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Foreign Minister N. Kotzias' interview with the Athens News Agency and journalist Sofia Aravopoulou

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Foreign Minister N. Kotzias' interview with the Athens News Agency and journalist Sofia AravopoulouForeign Minister Nikos Kotzias called the text of the conclusions of the Slovak-chaired meeting of the EU General Affairs Council -- which took place ten days ago in Brussels and focused on the accession courses of Albania, FYROM and Turkey -- a very complex text that touches on a number of critical issues. In his interview with the AMNA, Mr. Kotzias expressed his particular satisfaction at the adoption of the Greek positions on Albania and especially on issues that concern the Greek minority and their properties, as well as good neighbourly relations.

"It is a very complex text that raises all of the issues concerning Albania's EU perspective and Albania's relations with Greece. There wasn't an issue we were interested in that wasn't included in the draft conclusions", Mr. Kotzias said.

In the conclusions of the Slovak chairmanship of the General Affairs Council, as the Minister explained -- in contrast with older, similar texts drawn up by the Commission and focused exclusively on judicial reform in Albania -- "all five key priorities are set down; priorities set as main prerequisites for considering a potential opening of EU-Albanian accession negotiations. These priorities include the promotion of judicial reform and the combating of organized crime -- particularly in the area of production and trafficking of narcotics -- and, certainly, respect for minorities".

"In the text of the conclusions," Mr. Kotzias added, "stress was put on the need to protect minority rights throughout Albanian territory, and not just in these zones. What's more, the protection of minority rights was for the first time directly linked to property rights. That is, it is now clearly set down how important it is to substantially take into account, in all of the actions of the Albanian state, the need to respect the property rights of these minorities and take the necessary measures in that direction".

"So these are two important issues. In the case of the issue of minority rights throughout Albanian territory, we had it added last year, and this year it was reiterated and extended to property rights issues. It is an issue that has been raised in a new way by Greek Foreign policy and has now been incorporated into the texts of the EU".

Asked about good neighbourly relation with Albania, an issue included in the text of the conclusions and raising the issue of the nationalist rhetoric that has been heard of late from Albania -- to Greece's detriment -- the Foreign Minister emphasized the "great clarity" with which the issue was treated. "Because, as you can see, Albania borders on FYROM, whose western region is populated by Albanian population, and thus the issue of good neighbourly relations cannot be referred to in its relations with this country. It is therefore crystal clear that reference is being made to good neighbourly relations and the nationalism certain parties frequently exhibit, with regard to Greece, in Albanian public life".

The Foreign Minister wished to underscore that Greece wants Albania's Europeanisation and its accession to the EU, but not through showing favour. "That is, all of the criteria in effect for all of the EU member states to date have to be maintained and applied to Albania as well." Greece, he stressed, "is very willing, whenever asked, to assist Albania in the effort to meet these criteria".

Asked whether, with the above, the dialogue is reopening for the resolution of pending issues with Albania, Mr. Kotzias stated that "the dialogue is continuing and, in fact, just a few days ago the Deputy Minister of Albania visited Athens and met with the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Dimitris Paraskevopoulos".

FYROM: "A solution has to be found on what we call the name issue. Greece demands that history be respected and that there not be irredentism".

Responding to a question regarding the noting of the positive role of the Greece-FYROM confidence-building measures (CBMs) in the General Affairs Council conclusions of the Slovak Presidency, Mr. Kotzias repeated what he often says to his international interlocutors regarding Athens-Skopje relations; that is, that "history is not a prison. It is a school, and this school has to teach the real history".

"The Greek side has taken care from the outset to develop good relations with everyone," Mr. Kotzias continued. "I have underscored that it is a good thing that our neighbouring country exists. We want its stability and we are the only state that did not express any opinion on the domestic developments in FYROM, respecting its autonomy, independence and sovereignty. So I think that the positive role of the CBMs is rightly stressed and acknowledged in the EU texts".

More specifically with regard to the CBMs -- which include the natural gas pipeline, the Bitola-Florina rail line and the collaboration between the police and fire-fighting services, as well as between universities and research centres of the two countries -- Mr. Kotzias stressed their added value, noting that "this is a multifaceted and intensive cooperation that breaks down preconceptions according to which Greece supposedly wants to destabilise FYROM. On the contrary, what Greece demands is that history be respected and that there not be irredentism." On the same issue, he added that "as I always say, I feel very proud that Egypt has a city named Alexandria -- which will be linked, in fact, with the port of Alexandroupoli -- but no one in Alexandria believes that, because Alexander the Great passed through there, Alexandroupoli or Greek history belongs to them".

"As a result, irredentism must be neutralised, like nationalism, which is flaring up among certain sides in the Balkans. So the CBMs are very helpful with this. It is characteristic that, when I initially made this proposal, I came under attack from everyone, both internationally and in our neighbouring country. Today everyone wants to forget that this has been Greece's proposal, as it is being presented as a proposal from all of the players together. But, in the end, this is a sign of success".

"So the issue we have, which is certainly also linked to irredentism, is that a solution has to be found on what we call the name issue. And because many consider the name issue to be of secondary importance, I need to make the reminder that it is a prerequisite for our neighbouring country's accession to the EU and NATO. In fact, the purpose of the Interim Accord, which is invoked by many sides, was to provide time for proposals on the name issue. We have set out thoughts on the issue and we are waiting to hear from the other side.

TURKEY: "Greece wants to help on Turkey's European path.

Whether or not Turkey has a European course and perspective depends not on us or the EU, but on Turkey's own choices".

"Greece is in favour of a European and more democratic Turkey," Mr. Kotzias stated, commenting on the conclusions of the Slovak chairmanship of the EU General Affairs Council and the Austrian proposal for "freezing" EU-Turkey relations.

"We supported the forces that opposed the coup attempted by a portion of the army. We are against these coups, albeit from the perspective of Democracy and the correct, effective and democratic functioning of institutions. Not from some other perspective. We believe that Turkey's path to EU accession must not be closed," the Minister stated, stressing that "whether or not Turkey has a European course and perspective depends not on us or the EU, but on Turkey's own choices and on its own will. With respect for European and international law -- that is, if it assimilates European standards, then it will always be welcome," clarifying that "I always point out that Greece wants to help on Turkey's European path. But it will be up to Turkey itself".

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