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Joint press conference of Foreign Minister Lambrinidis and his Swedish counterpart, Mr. Bildt (Stockholm, 25 August 2011)
Mr. Bildt: We are late, sorry for that. But that is because we had the most productive and excellent talks. Needless to say, we touched upon the economic situation in Europe and in Greece. And let me express my personal confidence that Greece, after a very difficult period, will come through. There is an impressive package of reforms on the table that is gradually being implemented and very substantial European help in order to make that possible, to give Greece the breathing space to undertake the structured reforms. I have said that we have seen this done in both the countries, we have seen it done in Sweden, it is perfectly doable. It is difficult, but I have a lot of faith, a lot of confidence in the fact that Greece will come through and be back.
But we spent quite some time on, needless to say, the changes in the Middle East and North Africa, the situation in Libya, in Syria where we are also very concerned, and the enlargement issues, notably the Balkans, where I think we can say that we have very great commonality of views of the necessity of the enlargement process there going forward in order to create the best possibility for stability, peace, as well as economic progress in that part of the world.
Mr. Lambrinidis: Thank you. Thank you, Carl. It is a great pleasure to be here in Sweden, to be with you. And thank you for the fantastic hospitality. As you know, Sweden has a special place in the hearts of the Greek people. This was a welcoming sanctuary for Greek democrats during the military dictatorship. I mention this because sometimes history does matter. And I think that the warm remarks that you made are an indication of the fact that although we are geographically not that close, we are very, very close in each other’s memories and each other’s realities today.
We are particularly proud and pleased regarding Sweden’s workload in promoting and protecting human rights. It’s a major issue in the world today and your leadership is inspirational.
Now, as Carl mentioned, we had a very constructive conversation on a number of issues. We did touch on the economy; Greece is making remarkable changes today, changes that are very painful, changes through which the Greek people are suffering very extensively. They are not over, they are going to be taking place for a number of years; we know it. We are committed to those changes. We are receiving loans from our partners, and we are deeply grateful for this. But we are repaying those loans, they are not handouts. And we will repay them to the last euro, and at a good interest rate, by the way. So, we are committed and we are grateful, and this is the main message on the economic package. And we will indeed succeed as we have up to now. In spite of all negative predictions by many people, the eurozone is strong and is moving forward, as is Greece.
Now, in terms of Libya, we have both examined the situation. It is complicated of course, we know, but also we are very hopeful. There are two things to say, I think, very briefly. One is that we seem to be at the verge of the final transition, and there the EU needs to play a very active role, defend and support the process of democratization, not just in words but in actions, to be there and support the struggles of the Libyan people for freedom and democratization. And also, we have to ensure that the violence stops and stops immediately and stops now, not simply from the remnants of the regime, but also that there are no retributions. We need to build a new Libya on the basis of peace and prosperity.
The enlargement that Carl mentioned, and we discussed, was indeed a big part of our conversation. We both feel very strongly. It is very important for the Balkan region to have a European perspective of full membership, and this requires time, that each country will do it at its own pace. But it is a process that we both feel extremely committed to. We believe that this is very important economically and politically for Europe as well as for those countries, and we will work together to see how we can promote it.
I feel, and we feel equally, that it is quite important to ensure as well that the process of enlargement with Turkey continues. The European acquis has to be defended and has to be applied fully. But that is a process, a hopeful process of change that, if supported by both Turkey and the EU, provides an opportunity and hope for the future. All 27 EU member states are in this process, and Turkey needs to acknowledge this.
[Q&A in Swedish, with Mr. Bildt.]
Journalist: (off microphone – question about Libya)
Mr. Lambrinidis: Well, it is very easy in all scenarios to examine the potentially worst one. I think that this is also the least likely of all scenarios. What you have now is on the contrary an explosion of hope in Libya. We are not naive, we know the difficulties, but it is that hope that has kept Libya and the opposition together for so many months, that has weakened the regime. And it is in that hope which Europe has to invest so that we can move to democratization of the party. I think that everyone has had enough time in Libya to think about their prospect. The transition to democracy is not a new prospect for them. We have been debating and discussing it among ourselves and with them and it’s in our hands to ensure that this transition really happens.
Journalist: And what are the next steps that Europe can take?
Mr. Lambrinidis: Well, this is an issue that we were discussing by the way, already ambassadors are discussing, and we will discuss it next week as well. As we have stated many times, its involvement in the structures of transition and its expertise and experience can be decisive, crucial, and of course the humanitarian situation is something that we will be looking at assisting very effectively and very quickly.
Mr. Bildt: I agree.
Journalist: Question for Mr. Lambrinidis. Have you seen any development in terms of the deal with Finland …
Mr. Lambrinidis: Well, the discussions are going on, as you know, and it is a matter of a common European decision, not just a Greek decision. I would say that the decisions taken on the 21st of July were critical, crucial; they were a turning point in Europe. The emphasis on giving breathing space to Greece to be able to apply the very, very tough measures. All this has taken away – objectively – the risk. At the same time the emphasis on growth, on a new Marshall plan for Europe, also has put a new element on the table that is very important. And this is not important for Greece alone; it is important for Europe.
The debt crisis, as has been revealed in the past few months, is not simply a Greek one, it is a larger one. And what we have done poured water into the bottom of the barrel. A barrel which the Greek people tried to fill with their sacrifices, with great pain, but it was assumed that this was not working, so the water was falling through and a barrel that our European allies were lending us money but they also felt that nothing was happening, because there were really all these terrible predictions about the future of the euro. The 21st of July put a bottom there. That gives us hope and I believe that building on that, we are going to be much stronger, both as Greece and as Europe, in the next few years. And when I say stronger, I mean much stronger.
Now, let’s apply those decisions. No big discussions anymore, no big theories. We had those debates. The important thing is to apply the decisions of the 21st of July at a European level and for us, in Greece, to continue as we have been with a very, very difficult and painful fiscal consolidation and reform process. We have committed to do it, we are doing it, we shall do it – no ifs, ands or buts.