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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, following their meeting (Athens, 18 February 2016)
N. KOTZIAS: Good day. I want to welcome the Foreign Minister of Italy, Paolo Gentiloni, a distinguished figure in Europe and an exceptional Europeanist. A person who honors me with his friendship. And it is a personal pleasure for me to have him with us in Athens, even if I can’t keep him here forever.
So it is with great pleasure that I welcome Paolo Gentiloni, and both of us, in the talks we had earlier, publicly and one-on-one, expressed – and I want to express this once again – our deep condolences to the people of Turkey for the second deadly terrorist attack in Ankara.
It is of particular significance where it took place – in which city and where in the city this attack took place.
Greece and Italy are two countries with ancient cultures. We are bonded by thousands of years of history, thousands of years of mutual influence. As I said this morning, we grew up watching Italian cinema, dancing to Italian and French blues, those of us who went to parties, if we could and we had the opportunity. We grew up playing with the football cards of Juventus, Milan, Florence, Bologna. Bologna was a strong team at the time.
With Italian cars, the models of Alfa Romeo, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Maserati. These are all examples of the huge tradition carried by Italian culture and industrial culture. All of these things that underscore Italian design, which has captivated markets and, for centuries now, our gaze.
We are linked by a common history. We are linked by memories within our lives that are tied to Italy. We are linked by a million Italian tourists and the tens of thousands of Greeks who studied in Italy – wherever one goes today, one will find Greek intellectuals. You will find high-ranking civil servants, professionals in the private sector who have become linked to or have married Italians or Italy itself.
Moreover, Italy is Greece’s most beloved neighbour. We are linked by a sea. A sea of friendship, a creative sea that has led us to the joint support of the Adriatic and Ionian Initiative.
As countries on the front line, we have the same concerns about the refugee crisis, regarding which we have said so much that I don’t think I need to go further into it today.
And we have the ferry and air links. They may not be trains and cars that link us, but it is well known that ferry services and maritime trade are an old Greek habit. When we founded or participated in the founding of major Italian cities.
We are linked to Italy by a yearning for Europe, and, during my studies and while I was growing up and as a professor, I always said that the most European of the European countries are the Latins of Rome, the Latins of Italy. You are Europe. With Italy we can and must take initiatives to give Europe a vision again, to dust off the values and principles of the European endeavor.
We are also bound to Italy by our concerns regarding the developments in Libya – on which we had a very creative discussion with Paolo – as well as our concerns regarding Syria. We know that the major problems we are facing, like the refugee crisis, require creative, peaceful solutions, both in Syria and in Libya, where we support political resolution of the problems.
In Syria, we support the activities of the UN Secretary’s special envoy, Staffan de Mistura. I think that what we discussed with Italy, with the friendship and historic ties that bind us, we agreed on an institutional system for developing our inter-state relations by the Foreign Ministry, to an even greater depth, with all of the Greek ministries, and we agreed to formulate an action plan that will include our joint actions, our collaboration in all the social and economic sectors.
As we said earlier at the ACCI, we want to develop our economic relations, our trade relations; to get assistance with the standardization and distribution of products. We want there to be new investments on both sides, and especially, for us, Italian investments. But our relations with Italy are not just economic. They are not just relations on the refugee crisis.
Our relationship with Italy is cultural, educational, social. And my colleague and I have undertaken to care for and develop these relations. In a few weeks, the Italian Minister of Culture will be visiting our country.
We also have concerns and interests in common with Italy in the Energy sector. We have the major project, the major plan, the major construction of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP). We have the vertical Greece-Bulgaria-Romania pipeline. We have the potential to capitalize on our winds and waters as renewable sources of energy. And all of this for a fair wind to blow in our relations, allowing me to say once again to Paolo, welcome to Athens. It is a pleasure and honor for us, and it is with great personal satisfaction that we have you here with us, if only for a few hours. Welcome, Paolo. Welcome to Athens.
P. GENTILONI: Thank you. I thank my colleague and friend Nikos Kotzias for the very warm welcome and the very good and kind words regarding the relations of the two countries, relations with Italy. There is no doubt that the relations between Greece and Italy trace their roots to ancient times, between the two historic cultures of the Mediterranean basin. And they have a very firm political foundation that today translates from and is fueled by personal relations, on a personal level, very positive relations between the two Foreign Ministers of the two countries.
Nikos and I feel and understand one another, and today we had the opportunity to go more deeply into certain matters and issues, and I believe that it is precisely this unique relationship that exists between Greece and Italy that cannot be compared to other relations. It is a tie and a relationship that allows us precisely, with cultural foundations, as well as sentimental foundations, I would say, between lives and geographies, that allows us today, precisely, to raise a common voice on various regional and international challenges as they emerge.
First of all, we share the struggle against the threat of terrorism, and I agree with the words of Minister Kotzias regarding the condemnation of these heinous and repeated terrorist attacks in Ankara, Turkey. We are bonded by the commitment to try to find diplomatic solutions to the main international crises as long as they exist, for example, in Syria. From Syria, among other things, come half of the migration fluxes crossing the Balkans, and as a result the solutions, beyond ending the greatest humanitarian tragedy of recent years, would be a contribution to reducing migration flows.
The agreement of the international support group for Syria, which was reached in Munich a week ago, after a seven-hour meeting, is a fragile agreement, and I am convinced that if we start to implement it, first with regard to humanitarian aid shipments – and some results have already been achieved thanks to the coordination of the UN special envoy – it is up to us, and it will be a realistic prospect from the meeting being convened today in Geneva, starting from this point, to render the cessation of hostilities feasible.
We are also expecting, in the coming days, a further step in the stabilization of Libya. As you know, the Council proposes the formation of a new government that is subject to the approval of the Parliament in the coming days.
Here, too, the road is long. We mustn’t fuel illusions that the results will be easy or precisely what we want, but what is important today for all of those – like Nikos, who is deeply aware of this – who are doing the work we do, is that we continue to believe and bet on feasible diplomatic solutions.
Illusions of easy military solutions often produced negative results in the past, even if, of course, the military action against terrorism is under no doubt.
Our relations have often focused in recent weeks on the issue of migration flows, regarding which I believe that we have a shared perspective as to its being a long-term challenge, the reasons for and causes of which are familiar to everyone. The issue wasn’t created in August 2015, and it will not be resolved in the coming months. We need to be capable of managing the coming years. And for this to happen, for the issue to be managed, the burden cannot be left on individual countries of first arrival. Management has to be done on the European level.
Our meetings, my visit here to the city of Athens, are naturally focused on our relations, not just on the geopolitical level, but also on the economic level. This morning we participated in a Forum with special reference to agro-industrial products. We are interested in joint plans being participated in jointly by Italian enterprises and companies and extending to various cities in Greece.
I believe that we have a challenge on the energy level that brings us very close, and that is why we are working together on the TAP, the work on which will start in the coming weeks. And I think that within 2020 it will carry natural gas from Azerbaijan to Greece, to Albania and, of course, through other pipelines, to the whole of the Balkans.
Linked to this plan are other plans and projects in Greece and Bulgaria, as well as other collaborations resulting from the discovery of significant quantities of natural gas. These are issues that will be studied.
And one last thing, which is no less important. There is the cultural dimension of the relations between Greece and Italy; a dimension we have to look at. We are major powers on a cultural level and we need to support this sector.
We have over 100 agreements between tertiary educational institutions in Greece and Italy. We have 11 archeological missions working here in Greece. We are also proud to have the Italian Archeological School here in Athens. With the upcoming visit of Mr. Fanceschini, we will underscore a specific programme for cultural cooperation during the next two years.
In profound awareness that at this particular moment in the Mediterranean basin there is a huge need for culture and education, Greece and Italy can, in these sectors, provide a unique and deeply rooted response. I thank you very much for your attention.
JOURNALIST: Good day and welcome, Mr. Minister. A question, first, regarding yesterday’s attack in Ankara. What might be the repercussions for the Syrian crisis? Whether you see, that is, the possibility of the opening of a military land operation by Turkey, and, naturally the repercussions for the refugee crisis. Also, what margins are there for a comprehensive solution on the refugee issue, given Ahmet Davutoglu’s absence from Brussels today? Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, we condemn both of the acts of terrorism in Ankara. I want to say that it is a new phenomenon for there to be such actions in the Turkish capital.
Yesterday, reports said initially that it was a Syrian. Today, the Turkish government says it was Kurds. What I understand is that Turkey shouldn’t be led into a harsh confrontation with the Kurds in the name of this attack, but take courageous steps against the terrorists for more democracy, for more understanding of the problems of the millions of Kurds throughout the region.
Turkey is a large nation, a large state, and it will deal with the terrorists as it chooses, but at the same it will not allow terrorism to stop a process of achieving peace with the Kurdish element.
Mr. Davutoglu’s absence from today’s Summit Meeting certainly makes communication between the European Union and Turkey more difficult, for promoting solutions on the refugee crisis. But I believe that there are and there will be many opportunities for consultations between the European Union and Turkey.
We are expecting Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu on 4 March, so that we can prepare the G2G, which will take place on 8 March, in Izmir. All sides are supporting Turkey against terrorism, and all sides will have the opportunity, as of tomorrow, to consult with Turkey on the refugee issue and the problems in the wider region.
P. GENTILONI: Certainly, I cannot but reiterate the same condemnation of this attack, which unfortunately was not the first. I express our support for the Turkish people, who have been wounded so severely. It is obviously up to the Turkish authorities to express their assessments, their views – and it is not up to us – regarding the causes of these attacks. We stress our support for Turkey, which is a member state of NATO, an ally of ours, a country making commitments to combat ISIS and terrorism in Afghanistan.
At the same time, let me reiterate the common decision taken all of these recent weeks and last Friday in Munich, with the group of countries, in which Minister Cavusoglu participated, that the solution to the crisis in Syria must be a solution that aims for humanitarian assistance, cessation of hostilities and the initiation of a transitional process that will lead to the end of the war. I don’t believe that various players in the region can realistically bank on a military solution to the Syrian conflicts.
JOURNALIST: Good afternoon. I would like to ask for your forecast ahead of tonight’s Summit Meeting in Brussels. I would like to ask you what the next steps will be in our effort to tear down the obstacles to the amendment of the Dublin II Treaty. And I would like to ask whether Greece feels isolated by the recent results of the European Commission.
N. KOTZIAS: I often refer to a myth. It is European, anti-racist and realistic. The great god of the Greeks, Zeus, sitting in the cave where he was born, in Crete, on Mount Ida, sought the most beautiful woman in the world. She was from the Eastern Mediterranean. That’s why I say it is anti-racist. And he stole her. He took the form of a bull, went and stole her, and took her to the cave where he was born. What was that woman’s name? Europa. Can we, who abducted Europa and brought her to Crete, feel isolated in Europe?
Europe was born, matured as an idea, as a name, through the splendor of ancient Greek culture and its mythology, through the great Roman empire that unified the whole of the Mediterranean basin and all of Europe. Europe is much more than certain new member states that think the solution lies in closing borders.
I want to thank you for the question. I want to repeat this: Today, Europe needs more Europe. And that is why today we welcome the initiative of my friend Paolo for the meeting of the six founding members of the EU. Europe needs more unification.
It needs more social state and democracy. Europe needs to move people more with its visions, its values and its principles. What Europe doesn’t need is attitudes and outlooks that lack a sense of the history of the European Union, of the European endeavor – those who believe that through some simple moves they will resolve complex problems. The problems the European Union is facing today are complex and composite. They don’t need simple solutions that lead to the fragmentation of Europe and a return to nationalism, in the negative sense of the term.
From this perspective, we feel that we are a part of Europe. We are agents, like others, for European principles and values, European visions. Those who will be isolated by this situation are those who think about complex problems in a simplistic manner that is not productive.
If Greece is isolated from Europe, it means there is no Europe. Greece feels very good about its history, its friends, of which Italy is one. I think those who need to worry are those who think that Europe is a courtyard where each member takes any stone it wants and throws it at others.
P. GENTILONI: My thanks for the analysis of the myth that Nikos set out for us. It is a beautiful myth. Very clear, eloquent. I will just add one thought on what we are expecting, what we want to see from the European Union on the refugee issue in the coming weeks and months.
First, we expect a strong commitment. It seems trite for one to repeat it, but I must say that for quite some time, we, the Italians, urged Europe to act on the migration issue, but without any significant effect.
In this regard, it is incredible for one to consider that the first European Summit Meeting on the migration issue was held in May 2015. A month later, 20 days later, a tragedy that took place on the northern Libyan coast led, unfortunately, to the loss of hundreds of human lives.
Migration was put on the European agenda for the first time in early June of last year. As if Europe suddenly noticed the existence of a phenomenon that was already under way and had very deep roots.
So we expect Europe to make a commitment, if only delayed, and, first, for there not to be unilateral solutions that will have irreversible repercussions for the European Union as a whole and the Schengen Treaty. Second, we expect the European Commission, in accordance with the programme, to set in motion, in March, the revision of the regulations of the Dublin Treaty. We need to avoid unilateral actions that will lead to the collapse of the Schengen Treaty, and we have to set in motion, as provided for – by next month – the revision of the regulations of the Dublin II Treaty.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Minister, you mentioned the Dublin Treaty and the need to amend it, but in a recent interview you stated that you were not at all optimistic.
P. GENTILONI: It is difficult for one not to see the risks; for one not to be concerned. Nevertheless, I believe that there are rational factors that must push us in the right direction. We all know that the Schengen Treaty and the free movement of persons are two things of fundamental importance. It is difficult for one to envisage a single market, on an economic level, without the free movement of persons.
We all know that the Dublin regulations were adopted 25 years ago, under conditions that were completely different from those of today. The burden of registration cannot fall on newly arrived countries. The commitments are clear, but can these countries shoulder the burden of accommodating all of those who have a right to asylum and repatriation? Relocation is a European duty. It cannot be the duty of an individual country. And I say this outright. No one can think that we are the countries on the front line and that this problem is the exclusive concern of Italy and, in a special way, Greece.
So what is needed is seriousness and a common perspective. I think that some of the largest European countries, with Germany first and foremost, will agree with this need to maintain the Schengen Treaty and gradually update the Dublin Treaty. I hope it will be a position of the 28 member states. If this isn’t the case, a way will have to be found so that, in any case, this position is dominant in the Schengen area and in Europe.