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Statements of Foreign Minister Droutsas and his Maltese counterpart, Mr. Borg, following their meeting

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Mr. Droutsas: Greece and Malta, as countries with vital interests in the Mediterranean, have converging views on many issues, and this is the case for a wide range of issues. One common challenge is the pressure that can result from increased migration flows from the south to the European Union, and I want to stress that no one EU country should have to shoulder this burden alone.

Highlights:

Mr. Droutsas:

•    Greece and Malta, as countries with vital interests in the Mediterranean, have converging views on many issues.
•    One such issue that we are facing, of course – and with concern, I won’t hide it – is the developments in our immediate neighbourhood, along the length of North Africa to the Middle East.
•    One such common challenge is the pressure that can result from increased migration flows from the south to the European Union, and I want to stress that no one EU country should have to shoulder this burden alone. And Greece, as you know, is pursuing within the EU a strengthened show of solidarity on this issue and the sharing of the burden, particularly through the amendment of Dublin II.
•    Another common challenge is the handling of the current humanitarian crisis in Libya. Greece – through Crete – and Malta can play an important role on this.
•    [In reply to a question on the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers set for 29 April, in Cyprus] I think this is a very important and useful initiative from the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Markos Kyprianou, to invite the Foreign Ministers of some countries in the region for an informal meeting – I’ll call it that – because at such meetings it is very easy to freely express and exchange views in an open manner and see if some new ideas can produce the necessary results. This is the spirit in which Friday’s meeting will take place, without a specific agenda. But developments in the region will certainly be at the focus of our talks and meetings.

Mr. Borg:

•    Because of the situation in North Africa, Malta has received about 1,000 illegal immigrants from Libya, from countries of the Horn of Africa, and it received such a large number in practically ten days. Now, when Malta receives 1,000, it is like 150,000, proportionally speaking, arriving in Italy or 200,000 in Germany in ten days. So, when we start discussing the Schengen treaty and Dublin II, I am more in favor of review of these international treaties, provided they reduce the burdens on the peripheral states and not add to them.

Complete transcript of the Ministers’ statements:

Mr. Droutsas: It is a great pleasure to welcome the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Malta, our very good friend Tonio Borg, to Athens today.

Mr. Borg and I often have the opportunity to talk on the margins of various international meetings, in the European Union and recently in Doha, of course, at the first meeting of the Contact Group on Libya.

As we have ascertained, Greece and Malta, as countries with vital interests in the Mediterranean, have converging views on many issues, and this is the case for a wide range of issues, including the repercussions of climate change in the Mediterranean – let me remind you here of the relevant conference held in Athens, on Prime Minister Papandreou’s initiative, with the participation of the Maltese Prime Minister – and we also have common views and common interests with regard to regional developments.

That is why I am very happy about Tonio’s visiting Athens today, because we had the chance and will have the chance to discuss all these issues in detail.

One such issue that we are facing, of course – and with concern, I won’t hide it – is the developments in our immediate neighbourhood, along the length of North Africa to the Middle East, where major changes are under way. And both of our countries feel the direct repercussions, not just because we both maintain special and historical ties with the peoples of the region, but also because there are challenges arising that we have to face together.

One such common challenge is the pressure that can result from increased migration flows from the south to the European Union, and I want to stress that no one EU country should have to shoulder this burden alone. And Greece, as you know, is pursuing within the EU a strengthened show of solidarity on this issue and the sharing of the burden, particularly through the amendment of Dublin II.

As I have already been informed, the competent Minister, Mr. Papoutsis, is conferring with his Maltese counterpart to promote joint initiatives within the European Union.

Another common challenge is the handling of the current humanitarian crisis in Libya. Greece – through Crete – and Malta can play an important role on this.

So, these issues and other issues that concern our bilateral relations were discussed, and we will continue to discuss them today.

Our meeting began, as you saw earlier, with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the strengthening of bilateral contacts through high-level meetings. I think this is a very useful tool for promoting our relations in all sectors.

Once again, Tonio, a warm welcome to Athens, and I look forward to continuing our close cooperation.

Mr. Borg: Thank you very much Minister, thank you very much Dimitri.

This bilateral meeting has come at a very appropriate moment. The revolutions, the changes in North Africa, but also now the current conflict in Libya give rise to concern, particularly to the Southern member states of the European Union.

So, at this moment in time we need more Mediterranean cooperation and not less, both as regards general issues but also as regards particular issues, like immigration for instance. As you know, the Union for the Mediterranean was launched in 2008 and Malta and Greece have a place in the Secretariat in Barcelona, but as you know, its work and its operation are stalled today because of the Middle East conflict.

And also other fora, like the “5+5” are passing through certain difficulties because some members of the “5+5”, particularly Libya but also Tunisia, have experienced changes – and in the case of Libya and war – and therefore it is difficult for the “5+5” to meet to discuss these issues.

So, both today and later on today, but also tomorrow when we shall meet again in Cyprus, I hope that we shall revive or attempt to revive these Mediterranean fora, that we should debate the Mediterranean more not less, because the times that we are living in indicate that unless we cooperate more, we shall not react in the right and proper manner to whatever is happening in the Mediterranean.

Because of the situation in North Africa, Malta has received about 1,000 illegal immigrants from Libya, from countries of the Horn of Africa, and it received such a large number in practically ten days. Now, when Malta receives 1,000, it is like 150,000, proportionally speaking, arriving in Italy or 200,000 in Germany in ten days.

So, when we start discussing the Schengen treaty and Dublin II, I am more in favor of review of these international treaties, provided they reduce the burdens on the peripheral states and not add to them. In fact, as the Minister said, both Greece, Malta and other countries, have been for the past years requesting from their Interior Ministers a review of Dublin II, because Dublin II as it stands today goes against the interests of the peripheral states, which are the first states to receive migrants in Europe. So, as you see, the agenda is a long one and I look forward to further discussions today and also tomorrow in Cyprus.

Journalist: [Question off microphone, on the Sarkozy-Berlusconi meeting in Rome]

Mr. Droutsas: First of all, it was with satisfaction that we received confirmation of the need for a show of community solidarity towards the EU member states that are on the Mediterranean and coming under the strongest illegal migration flows, and I think it is important that it was noted once again that there is a need for sharing the burden of illegal migrants by all the member states and a need to strengthen border controls on the EU’s external borders.

Regarding changes to the Schengen Treaty, first of all I want to stress that Greece, of course, remains dedicated to the free movement of European citizens. This is the foundation of the European structure. But we really think that the conditions have now matured so that we can look at how the Schengen Treaty is functioning and look in particular at Dublin II: revise the principle of first entry, and, as Tonio Borg has already said, any changes to the Schengen Treaty that we, as Greece, are open to. All of these changes to the Schengen Treaty should help the countries on the Mediterranean; countries coming under these strong illegal migration pressures.

Mr. Borg: I believe from what I gathered, that there is a movement following the Italo-Franco Summit of yesterday, to interpret in a more liberal way the Directive 55/2001, I believe, which deals with mass influx of displaced persons and how one resettles those displaced persons when there is a mass influx in any member state. As you know, this Directive was a reaction to the Balkan crisis. And the idea, at least from what I gather, is that these rules might be liberalized so that this Directive can be implemented. This Directive has never been implemented in the past ten years. In fact, both Malta and Italy requested the triggering off of this solidarity mechanism but the Commission thought that not sufficiently high numbers of immigrants had arrived in Italy and Malta to trigger this mechanism.

So I hope that the revision of the Schengen Treaty will not mean creating walls or gates, so that there will be obstacles to the free movement of persons, people legally residing in the Schengen area, but a movement towards solidarity by giving a more liberal interpretation to this Directive of solidarity, which exists already but which has never been implemented.

Journalist: Mr. Borg, my question concerns the reasons for the refugee wave; the extent to which your government agrees with – and until when – the continuation of the bombing in Libya. I would like to ask the same question of Mr. Droutsas, who has repeatedly said that he is in favor of a political solution to the problem. Till when should the military operations continue? Thank you.

Mr. Borg: Perhaps I could start. The causes of these migrating flows, I can speak about Malta, these 1,000 that arrived were not Libyans or Libyans fleeing from the conflict, but they were foreign nationals who are working in Libya, mostly from Eritrea and Somalia, and you know Somalia is a frail state and Eritrea, you can’t send people back to Eritrea, who have been working there and partly for economic reasons, but partly also because of the conflict have escaped. And if you look at the map, if you leave from Tripoli then the next destination is either Lampedusa or Malta. While in the case of the Tunisians, we did not have Tunisians fleeing to Malta, because if you look at the map the closest route is to go to Lampedusa. But as you know, it is easier to repatriate Tunisians than to repatriate Eritreans or Somalis and we have not yet started with the Libyan exodus, because if that happens, if we have a situation where because of the conflict, Libyans will start fleeing from Libya, then that would be a situation which is worse.

I would like to remind you that the number of foreigners who used to work, and some of the them still work in Libya, the number is quite high. Egypt itself has about, even after the evacuation, still has about 1 million nationals in Libya and there are still others from Asia and from other countries as well. So, this is the nature of the migrant flow partly due to economic reasons, but partly due also to the conflict in Libya.

Malta does not belong to ΝΑΤΟ, but it belongs to United Nations, so we cannot not abide by the sanctions which have been imposed both by NATO nations and even more so by the European Union to which we have agreed. So we are implementing fully those sanctions. We are giving humanitarian assistance and that means also assisting military operations, if they are in favor of humanitarian assistance. For instance, we allow the British military operation to take place from Malta to evacuate foreign nationals – British but also Maltese and others, from the desert, at the initial phases of this conflict.

What we have not allowed is that military planes leave Malta to bomb Libya, but it is our position. I will not criticize the position of other countries, because, after all, other countries are implementing a United Nations Security Council resolution. So, in the case of Malta, is a special case because we are a small country and we have only one airport, which is a commercial airport, but it does not go against our neutrality if we were to allow military operations because our Constitution allows such an operation if it is in implementation of United Nations resolution. Of course the 64,000-dollar question is where does the resolution of United Nations stop and something else begin. But, as you know, the wording of the resolution is pretty wide when it refers to any necessary measures in order to protect the civilian population.

Mr. Droutsas: Greece obviously respects the UN Security Council resolutions on Libya and the implementation of those resolutions, and you are well aware of the government’s decision to assist in the implementation of these resolutions through the provision of operational support, but not through Greece’s active participation in military operations. This decision is well known and will not change, and I want to stress that.

But Greece has stressed from the very outset the need to find a political solution to the crisis in Libya. We have stressed, and I stress once again, that a solution cannot be found through military means alone. We have to step up our efforts to find a political solution, and Greece will assist on this to the best of its ability, with all the contacts it has, with the traditional relations it has with the Arab world, and I hope we see some positive results in this direction soon.

Journalist: As far as I know, you are scheduled to participate in the Nicosia meeting, which will look at the situation in the region. Will there be some initiative at the focus – some joint proposals – and on the margins the opportunity for meetings with the political leadership in Nicosia?

Mr. Droutsas: I think this is a very important and useful initiative from the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Markos Kyprianou, to invite the Foreign Ministers of some countries in the region for an informal meeting – I’ll call it that – because at such meetings it is very easy to freely express and exchange views in an open manner and see if some new ideas can produce the necessary results.

This is the spirit in which Friday’s meeting will take place, without a specific agenda. But developments in the region will certainly be at the focus of our talks and meetings. And I hope that through this meeting we will be able to move ahead with some ideas, some thoughts that the Greek side has, too, so that we can move ahead with and promote the effort to find a political solution for the crisis in Libya.

And I also want to stress that we mustn’t forget that in Syria we unfortunately have developments that are causing great concern. Syria, too, is a country in our immediate neighbourhood – a traditional friend of Greece – and I think that through these relations that we have developed as traditional friends, we, too, with a credible voice, can once again make the call to the Syrian leadership to understand the message being sent by the Syrian people; to respect these desires being expressed by the Syrian people through a dialogue, and certainly not with the use of violence, which, once again, we condemn in the most absolute manner.

Journalist
: Will you see the political leadership in Nicosia?

Mr. Droutsas
: I think it is obvious that every visit of mine to Cyprus includes meetings with the Cypriot political leadership. We will look at the details now to set up the necessary meetings. Particularly, of course, with President Christofias.

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