Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Croatia, D. I. Stier (Athens, 31 May 2017)
N. KOTZIAS: Good day. Thank you for your patience. We had an extremely interesting conversation with my colleague the Foreign Minister of Croatia. I want to thank my friend Davor for accepting my invitation to come to Athens.
Croatia is an important player in the region and in the European Union. We have often worked together for the good of the region and of the European Union, and today we looked at how to intensify this cooperation.
We looked at issues of cultural and educational cooperation, and we just signed a relevant cooperation programme. We looked at economic cooperation issues -- tourism issues in particular, like joint cruises in our region. We looked at cooperation on energy issues, like the connection of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) with the Ionian-Adriatic pipeline, the IAP, and we looked at how we will include other countries in this plan.
In general, we looked at our cooperation in Southeast Europe. This means that we exchanged opinions and ideas on the situation in the Western Balkans and on how we can best contribute to the peace, stability and security of this region; a region important to both of our countries and to Europe.
We also had a special discussion of Bosnia-Herzegovina, regarding which there will need to be joint initiatives, based on Croatia's experience in this sector, in order to even better safeguard this country's stability and its course towards the European Union.
We agreed to have special cooperation between our two Ministries and between the two governments on maritime zones. An issue on which we have experience, experts, as well as great interest in cooperation between our ports.
And of course we had an exceptionally interesting discussion of the cooperation between the four Balkan EU member states – Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece – which have common interests in the course of the Western Balkans towards the European Union.
We also talked about the preparations for the meeting of the "8". In the immediate future, we will have a meeting between the four Balkan states taking part in the special cooperation scheme and the four Visegrad states, so that we can talk about our thoughts on the future of the European Union, on how to deal with the Brexit, and on the customs union with Turkey.
I think we took a big step forward today in the friendship that binds us, our desire for cooperation, so that we can become better acquainted. Pass on our experience and contribute to the stabilization of the European plan as a whole and to the consolidation of a good state of affairs in our region.
Davor, I want to thank you once again for coming with a will for cooperation and, as always, with an open mind, with thoughts, with proposals, so we can further develop the friendship between us and our countries. Thank you very much.
D. I. STIER: Dear Nikos, thank you very much for your hospitality. And let me express how delighted we are to be here. I am very pleased at your initiative to intensify our relations. The last time the Croatian Foreign Minister was in Athens was in 2008, so thank you very much also for the invitation. I think that it is coming at the right time, when our two countries really have a lot in common and will be cooperating even further for the peace and stability in the southeastern corner of our continent.
And it comes also at a time when we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Croatia and Greece. As we discussed, there are a lot of common projects, especially in the economic field, where we can and are willing to cooperate. I think the good news is that our two Chambers of Commerce will be meeting in early fall, in Zagreb. We also discussed the ideas for how to reactivate the Intergovernmental Committee, so that we can promote projects of common interest in the fields of tourism, infrastructure and energy, where we see a lot of common interest that could be mutually beneficial.
There is also the Adriatic-Ionian strategy of the European Union, where Greece plays a very important role and to which Croatia also attaches great importance.
Your initiative about the quadrilateral meeting and also, in conjunction with that, a four-by-four together with the Visegrad Group, in order to discuss important issues for the future of Europe, is something that we support and we look forward to it. We want to promote it.
The common interest that Croatia and Greece have in supporting the stability and the European perspective of all the countries that are now in the area and that are candidates or potential candidates is something that of course requires our good coordination. And I think that today we took a very positive step in that direction.
Let me just mention that we also attach great importance to the people-to-people contacts and in this sense the agreement that we just signed on cultural, scientific and educational cooperation is a good framework that will promote these kinds of contacts. So, I would like to express our satisfaction with this agreement.
All in all, let me also, as we mentioned the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, express our gratitude and appreciation to Greece, which has been always supportive of international law, supportive of Croatia’s path towards Europe and Euroatlantic institutions.
And we would like to work together also to see the same, as you mentioned, for Bosnia-Herzegovina, and for all the countries in the region as well, to join the European Union.
Once again, Nikos, I thank you for your hospitality.
JOURNALIST: The first question is for the Croatian Foreign Minister, and I would like to ask him whether they discussed the latest developments in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
And my second question is for both Foreign Ministers. I would like a comment on the outbreak of nationalism we have seen recently in the Balkans.
D. I. STIER: Thank you very much for the question. We discussed, indeed, the situation, and we see it now as getting an institutional solution, which we of course welcome.
What is important, I believe, is that together we are supporting the European perspective and we are expecting a new government to be established, as the discussions in the Parliament are taking place right now.
We hope that the new government will be committed to the European Reform Agenda, and of course we are ready and willing to support it in that endeavour. I think that it is exactly what we are expecting of all the countries that are either candidates or potential candidates: that they focus on the domestic reform agenda.
We think that Greece and Croatia can provide support, because they have the necessary experience.
Obviously, we are aware, going to your second question, of the challenges that the whole region is facing. And that is why we believe it is important to keep the doors of the European Union open to all those willing to join and willing to meet the criteria.
The concept of Europe, whole and free and at peace, without artificial divisions, is a concept that we support. We want peace, stability and prosperity for the whole region.
Again, we see nowadays that some others would like to create or recreate areas of influence and this concept actually we do not support. We believe that we need to strengthen the European spirit, the European perspective, the spirit of the Summit in Thessaloniki should be kept and Croatia, in this regard, is willing and will cooperate very closely with Greece.
N. KOTZIAS: I think that every society that is in either socio-economic or political transition seeks a new identity or tries to reshape the identities it has.
In the Balkans, we had a lot of changes after 1989 and we had a fight for new identity, for the people's self-determination. This is a battle between simplistic nationalistic responses and democratic European responses.
Both Croatia and Greece believe deeply in the values and principles of democracy, in the European vision. For this reason, we will meet again and again, with others as well, to look again at what the principles, values, visions, planning are for Europe in the 21st century. A Europe that must have a social identity to keep nationalism from gaining ground and manifesting itself in a "Balkan" manner; that is, in a manner we know from the history of the past century and more.
For our northern – as I teasingly call it sometimes – friendly country, what is of very great importance today is its unity, its integrity, its stability. And at the same time, all of its neighbours and the states interested in or associated with it must contribute to ensuring a better future for the country itself.
This is our main concern. In our opinion – and everyone does not agree on this – the solution of the name issue in a creative and democratic manner will contribute to and facilitate this country's future course.
I have spoken with the new Prime Minister, Mr. Zaev, a number of times, and as I told him today, as soon as the new government gets a vote of confidence in Parliament, I will invite my new colleague, Foreign Minister Dimitrov, to come to Athens so that we can consider ways to intensify our cooperation, and so that, in a creative manner and through a culture of democratic consensus, we can overcome any problems we are carrying from the past.
As you remember – I always say this, I said it to my students, I say it at the Ministry – history must be a school, not a prison. And we want to get our neighbour out of the prison it put itself in, and we want it to understand that political consensus and compromise is part of the European culture, in domestic politics as well as in our neighbourhood.
It is my hope that we will be able to resolve the problems we have, develop the confidence-building measures, which are multiplying – thanks to the excellent work being done by our diplomats, who are headed, on the Greek side, by our political director, Ambassador Mavroidis – and find and develop other areas of cooperation.
We want this country to be stable, and as I say jokingly in English, it is a gift of the gods, but they didn't choose a good godfather.
JOURNALIST: A question for Mr. Kotzias: Mr. Minister, what is your take on Mr. Eide's statement that the best medicine for avoiding a heated incident in the Cypriot EEZ would be the continuation of the Cyprus negotiations?
N. KOTZIAS: I am of the opinion overall, as Foreign Minister, that negotiators, and international negotiators in particular, shouldn't talk too much. You also know that I am in my third year as Foreign Minister and I have given a total of four interviews to the news media.
When problems are intricate and difficult, if you talk constantly you will say things that perhaps don't need to be said. In my opinion, the UN mediator on the Cyprus issue should not adopt scaremongering that predicts a violation of international law as an argument for carrying out negotiations.
The negotiations have to be carried out because they benefit the Cypriot people as a whole. Because a good, creative result will benefit the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots and the three small minorities on the island, because we look forward to and support the resolution of the Cyprus issue.
But we look forward to a solution of the Cyprus issue not because we are being threatened, but because the resolution of the Cyprus issue means that certain parties will not be able to make threats. So it isn't good for any side to adopt such threats as an argument.
The Cyprus problem must be resolved, and this means there not being threats any more.
FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON: Thank you.