely was happening on the ground. So we need to do everything we can to keep the course that has been started from destabilizing and to find solutions to mitigate the social repercussions of the decisions that have been taken.
And when I say that Luxembourg wants to promote the so-called “third eye” in the European Union during our Presidency – I realize this is a very ambitious commitment, and I’m not sure we will have specific results. I repeat, we will do everything we can generally, not just in relation to Greece. And I completely agree with what you hinted at in your question. Europe is a plan for peace, but it is also a social plan.
So based on this choice, which perhaps at the outset – we were talking about Schuman – didn’t exist so much, but if we cannot now provide some alternative solutions for social problems, I think it will be difficult for Europe’s credibility to be acknowledged.
In the European Parliament, more than a quarter of the MEPs no longer want Europe. It’s not that they want a different Europe; they don’t want Europe at all. And if you look at what Ms. Le Pen and the others are saying: that in order to fight unemployment we need to throw the foreigners out, and that to fight the euro’s weaknesses, we need to leave Europe.
We have to do with a situation in Europe where each morning, when one wakes up, one needs to work to explain and defend the notion of Europe. Things weren’t like that 10 years ago. Europe meant prospects, motivation, progress. Today we need to struggle, we need to fight for hope to remain for Europe. And if we don’t provide a social perspective for all the countries of Europe, hope will not remain simply because we don’t have wars.