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Foreign Minister Avramopoulos’ speech in the Parliamentary debate on the government’s policy papers
Ladies and Gentlemen Colleagues,
Antonis Samaras’s National Responsibility government – based on a broad, multi-party majority – has an historic mission.
It is the first government in the era of the new political changeover that aspires to transcend the dividing lines of the past; dividing lines that so troubled our country.
It is a government that takes responsibility for defending the European acquis of the Greeks, to the benefit of growth, prosperity, security and progress.
It wants to lay the foundations for a new political system based on the principles of effectiveness, transparency, creative consensus and continuity.
We are living in an international environment that is characterized by fluidity.
The spread of the global debt crisis and recession to many countries in the world, the unchecked flow of migrants – with particular repercussions for our country – and the dominance of security issues have intensified the global climate of uncertainty and fear, favouring international destabilization.
Under conditions of national crisis, our country’s foreign policy can open paths to economic growth, contribute to the creation of a secure environment, cooperation in the region, and, of course, give us hope.
It can bring the “first consensus-building successes” on the path out of the crisis.
We mustn’t forget that the power of our homeland has always been and always will be greater than its geographical size and economic vigour.
There is no doubt that in the coming years global competition will intensify
• for the attraction of investments,
• for money market activities,
• for control of energy sources,
• for access to natural sources of sustainable development,
• for the creation of jobs.
The re-establishment of our country’s prestige and credibility depends to a great extent on our transcending the crisis.
Greece cannot just “go begging” for funding programmes – it has to be a protagonist in international developments.
We have to capitalize on our historical reserves and our modern geostrategic advantages in order to help shape international developments.
Greece is always stronger and more independent when it is effective and modern.
When it has no fears or insecurities.
When it does not confuse national and party interests.
The Foreign Ministry is taking the initiative to set up a Special International Committee of Scientists, Experts, Diplomats, Entrepreneurs and Intellectuals, from Greece and abroad, to carry out an in-depth study of Greece’s new role in the world and to lay the foundations and guidelines for a new doctrine for our foreign policy.
Given this, I invite all of you to join in our putting away our fearful introversion following the political changeover.
We have to set aside the perception that anything new in the world is a potential threat to our national interests.
We have to set aside the breathless response to events and fearful reaction to others’ initiatives, because this results from a lack of self-confidence, planning, consensus, institutional continuity and stability.
Foreign policy is the field par excellence where consensus is not sought. It is a given. Because no one has a monopoly on patriotism and national feeling. Rather, we shape it, guided by national interests.
The Cyprus issue remains the number-one national issue for Greece.
But at this moment it is once again at an impasse.
From the briefing I had from the President of Cyprus and the Cypriot government during my visit to Nicosia – the day Cyprus assumed the EU Presidency – its was made clear that an opportunity was lost due to Turkey’s fixation with not recognizing the Cypriot Presidency and freezing its relations with the EU for the second half of 2012.
At the same time, the Turkish Cypriot side – at precisely the same moment – stated that it is stopping any further inter-community negotiations, despite the fact that this process is under the auspices and supervision of the UN Secretary General.
Two decisions – of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots – that are not in line with international legality.
Two unilateral decisions hindering Turkey on its European course, pushing back the resolution of the Cyprus issue and violating European institutions, because the Presidency – which Cyprus currently holds – is a vital European institution.
In spite of this situation, Greece and Cyprus are jointly persisting in their pursuit of the goal of finding a solution on the Cyprus issue.
A comprehensive, agreed solution that is just and viable, within the framework of the UN resolutions, and that defends the rights of all the citizens of Cyprus: Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.
With regard to Greek-Turkish relations:
I would say that in recent decades our country has made persistent efforts toward the full normalization of Greek-Turkish relations and their evolution into good neighbourly relations of cooperation.
In my recent meeting with the Turkish Foreign Minister, on the margins of the BSEC meeting and following relevant telephone talks between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey, it was agreed to continue the meetings of the High-Level Cooperation Council, in the autumn.
We need to maintain contact and cooperation with all the countries in the region, and particularly with our neighbour Turkey, with whom major issues are pending.
However, Turkey needs to see – and I underscored this to my Turkish counterpart – that we can’t have the continuation of the exploratory contacts and the High-Level Cooperation Council, on the one hand, and at the same time the Turkish National Assembly continuing to uphold the casus belli.
This “threat” needs to be removed at the soonest possible time, and we need to work very methodically in that direction.
The large majority of Greek political forces support Greek foreign policy’s strategic choice to pursue Greek-Turkish rapprochement.
Within the strict framework of international legality, national sovereignty and mutual respect.
We will continue to work for progress in our bilateral relations, as well as for the promotion of Ecumenical Patriarchate issues, including the reopening of the Halki Seminary.
The international stature and scope of the Patriarchate do not allow – whether from the standpoint of international law or international ethics – for its being called into question and for the pursuit of a status of mutuality with the Muslim minority in Thrace.
Ladies and Gentlemen Colleagues,
A main goal of Greek foreign policy and a priority of the government is the delimitation of all maritime zones with all our neighbours.
Of decisive importance in this is the legal framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is part of the Community acquis.
All of the EU member states, as well and the European Union itself and all the candidates for accession to the EU – apart from Turkey – are parties to this Convention.
But beyond that, the 1982 Convention is now customary law as regards the delimitation of maritime zones and the manner in which they are delimited.
Consequently, the Montego Bay Convention is obligatory for all UN member states, regardless of whether they have – or, as in the case of Turkey, have not – signed the convention.
We will continue to raise this perspective within the framework of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU. And, of course, the exclusive economic zone, like the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean, is a priority and longstanding position of our foreign policy.
In Southeast Europe we are working to create a zone of development, progress and close regional cooperation.
A goal that is synonymous with the European perspective of the Western Balkans, ahead of the Greek EU Presidency in the first half of 2014, during which Greece will act to revitalize the enlargement process.
We have already proceeded to the opening of a special office of the Greek EU Presidency, which will, starting now, undertake planning and coordination to guarantee our country’s optimum preparation.
With regard to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the name issue is not simply a dispute over historical facts or symbols, which certainly have their value.
It is a matter of respect for international law.
Greece, exhibiting the necessary constructive spirit, took a major step of compromise, accepting a compound name with a geographical qualifier, for use in relation to everyone (erga omnes).
But the current leadership in Skopje is losing its way, with an intransigent stance and rhetoric that approaches the risible, raising questions that are difficult to find reasonable answers to, and exacerbating the climate in our bilateral relations.
We hope that voices of prudence and common sense win out in our neighbouring country.
On this point we need to be very clear with our neighbours, our partners in the EU and our allies in Nato. We want a solution to the name issue that is in accord with international legality.
We support Albania’s European perspective with resolve, while Greece remains Albania’s largest foreign investor and second most important trade partner.
Cooperation between the two countries can serve as a springboard for development and prosperity, with the presence of the Greek national minority in Albania and Albanian workers in Greece being a major factor in this effort.
In the coming time, we will pursue the implementation of the agreement reached on the delimitation of the maritime zones between the two countries – an agreement that was stalled following the well known decision of the Albanian Constitutional Court.
In the same geopolitical space, Serbia is one of the most important countries, and we look forward to maintaining and strengthening its European orientation in the coming time.
Greece, which is linked to Serbia by traditional bonds of friendship, supports Serbia’s European perspective on every level; a European perspective that contributes to the consolidation of peace and stability and the strengthening of a climate of reconciliation in the region.
Greece has not recognized Kosovo’s independence, but maintains a very constructive stance, giving practical encouragement to every initiative aimed at transcending the problems of the past and the building of a common European future for the whole region of the Western Balkans.
The further strengthening of Greece’s relations with the United State is a strategic priority of our foreign policy.
Greek-U.S. relations are currently better than ever.
Greece and the U.S. share values, a common historical course and the unique bridge that is the Greek American community.
We share a common vision of growth for the international economy.
We are expanding our joint initiatives in order to achieve deeper economic cooperation, more investments in our homeland, and strengthened Greek exports to the large American market.
With Russia, our foreign policy pursues the further strengthening of our relations.
We are linked to Russia not only by a common cultural and religious heritage.
We are also linked by common economic interests, particularly in the sectors of energy and tourism.
We want to strengthen our bilateral relations with the Russian Federation on all levels and in all sectors – particularly the economic, energy, culture and tourism sectors.
With the People’s Republic of China and other, emerging economies in the wider Asian space, we will pursue closer and more intensive relations in the trade and economic sector, looking to build strategic cooperation.
The success of the Chinese investment in the Port of Piraeus gives us the potential to look at the prospect of new Chinese investments in our country – as well as Chinese tourist flows into Greece – from a more targeted and comprehensive perspective.
Closer to our geopolitical space, Greece’s relations with Israel have already contributed decisively to stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region, and they are moving towards gaining a strategic dimension.
With Israel – without turning our cooperation against any other country in the region – we can contribute to growth, the economy, technology, energy and tourism, while also finding new sources of wealth for Greeks, helping our country to emerge from the crisis.
In the Middle East region and North Africa, the turmoil resulting from the Arab Spring continues. It appears that there is no stopping the hope for freedom and democracy.
At the same time, however, there are many challenges and threats.
Greece will continue to support the struggles of the peoples of the region, with respect for their sovereignty.
Greece has longstanding relations with this region.
Traditional ties of friendship with all the region’s peoples.
Greece is a bridge of communication between the Arab world and Europe.
Within this framework, a fundamental, longstanding condition for building sustainable stability in the region is the resolution of the Palestinian problem based on a two-state solution.
Greece considers that the only solution is the creation of an independent and viable Palestinian state that will coexist peacefully with Israel.
The situation in Syria is very distressing. The bloody impasse we have seen of late is taking on the nature of a generalized civil war.
It is clear that that Assad regime has lost its legitimacy, and it would be to the benefit of the Syrian people and regional stability for him to withdraw voluntarily, as soon as possible. In any case, the current of events will eventually force him out.
This is also the aim of the efforts of the UN Special Envoy and the Arab League, and we support these efforts unreservedly.
But there is also the matter of Iran. A matter of global importance, with geostrategic implications.
Our country supports the twofold approach of the European Union.
That is, the parallel exertion of pressure for the immediate resolution of the issue that has arisen regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, and the concurrent carrying out of substantial negotiations.
Greece is hard-hit by the sanctions on Iran, due to our oil needs.
Alternative solutions are already under development.
But we believe that we need to capitalize on and exhaust all the margins for diplomacy and cooperation with Iran – a country with whom, we mustn’t forget, we are linked by historical ties and mutual respect.
One of the principal strategic priorities of our foreign policy is the rehabilitation and strengthening of our country’s standing in the international environment.
The damage that has been done recently to our national self-esteem insults us, is unfair, and must end here.
Because it undermines our country’s efforts to return to growth.
It saps strength from our foreign policy.
It impacts current and coming generations of Greeks.
To face this challenge, the Foreign Ministry is making a commitment to dedicate all its power to showing the world the “real Greece”.
At long last, it is time we activated a centralized action plan for the image and identity of our country.
A strategic initiative from the Greek Prime Minister, to which the Greek state, Greek citizens and Greeks abroad will contribute decisively.
An international promotion of the modern Greek identity that will embrace all of the comparative advantages of our economy and our society.
We will not use public funding for this effort.
We will use NSRF funds and mobilize national benefactor capital.
Substantial capitalization on global Hellenism is a strategic priority of our policy.
Already, by decision of the Prime Minister, a Deputy Minister for Greeks Abroad has been appointed, and the Secretariat General for Greeks Abroad – which, though provided for, was of late downgraded to a Directorate General – has been activated.
For us, the policy for Global Hellenism is a separate chapter in our foreign policy and a vital priority for the reconstruction of our homeland.
The time has come for our policy on Greeks abroad to open up to generations of Greeks who were born in the diaspora and have become productive in sciences, letters, the arts, politics, and at the core of decision making.
Decisions that determine the future of their countries and that can impact the international relations and interests of Greece.
Thus, we are creating a new network for Global Hellenism and introducing policies for strengthening the national identity of Greeks abroad.
Because Hellenism unites over 20 million Greek round the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen Colleagues,
We are being called upon in these critical hours to mount a struggle whose success is an historical imperative.
The battle to limit the impact of the crisis while at the same time laying foundations and making radical changes in all sectors of our country’s public life.
In this struggle, we do not have the luxury of time. We do not have the right to become divided and to devote ourselves again to dead-end rivalries.
Our foreign policy will shape conditions of stability through the creation of regional alliances, with emphasis on the countries of the European South and the common challenges we are facing, so that we can ensure the unity of Europe and our common future.
Greece is being called upon to strengthen its role as a consistent and stabilizing factor in the service of peace, security, stability and cooperation with all the peoples of the region.
Given the tension and pressure brought to bear by global competition, Greece – Europe – has but one choice: to create a unified and unbroken front.
A front that will lead our societies on the path of growth and far from the recession and social degradation that threaten democracy and international stability.
Our government and all of us will devote all our energies to this national goal and the defence of our country’s rights.
Greece needs all of us.
Particularly right now, when our unity is a defence against every threat arising from the economic crisis.
Whether this concerns social cohesion or our national independence.
And the future calls on us to move forward together.
Because the future is up to us.