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Speech of Alternate FM Xenogiannakopoulou at a conference organized by the European Commission in Athens (30.11.2010)

Wednesday, 01 December 2010

Alternate Foreign Minister, Ms. Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, spoke yesterday (Tuesday) at the conference organized by the European Commission entitled ‘Opportunities to strengthen security, stability, and development through EU enlargement in the area of Southeast Europe”.

The full text of the speech is as follows:

“I would also like to thank you and congratulate you on this initiative, on this particularly topical issue and process.

Ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be here today and I would like to start by congratulating the new Head of the European Commission’s Representation to Athens, Mr. Panos Karvounis, on his new appointment. We have been friends and colleagues for many years and I know how much he will be able to contribute with his presence to the European Commission’s initiatives.

I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome Mr. Dimitris Kourkoulas, who has also recently taken up the post of Director in the European Commission’s crucial Directorate General on Enlargement and also wish him all the best with his new tasks.

It is true that when we speak of enlargement, we sometimes forget to refer to the general political framework and its historical course for the European Union. In my view, we must base our discussion and our concerns on four main premises.

The first takes us back to the establishment of the then European Communities, i.e., that behind the process of enlargement there is the target and vision of Europe’s unification, through a peaceful and democratic process; an unprecedented process worldwide, which highlights the major importance of European unification for the past decades.

We need to remember this general goal and vision, which gave the initial dynamics to European integration, which then took on new characteristics, becoming – I would add – even more important and necessary in this new globalised scene. European integration gains new importance for the peoples of Europe to face the challenges and problems caused by globalisation.

The second premise is that the enlargement process is the necessary connecting thread, the necessary driving force and the policy which stabilizes and gives perspective and added value to the European construction. Because we know very well that the European Union cannot be isolated in its broader geopolitical surroundings, and also that this process brings, through the prospects it offers and the policy it implements, stability, security, peace, growth perspective across the European area and naturally in the countries that have a perspective to ultimately join the European Union.

The third premise, which Panos Karvounis also mentioned, is of course that this process is based on specific criteria and a set of prerequisites founded, on the one hand, on the basic principles of European integration of Peace, Democracy, International Law, and fundamental rights. And, on the other hand, what we call the community acquis, which the peoples of the Union have jointly gained through this democratic process, through the evolution of European integration.

The fourth premise brings us to our findings on the current situation; each time the European Union took a big step on the enlargement course, it also made a big step on its internal development and deepening; institutional and democratic development, economic and social development. This was necessary in order for the enlargement process to keep pace with the next stage of European integration.

But where do we stand today? The last major enlargement was strategically important for Europe. It was an enlargement that came after the end of the Cold War in order to unify Europe to the East, including Cyprus and Malta, and giving new dynamics to the South and to the Mediterranean basin, also of strategic importance to the Union.

But, unfortunately, we saw that the second part, i.e. deepening, did not progress in the same pace over the past ten years. We saw how difficult the institutional process on the Lisbon Treaty was, how the European Constitution started and where it ended and how difficult the ratification process was.

Overall, we saw the broader international crisis and how it was reflected within the Union, the insecurity and introversion that has emerged in the member states, but also centrally at the European level.

We saw the failure for a quickly European reaction to the various crisis phenomena, affecting either individual member states or having a European dimension. This discussion is, of course, very topical given the Summit Meeting of the European Council in a few weeks.

Of course, the European Union, given all these situations and difficulties, could not develop policies internally, as dictated by circumstances.

Let me indicatively mention the financial instruments at our disposal and our policies in a European Union of 27 member states and hopefully, with the accession of Croatia of 28 member states next year, still trapped in a community budget designed for 15 member states.

Today we need to give a new political dynamism to the enlargement process, particularly in the area of Southeast Europe. An area in which the European perspective is of particular meaning and value when we speak of peace, stability, and cooperation. In this respect, Greece has supported every stage of this process and we continue of course to support it with all our might. This process, of course, must be coupled with the corresponding political will for an internal deepening process.

More specifically, as regards the Balkan peninsula, already since 2003 when Greece held the Council Presidency, an politically crucial agenda was set which shaped the Balkan countries’ European perspective.

Today, as Prime Minister George Papandreou has pointed out, we are moving in this direction in order to give once again – with the Agenda 2014 target, ten years after Thessaloniki and again in the coming Greek Presidency – a new momentum to this accession course of the Western Balkans.

The year 2014 is highly symbolic for all the peoples of the Balkans. It does not simply coincide with the Greek Presidency. It marks the 100th anniversary from the events that took place in 1914 in the Balkans triggering World War I and a series of tragic events for the peoples of the Balkans, whose wounds we can still see today.

But we must not be pessimistic, we should look at the existing potential, and we must acknowledge that important steps have been taken since then. Bulgaria and Romania have fully joined the European Union and are now member states. We hope Croatia will be able to join the Union in the coming year, giving a new momentum to the process of enlargement.

We are also very pleased with, and welcomed it warmly, the Council’s mandate to the European Commission to issue an opinion on Serbia. We welcome the Commission’s recommendation on granting Montenegro EU accession candidate status. With regard to the European perspective of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, we sincerely hope that there will be a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue within the framework of the UN, as this is a necessary prerequisite for this country’s further progress towards the European Union.

We also encourage Albania’s European perspective. Here, I would like to point out an important development; as of 15 December, visa liberalisation has entered into effect with regard to Albania and Bosnia Herzegovina, following FYROM, Serbia and Montenegro; this is an important step in the enlargement process.

Of course, we need to reposition this process within the overall vision and perspective of the European Union and it is within this framework that we will continue our effort.

Last but not least, Turkey. Greece has made its stance clear in practice. Greece’s stance was pivotal with regard to Turkey’s accession course and remains so. It is an honest and clear stance, because we see that Turkey's full accession at the end of this road and this is a crucial issue overall for the accession process. In order for it to be reliable, effective and offer prospects, there must be an end goal. This is the only way it provides incentives and achieves a substantial evaluation with regard to each candidate country’s compliance with fundamental prerequisites.

It is necessary for Turkey to undertake even greater efforts in order to respond to the necessary criteria, to the necessary commitments set by the accession course.

Here, I am of course referring to good neighbourly relations and respect for international law not just with words, but also with deeds; to the need for compliance with the Additional Protocol and the need for normalization of relations with the Republic of Cyprus. And of course, to further progress, as certain steps have been made but still greater progress is required with regard to issues of minorities and religious freedoms. I am also referring to the continuation of efforts undertaken on the domestic level in Turkey aiming at economic and social reform, in order to keep the process alive and in order to have the necessary accession material for negotiations on specific chapters.

As you know, Foreign Minister, Mr. Dimitris Droutsas, made the proposal that after the upcoming elections take place in Turkey in the coming semester, an EU- Turkey Summit should be held in order to give a new momentum to this accession process.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I truly believe that we are in a phase of crucial decisions that need first of all strong political will. In order to move forward, we need to reaffirm and update the vision of European integration on the basis of the principles of solidarity, of balanced growth and common prosperity for all our peoples.

This is of concern to us both within the European Union, on the decisions that we need to take in order to address the crisis and give new momentum to the European development and social strategy. And, at the same time, the political will required for the broader European architecture in relation to the prospect of enlargement  and European integration.”

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