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Minister of Foreign Affairs, N. Kotzias, keynote speech to annual Conference of Ambassadors (Skopje, 25.08.2016)
I would like to start by thanking the leadership of your country’s Foreign Ministry, and above all my friend Nikola, who shares my name, for this invitation, which is a great honor for me.
Today we are living in a difficult era. At the same time, of course, it is an extremely interesting period. The world is changing. The West is no longer the sole power in the world, though it is certainly still the main power. Demographically, the West is declining – particularly Europe. Democracy, which appeared to be the winner at the end of the 20th century is once again in retreat and demands our constant care and attention.
New powers are emerging on the global stage. Some of these powers want to function within the existing rules. Others want to revise the structures of the global system. The latter often combine internal authoritarianism with revisionism, while in the most extreme cases we witness expressions of chauvinism.
Those theories of 20 years ago, according to which the 20th century would be the century of the EU and of Europe, were not proven valid by the facts. The Lisbon decisions which sought to make the EU a the key player in new technologies were not carried through. At the same time, the EU, while following the path of enlargement, did not secure adequate mechanisms and structures for the further deepening of the European project and for a stronger integration course, particularly in the political sphere.
The EU is in crisis, but it is nevertheless – in spite of the contradictions and deficiencies – a model of rule of law and protection of human rights. It is our duty to bring it out of this crisis. To make it even better. To develop its positive aspects and leave behind the negative phenomena created by the crisis.
Over the past two years, the Greek side has repeatedly proposed a broad discussion on the future of the EU. And this is because, in contrast with the past, debates in the EU tend to be limited to monetary/financial issues, sanctions, embargos and fiscal adjustment programmes. Undoubtedly, these discussions are also necessary, under certain conditions. However, they cannot and should not be Europe's main concern.
A democratic debate on the future of the EU is long overdue. And the questions that arise at the end of the day are “What Europe do we want in the 21st century?” “Which principles and values will it move forward with? Which institutions and which countries will we build this Europe with?” We need to develop a strategy that does not miss the forest for the trees.
There is a danger at this time of multifaceted crisis for the EU: That it expands, but, through this enlargement, evolves into a Europe of two speeds. Those who join, as well as a number of its current members, risk remaining in an outside circle, essentially just implementing the decisions of the inner circle. Something along these lines may be seen as a solution in conservative circles, but rather than solving the problem, it will only serve to reproduce the problematic dividing lines in Europe itself.
What the EU really needs is the development of a number of policies and structures through which it can gain democratic normality and enhance society potential. In other words, we are in need of policies and structures that will contribute to overcoming the asymmetry that characterized the one-sided development over the past 15 years, which after all led to multifaceted crisis.
The EU is experiencing a multiple crisis that can either disrupt the Union or guide it to a bright future. Specifically:
First, the EU’s crisis is an identity crisis.
What exactly is the EU ?
What would the players within it like to make it?
What does it need to do?
How far can it go?
Will it return to nation states?
Will it overcome them?
Our opinion is that the EU needs to move in a federal direction and also acknowledge that nation states exist and will exist for a long time to come. At the same time, the Union's development should concern mainly the democratic and social rights of its citizens and societies that are in decline and the quantitative and qualitative enhancement of these rights. This way, we can politically overcome the asymmetrical and one-sided development which has characterized the EU over the past two decades.
It has to be understood that the EU does not lose out on competitiveness through more democracy and stronger social policies. In fact, more democracy and stronger social policies will move it to a higher level, where competitiveness doesn’t have to do with lowering costs, but with greater specialization and capitalization on new technologies, thus leading to the creation of new products and the implementation of new and more democratic methods of organization of production and services. A true smart economy.
Second, next to the identity crisis, the EU is entangled in a politically multifaceted crisis. The Brexit referendum is only the tip of the iceberg. On the one hand, there are many in the EU who would like the results of the referendum not to be respected. And on the other hand, there are others who want to push the UK out of the EU as fast as possible. This controversy between ignoring the result and accelerating its implementation is leading the UK and the EU into an inertia that is much worse as a choice than the one supported by either side in the controversy.
The outcome of the UK referendum is not the cause of the EU’s political crisis, but rather a result of this crisis. Of course, the outcome accelerates the crisis. The result is a product of the policy of one-sided austerity being implemented by the majority of EU member states. It is the product of the increasing inequality in distribution of income and assets and of the increase in poverty.
The complete dominance of neoliberal doctrines in the EU and its economic policies has resulted in a decline of the EU’s international competitiveness. Consequently, any weaknesses the EU has are not associated with democracy itself or the EU's social model, but rather they result from those doctrines and the obsession with their implementation.
The EU’s political crisis has to do with the limiting, or even the elimination, of all those components that, until recently, characterized the European model such as:
• The diminished acceptance by the people or “demos” of the European project, which evolves into a project of the European elites;
• the lack of vision;
• the one-sided development of European cooperation in the priority fields of neoliberal economic doctrines;
• the limiting of the social policies of the Union
• last but not least, the fact that, in most of its member states, there was a lack of democratic safety valves for overcoming the crisis.
All of these factors are causes and accelerators of the political crisis, while they make it easier for authoritarian movements to gain momentum.
Third, the EU’s crisis is also a crisis of economic model and policies, namely, of the abandonment of the unique European traditions that gave great push to the Europe of the 20th century.
Fourth, combined with all these crises which I already mentioned, is the refugee crisis which we experienced together, very intensely during the past year. The fact is that there was no unified European response, and that when such a response came, it was only on paper. The imported problem of the refugee crisis and massive economic migration has revealed a number of problems. These pertain to the functioning of the Union, to how various states perceive these issues, to a lack of vision and to how we implement our common system of values.
The refugee problem once again has highlighted two needs: a) to promote the policy of European integration, and b) to open a broader debate on the future of Europe.
Our two countries do not just belong to Europe. They also belong to a wider region that we often call Southeast Europe, centered in the Balkans.
This region - as I have been pointing out for two years now – is located within a triangle of instability, with multiple repercussions and risks. To our north is Ukraine, to our south-west, Libya, and to our south-east are Syria and Iraq.
Greece’s foreign policy has always aimed at contributing to the stabilization of the region, particularly the eastern Mediterranean. In recent years, together with Cyprus, we have put together a number of separate trilateral relationships, with Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel. These trilateral cooperation configurations have been extended into all policy sectors. Cooperation is taking place between all ministries, especially with Egypt and Israel, on all levels, departmental, Secretaries General, ministers, prime ministers and presidents. These relations are developing rapidly. We now look forward to similar cooperation schemes with more countries.
In the context of the stabilization of the region of the Eastern Mediterranean and, by extension, the Middle East, from our standpoint and within our given capabilities, we moved ahead last year to the convening of a major international conference on the protection of religious and cultural communities in the region. More than 200 patriarchs, foreign ministers, heads of international organizations and scientific experts of institutions attended this conference. The result was the founding and entry into operation of a special observatory, as well as the decision to convene the second conference in 2017, in collaboration with another EU member state (Austria) and an Arab country.
Of equal importance is the convening of the first conference for Security and Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, a few days from now, in Rhodes, on 8 and 9 September. Initially we invited 4 EU, and 5 Arab countries to this conference. In the end, a total of 16 countries - seven of them European, including ourselves as hosts and nine Arab countries- will be attending. This increased participation reflects the high level of interest, as well as Greece’s increased diplomatic role..
This conference complements the EU’s initiative for the Mediterranean (the Barcelona Process) and the group of seven Southern/Mediterranean EU member states, known also as the Euromed group. This group of 7 has been convening for some time now at the level of foreign ministers. This year, Greece’s prime minister took the initiative for the Euromed to have its first meeting at the level of heads of state and government, in Athens, also on 9 September, shortly before the extraordinary EU summit meeting in Bratislava.
The Rhodes meeting has another aspect: It is the first format linking Southeast Europe with the Eastern Mediterranean into one group. Two regions of great instability, but also of vital importance for international peace and security.
Next to the two major circles – Europe and the (Eastern) Mediterranean/Middle East – there is a space decisive to our common future: namely, the Balkans. We have added two very important new configurations and initiatives to the many that already exist in our region. The first is the cooperation of the Balkan EU member states.
The second is the collaboration of the southern states of Europe: your country, Greece, Albania and Bulgaria. Two EU member states and two candidate countries.
This configuration strengthens our cooperation, our joint handling of the major problems we are dealing with. It will promote joint cooperation measures.
This institution, to which we attach great importance, met in the first half of this year and will reconvene this October, in Thessaloniki. We may also carry out a joint visit to Mount Athos. Starting next year, we will meet every six months in cities of the other states as well as in Greek cities.
In the 1990s, we were all focused on shaping a Balkan hinterland. On introducing the rule of law. We saw the development of a peculiar capitalism. The introduction of the market economy was accompanied by an aggressive policy of privatizations that had many characteristics of primitive accumulation of capital. In that decade, our minds were focused on how to increase economic, social and political relations and connectivity in our region.
Later, early in the 21st century, our attention turned to the European path of the Balkan states. Initially, to the states of the eastern Balkans, and later, to those of the western Balkans. The states of the region chose, from one perspective, individual paths. Each pursued, for itself, the shortest route to membership in the Euroatlantic institutions. To a certain degree, the Balkan hinterland was disrupted. More and more states in the region sought support and institutional contacts with the powerful states of the EU and NATO.
It is Greece’s and my personal assessment that, today, we need to ensure a combination of the two aforementioned options of the past 25 years. EU accession will be delayed for many states, also due to the multiple internal crises of the EU. But even if these states accede to the EU soon, a Union of 40-plus members will certainly not be an environment in which a state with a population of 2 or even 5 or 7 million citizens will be able to maneuver with great ease. All the more so, when they have a GDP 200 or 400 times smaller than that of Germany and 2,000 times smaller than that of the U.S.
This is why I support that it is important to strengthen our hinterland with the aim of fully maximizing current potential, until all the states of the region accede to the EU and for these states to have a real role in the EU after they accede. In this context, the Balkan initiatives I mentioned earlier provide added value.
The reconstruction of the socioeconomic and political hinterland of the Balkans within a stable European course is, in my opinion, the strategy that must be followed today. It is the political choice that will help us grow in strength and have a strong role in the future EU.
The meeting of the four countries was very productive and promising. It was yet another dimension in the cooperation between our two states. Our cooperation was an unexpected step forward and came as a surprise to many, certainly to all those outside your country who believe – very mistakenly – that your state is transitory or troublesome. To the contrary! Your country is a state that, also during the recent events, has demonstrated stability and acted as a factor of security in the region, irrespective of the domestic political crisis. A crisis that I am deeply convinced, your country can overcome on its own. As long as democracy is further consolidated.
Unlike many other EU member states, Greece avoided expressing an opinion or getting involved in the domestic affairs of our important northern neighbour. We believe that, in our time, such a stance is not only mistaken, but also unacceptable. Outside interference has, as a rule, the opposite of the desired effects.
Addressing you here, allow me to argue for a general rule that I try to follow personally, too, though without always managing to do so: Every state, domestically and in its international/external relations, has to develop certain necessary characteristics that seal its modernity and Europeanism. Among these, a defining role is played – in my opinion – by the democratic culture of dialogue, consensus and accord. The other side, whether it is the state or its citizens, is not the enemy, but a different culture, opinion, outlook or simply another response. And within this difference – even if it is mistaken – there always lies a grain of truth.
We have a positive appreciation of the existence of our northern neighbour, in which we are first in investments and trade, first in tourism and intercommunal contacts. At the same time, we would like to believe that an irredentism that, in our opinion, serves no purpose and is not supported by historical or current realities, will be overcome.
It is clear that the insecurity regarding the acceptance of the existence of your state, as well as irredentism, for some time generated feelings of distrust. Today we have taken an important step forward. The personal relations between myself and Nikola speak for themselves. The relations between the Balkan 4 as well. The road is still long, of course, but we are determined to travel it. This is what I believe and hope –and in this direction we are working.
Societies and countries need a climate of trust in order to share a common course.. We need to understand the existing difficulties and, in a climate of optimism, find and develop ways past them.
We need to talk so that we can understand one another’s thinking, even in the context of the deepest disagreements that may exist.
We need to show and prove our dedication to the good of our peoples, our citizens.
We need to be aware of each other’s interests and special circumstances so that even the most difficult negotiations can be carried out more effectively.
We need to do what is right, fair and necessary at the appropriate time.
We mustn’t take advantage of situations or close windows of opportunity when these can be opened and bring in fresh air.
Our role is to contribute to positive, peaceful, effective changes and be an agent and part of these changes.
We need to be able to distinguish what is secondary and not important from what is of key importance, focusing on the latter persistently, steadily and creatively so that we can find constructive solutions.
We need to find and capitalize on what we have in common, and tolerate and respect differences, without sacrificing our common future to those differences.
An important step forward was the establishment of the confidence-building measures (CBMs) being promoted by our two sides, whether these concern connectivity in the sectors of transport, economy, universities, or whether they concern cooperation in the areas of security, fire-fighting, dealing with natural disasters and emergency situations.
As we saw following the recent catastrophic floods – and here I would like to publicly express my condolences at the tragic loss of human lives – these situations can bring our peoples closer together through cooperation during humanitarian crises.
I believe that, overall, we are on a good path to further strengthening our relations. I believe that your state, despite your difficulties, is an element and factor of stability in the region. From this perspective, Greece is making and will continue to make every effort to contribute to the development of our neighbouring country.
At the same time, we will do everything we can, in order not to allow the imposition of external measures against your country. In this context, in the EU Foreign Affairs Council, we recently objected to various ideas regarding sanctions against you.
Our two countries need to live together in peace, cooperation and prosperity. If and when the name issue is resolved and all irredentism is confronted, the two countries will walk together on the path of the EU and security structures.
Greece will become the supporter and mediator of such a course.
My speech here today is a step in the direction of creating a climate of trust and establishing a culture of dialogue and consensus.
Another step was the kind invitation of your Foreign Minister as well as your patience in listening to me, as I described my vision for strengthening the friendship, cooperation and good neighbourly relations between our countries and for the European future of the whole region..
I thank you again.