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Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at the joint session of the Parliamentary Committees on European Affairs and Defence & Foreign Affairs

Foreign Minister Droutsas’ speech at the joint session of the Parliamentary Committees on European Affairs and Defence & Foreign Affairs Mr. Droutsas: As a country, Greece cannot confront these things as if they were happening on the other side of the world. We have our own special concerns, our people, our communities, Greeks working in these countries, our major religious institutions, our whole historical presence in the region. We have investments and economic interests. We mustn’t forget that our economic presence in the three countries we’ve mentioned surpasses – substantially – $1 billion in invested capital. And that is why we cannot just stand by.

Main points:

·       “Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. And other countries in our immediate neighborhood. An unprecedented wave of popular discontent is literally sweeping across the Arab world, shaking regimes that have been in power for a long time. Till now, these regimes seemed invulnerable. We don’t know how far this is going to go. And we don’t know what it will leave behind. But we do know that the new state of affairs that is created will have a direct impact on Greece and its geopolitical environment.”

·       “Our country, which has close historical relations with all the countries in the region, is participating actively in the decision-making, our point of reference being support for the peoples who are struggling for the right to a better future. Allow me to stress this word: support. This is what has informed all our actions.”

[On Libya]

·       “We are monitoring developments from minute to minute. We are coordinating our actions and preparing for every eventuality, for every potential initiative that might put an end to the violence promptly. The strongest weapon in this effort is the unity of the international community, with the UN Security Council as guardian and guarantor.”

[On developments in the wider region of North Africa and the Middle East]

·       “As a country, Greece cannot confront these things as if they were happening on the other side of the world. We have our own special concerns, our people, our communities, Greeks working in these countries, our major religious institutions, our whole historical presence in the region. We have investments and economic interests. We mustn’t forget that our economic presence in the three countries we’ve mentioned surpasses – substantially – $1 billion in invested capital. And that is why we cannot just stand by.”

·       “We are in constant contact with all the leaders of the region, leaders of all the parties, and our partners and allies. And, whenever conditions allowed, we were the first to send high-level officials, like Foreign Ministry Secretary General Zepos, who went to Egypt, so that we can have first-hand, in-depth briefing as the European Union shapes its policy.”

·       “Within the EU, we are already shaping a cohesive plan for substantial assistance to the countries of the Southern Mediterranean as they move towards consolidating democracy.”

·       “We have  to implement a “European Marshall plan”  that will touch every aspect of the economic, social and political life of the countries of the region.”

·       “We have to give priority to actions aimed at building democratic institutions and good governance, answering to the needs and just demands of civil society.”

Complete transcript of the Minister’s speech (translation):

Ladies and Gentlemen MPs,

Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. And other countries in our immediate neighborhood. An unprecedented wave of popular discontent is literally sweeping across the Arab world, shaking regimes that have been in power for a long time. Till now, these regimes seemed invulnerable.

We don’t know how far this is going to go. And we don’t know what it will leave behind. But we do know that the new state of affairs that is created will have a direct impact on Greece and its geopolitical environment.

Given that the end of this chain of uprisings and regime changes is hard to predict, the international community is monitoring the situation with anxiety and concern.

Our country, which has close historical relations with all the countries in the region, is participating actively in the decision-making, our point of reference being support for the peoples who are struggling for the right to a better future.

Allow me to stress this word: support.

This is what has informed all our actions, which I hope to have the chance to set out for you in our discussion. Support for a course that the peoples of the region themselves decided to embark upon.

Support in the direction that they themselves – and not others, speaking for them – have chosen to take. It shouldn’t cross anyone’s mind that they can or must manipulate these movements.

We all need to respect the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of these countries. We need to respect the struggles for freedom, democracy and social change.

But how do developments stand at this time?

In Tunisia, the new state of affairs is trying to find its balance, but only slowly. The demands of those who rose up for the removal of every trace of the Ben Ali regime and the establishment of a democratic system of government are strong and persistent, which is resulting in constant reversals.

The new transitional government needs to prepare the ground for elections to be carried out under conditions of full transparency, with respect for the will of the people.

In Egypt, whose importance in the region is catalytic, stabilization seems to be going somewhat more smoothly. The process of political transition is moving ahead, with the ad hoc committee for constitutional reform already having prepared a proposal that will allow for the democratic participation of parties and candidates.

They appear to be keeping to the timeframe announced. But time is not the critical parameter. Rather, it is the content of the changes and meeting the prerequisites for fair elections.

In Libya, the old regime is carrying out bloody rearguard actions.

The Prime Minister and I have condemned unequivocally the violence, atrocities and anguish being visited on the country, even as we speak, by the Qaddafi regime.

Together with the international community, we urged him to end the use of violence immediately and to listen to the demands of his people for a better tomorrow, in line with the UN Security Council’s unanimous Resolution 1970, which imposes, among other things, sanctions on the Qaddafi regime.

Together with our partners, we are ready and willing to stand by the Libyan people. We are monitoring developments from minute to minute. We are coordinating our actions and preparing for every eventuality, for every potential initiative that might put an end to the violence promptly.

The strongest weapon in this effort is the unity of the international community, with the UN Security Council as guardian and guarantor.

It is obvious that the transitional governments can do little to satisfy the social demands of the protesters. Because the youth of the Arab world did not rise up just for democracy, political rights and freedoms of the individual.

It is obvious that after democratic institutions have been established, those who rose up will demand – are already demanding – self-evident social rights: employment, social protection, health and education for all, with prospects of hope for a better tomorrow.

And it is there that we will soon see a focus of interest on what the European Union as a whole – as well as each country individually – can do to help with the stabilization not only of Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, but of the whole region, because the demands are universal and horizontal, not localized, and they concern us all.

We will face huge challenges, and I’m referring here to the almost certain wave of migration, the danger of the collapse of the Middle East peace process, a possible rise in fundamentalist Islam via the transition to democracy, and many other things.

As a country, Greece cannot confront these things as if they were happening on the other side of the world. We have our own special concerns, our people, our communities, Greeks working in these countries, our major religious institutions, our whole historical presence in the region.

We have investments and economic interests.

We mustn’t forget that our economic presence in the three countries we’ve mentioned surpasses – substantially – $1 billion in invested capital.

And that is why we cannot just stand by.

First of all, we succeeded in repatriating our fellow Greeks: some 200 from Egypt, and more from Libya, along with a number of Cypriot citizens, in the midst of extremely unfavourable circumstances.

As Deputy Foreign Minister Dollis said, and I want to thank him from this floor, “we were very brave and very lucky.”

Many countries – bearing in mind not only our geographical position, but also our tested know-how in this area – asked for assistance; for the use of ports and airports for transit centers in repatriating their citizens from Libya.

Once again, Greek shipping became a lifeline for thousands of people. The success of this operation – the most difficult evacuation operation the Foreign Ministry has ever undertaken – confirmed Greece’s role in the region as a pole of stability and a point of reference.

We collaborated closely within the framework of international organizations, as well as bilaterally, to help shape our common stance in the face of this new state of affairs.

We are in constant contact with all the leaders of the region, leaders of all the parties, and our partners and allies. And, whenever conditions allowed, we were the first to send high-level officials, like Foreign Ministry Secretary General Zepos, who went to Egypt, so that we can have first-hand, in-depth briefing as the European Union shapes its policy.

Within the EU, we are already shaping a cohesive plan for substantial assistance to the countries of the Southern Mediterranean as they move towards consolidating democracy.

Thus, the 4 February European Council tasked High Representative Lady Ashton with preparing a set of measures for supporting Egypt and Tunisia, initially, as well as for finding ways to link the Union’s existing policies; that is, the European Neighborhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean.

On 21 and 27 February, the leaders of the Union laid the foundations for a cohesive European policy for confronting the crisis.

On 11 March, the President of the European Council will convene an emergency Summit Meeting.

As I already said, Greece is participating actively in this process and has submitted specific proposals along with five other European states of the Mediterranean (France, Spain, Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia).

Allow me to outline the basic aspects of our approach:

·       First, a comprehensive and overall approach to the state of affairs that has arisen on the southern coasts of the Mediterranean, to formulate a new partnership. In this spirit we consider important the development of synergies between the various European policies and funding mechanisms, and the drawing up of a special strategy for the Mediterranean.

·       Second, we consider it advisable to re-examine the priorities of the European Neighborhood Policy. Our main goal now needs to be to strengthen actions for building the Democracy of our southern neighbors and for strengthening civil society.

·       Third, the promotion of the social and economic development of our Southern partners. And here, the European actions proposed should bear in mind the priorities and demands that have been made by the peoples of the Southern Mediterranean themselves.

·       Fourth, in order to meet the targets I set out, there needs to be a corresponding adaptation of the funding tools provided for. European Investment Bank capital, for example, needs to be oriented towards actions in the Southern Mediterranean, as well. Or we can create a European Bank for the Mediterranean.

·       Fifth, the Union for the Mediterranean and its newly established institutional organ, the Secretariat. Through this mechanism we can promote development programs in important sectors (economy, society, environment, education and mass communication, free movement), including, naturally, the energy sector, where, I remind you, our country holds responsibility at the Secretariat.

We have to think comprehensively, dynamically, boldly.

We have to step up to our responsibilities.

We have  to implement a “European Marshall plan”  that will touch every aspect of the economic, social and political life of the countries of the region.

We have to give priority to actions aimed at building democratic institutions and good governance, answering to the needs and just demands of civil society.

At this point I would like to mention the Prime Minister’s proposal for the creation of a “Center for Democracy” in Greece.

Greece is the birthplace of Democracy. This is a strong symbolism and substantial political legacy upon which we can build our assistance for the process of transition to democracy for the peoples of the region.

The central idea is to create a forum that will bring together young and emerging political figures in the region and their counterparts in the Euroatlantic region and throughout the world. A forum that will provide the opportunity for an exchange of views on the development of democracy.

And I want to be clear: nobody wants to “implant” Western-style democracy into Arab countries. These people – I repeat – must find their own way. Otherwise, the experiment will fail.

That is why we are talking about a forum that will help our partners to the south to build their own Democracy; Democracy that will respect and promote fundamental, universal human rights.

The Hellenic Parliament has a decisive role to play in the success of this endeavor. We have a strong, open democracy, and at its foundations lies the sacred institution of our national assembly. With our disagreements and differences, but with profound faith in the Democracy that we all serve.

I call on each of you to embrace this endeavor and to honor it with your participation as we develop its activities. I calling on you enrich this effort with your experience and ideas. By contributing, you can play a decisive role in strengthening Greece’s ties with the new Arab world that is emerging. You can make these ties even stronger.

Greece has the credibility to do this. Greece is a long-standing partner of the Arab world and is linked to it by traditional ties and relations of mutual understanding and respect.

Greece is aware of the sensitivities and pride of the peoples of the region. And Greece has – I believe this unswervingly – a trusted voice in the region.

It is our duty in these difficult hours to make this voice heard more clearly than ever before.

Thank you.

Last Updated Tuesday, 08 March 2011
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