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Statements of Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and Romanian Foreign Minister Titus Corlatean (04.04.2013)

Thursday, 11 April 2013

T. CORLATEAN: Before everything else, I would like to welcome with great friendship the visit by my colleague, counterpart and friend from the Greek Republic, Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is paying a visit to Bucharest today. It is a visit that has included a reception of the Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, and it is a presence that confirms an extremely positive relationship of political as well as economic and cultural relationship that exists between Romania and Greece.

We had very fruitful discussions today on bilateral topics of a political nature, and we established very clearly that we would continue a high pace of political contacts at a high level between our countries and, of course, at the level of Foreign Ministers.

We also had in depth discussions on the topic of trade. I have to say that Greece is the sixth largest trade partner and foreign investor in Romania, and we are talking here about trade in 2012 at the level of 1.116 billion euros. We also discussed a lot about the presence of Greek investors in Romania and the interest both sides have in this. There are 5,520 Greek capital companies registered in Romania. We have currently the message of openness and desire to continue the cooperation in the presence of Greek investors in Romania.

We also discussed that Greece is going to take over the Presidency of the European Union Council in the first half of 2014, so at least for a while the Greek Presidency will overlap with Romania’s chairmanship of the Southeast European Cooperation Process. Romania will take that over on July 1st, 2013. It will carry over in the next year. On the one hand, this means that Romania will be able to provide consistent support to the Greek Presidency of the EU Council. It also allows us to cooperate and coordinate our work regionally and in South East Europe to support the European processes, the Euroatlantic processes, and the continued integration processes in this region, on the basis, of course, of compliance with the criteria.

We also found great openness on the part of the Minister for a balanced approach towards the eastern dimension of European Union projects, and we emphasized in that context support for the work Europe is doing.

I need to emphasize something besides the other points having to do with European affairs, besides consultations we had and will continue to have after this Press Conference on international topics, on developments in the Middle East, Northern Africa, the peace process Syria and so on.

I need to emphasize something. On behalf of the Romanian Government I have expressed the great appreciation Romania attaches to the constant support, expressed support, from Greece for Romania’s accession to the Schengen area. It was also expressed at the JAI Council and we are counting on Greece to help towards a correct and legitimate decision towards Romania’s, and, respectively, Bulgaria’s, joining the Schengen area, possibly based on the solution that has already been proposed: the staged joining.

I will conclude by saying that I thanked the Minister for confirming today, transmitting agreement for Romania’s new Ambassador to Athens, Mr. Lucian Fătu. And I would also like to welcome a new Greek Ambassador in Bucharest, Mr. Grigorios Vassilokonstandakis. We are seeing a synchronous update of diplomatic representation in the two countries, another very positive thing.

I will conclude by telling the Minister again that I am extremely satisfied with the contents and quality of our discussions and that we will continue to have those after this Conference. Dimitris, you have that floor.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: First of all, allow me to tell you that I feel, as I said before, like I am right at home in Bucharest. It is a great pleasure to be back in this beautiful city of Bucharest, dear Titus. And I am sure that this short visit is useful and substantial.

My friend Titus and I cooperate, as I said before, very closely in the framework of the European Union as well as in other international fora. As you know, Greece and Romania are firm friends. Our excellent relations and the strong ties of mutual admiration and respect between our peoples are products of a shared historical course here in the region.

I will never forget the intense atmosphere of anticipation in the year 1989, Titus, when I was here during and in the midst of the revolution. Nor will I ever forget my regular visits to Bucharest as mayor of Athens. Throughout those years, Greece stood at Romania’s side on its path to Euroatlantic integration. As you will remember, Greece played a very important role in Romania’s European Union accession process. And, of course, one cannot imagine Europe without Romania. And now we are proud to be your ally in NATO, your partner in the EU, and your partner here in our Southeast European neighborhood.

In our meeting today, as my friend Titus said before, we discussed issues of bilateral cooperation and ways to further promote our already excellent relations in the political, economic and cultural sectors. Of special interest was our exchange of views on regional and European issues of mutual concern, including the issue of the Euroatlantic integration of the Western Balkans.

A European perspective is a proven catalyst for reform. And this is why Greece and Romania have a shared interest in a firm European perspective for all of our Southeast European neighbors. This means, of course, that everyone in the region needs to honor the European principle of good neighborly relations and work to resolve pending disputes. It also means that it has to be crystal clear to the leaderships in the region that there is absolutely no room, I fully agree with what Titus said before, for extremism, nationalism, racism, xenophobia. It is unthinkable in today’s great European family.

We talked about the issue of the admission of Romania (and Bulgaria) to the Schengen area, a move of which Greece is, of course, a firm and longstanding advocate. In this context, we also discussed our cooperation within regional initiatives and organizations, the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) – as well as our close cooperation in the Trilateral meeting with Bulgaria, an initiative highly valued by the Greek side.

We also talked about the economic crisis in Europe and how the European Union and the Eurogroup are responding to this crisis. Greece is determined to push ahead with its own implementation of structural reforms and fiscal adaptation. The measures we are taking, it is true to say, are painful. The Greek people are making great sacrifices. But this is the path of solidarity. It is the European path, the only path, to recovery and growth for all the peoples of Europe.

As the Minister said before, Greece will hold the European Union Presidency in the first half of 2014, and I briefed Titus on the preparations we are making and on our Presidency’s priorities. We also reviewed our common approach to the multiannual financial framework for 2014-2020, as both of our countries are members of the Friends of Cohesion Group.

We also exchanged views on a number of important international issues: the situation in Syria, the prospects for the Middle East peace process, and developments in the wider Middle Eastern region. Our talks today reaffirmed that our countries, partners and allies in the European Union and NATO, share similar views on key international, European and regional issues. This results in a close and multifaceted cooperation in the fora of which we are both members.

My visit and meeting today with my colleague and friend is further proof of our excellent relations. I really want to thank him again for his warm hospitality today, and I look forward to our working together as our countries expand their cooperation to the mutual benefit of our two friendly countries and their peoples. Titus, thanks again and I look forward to seeing you in Athens as soon as possible. Thanks again.

Q & A Highlights

Question on the sale of Embassies and the economic crisis in Greece:

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: We are not talking about embassies, we are talking about buildings. There are some assets that we did not really need, and during all these years they had been accumulating. It’s a huge amount of property. Right now the value of these assests can be helpful in our effort to get out of the crisis.

It is true to say that we are going through difficult times, but because of this crisis we know what we really want to do tomorrow. Through the crisis we are leading Greece to a new, more auspicious future, with a better organized system.

We have learned lessons from the crisis, and we are determined to start building up a new Greece. This period, this transitional period, will be very difficult, and, as I said before, the Greek people are suffering right now, but we know what we have to do in order to facilitate and get out of the crisis as soon as possible.

As for the selling of some of our assets, it is something that we should have done earlier. Now we are moving ahead, we are taking all necessary measures, we are proceeding to deep structural reforms.

The next Parliament, when the moment comes, will cope with the constitutional reform, which will be the base of building the new architecture of Greece.

Beyond that and the crisis, Greece remains one of the most important stakeholders and factors of stability in our region. Today, in the framework of our discussions with Titus, we agreed on how to follow and adopt common policies, in order to make this neighborhood a paradigm, an example of stability, friendship, peace and cooperation.

T. CORLATEAN: Dimitris, I have also some comments. In today’s discussions, including in the presence of the Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, there was a discussion of how the Athens Government managed the situation in a tough period of economic crisis. It was able to preserve the country’s stability. We expressed those appreciations and respect for the general reform process, which is painful indeed, and the fact that this stability was provided by the Government in Athens was something extremely beneficial for the entire region, and for the overall European Union.

Proof of that is the fact that the Greek banks that are active in Romania and continued business at a very reasonable level, and that’s the best possible, positive example from this point of view.

Question: What, in your opinion, are the priorities within the framework of the bilateral strategic cooperation between Romania and Greece, on the regional and European level?

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Yes, it is a strategic partnership, because we are both working together in order to establish, as I mentioned before, an environment of stability, peace, and cooperation in our region.

You know that Greece and Romania have never had a confrontation in the past. We are the only nations in the region that never had problems between us, but this does not mean that we must not do more, and that’s we are doing now. As was said by Titus before, and I repeat it, the agenda of our talks today was wide and deep and substantial, and it has to do with culture, it has to do with economy, it has to do with tourism, it has to do with political relations, it has to do with initiatives in our region, in order to make it, as I said, an example, an oasis of stability and friendship.

Our economic relations are growing. We are between the fifth and the sixth major investor in Romania, and I will also tell you something else: Romanians have also started discovering Greece as a place for holidays. During the summertime you will feel right at home running around Greece, listening to your own language, enjoying our hospitality and our friendship, because as I feel here today, they feel the same when they come to Greece.

We also have a significant Romanian community in Greece: citizens of Romania who have chosen to live in Greece, and they are a bridge of friendship between our countries.

Question on the Schengen Treaty and the measures Greece is taking to confront illegal migration.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: It is true to say that Greece, being on the front line, on the borders of Europe, and having the longest coastline in Europe - and I think fifth in the whole world - has faced many problems with illegal immigration. We are the first victims of this situation and we have asked our European partners to provide us with their support and their help.

Greece has taken all necessary measures and adopted legislation in order to protect our borders, which are at the same time the European borders. But we are still at the beginning.

Illegal immigration is one of the most complicated problems we have to solve within Europe, because it is not only Greece, it is Europe as a whole: illegal immigrants travel everywhere, from the moment they enter Europe they do not recognize borders and their dream is to reach another destination.

Finally, the anti-illegal immigration policy should never be permitted to turn into a xenophobic, racist policy. We live in a democratic Europe. We are democratic nations, and there are basic principles that we have to respect

T. CORLATEAN: This is an important topic. I fully agree that the issue of migration requires European cooperation. It is not only the burden of a national country, it is the process of cooperation. This is why Romania has already been engaged for a number of years in supporting the different European operations to support Greece in the management of this situation.

We contributed to different Frontex operations, we are contributing to different European operations in the region, because we understand the European Union as a process of cooperation and not dividing lines – not double standards, which we are firmly rejecting, and this is a common approach.

So, we are going to cooperate and to support Greece through the European structures in managing this process. This is why, inter alia, we have already established for a number of years a trilateral forum of cooperation in the region between Romania, Greece and Bulgaria. This forum functions not only at the level of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs – we had the last meeting in Sofia a few months ago – but also at the level of Ministers of Interior in cooperating, inter alia, on combating illegal migration, criminality and so on.

It is important for the region, it is important for the topic that you raised, and I can announce the fact that, based on discussion with the Romanian Minister of Interior today before our meeting, I confirm to the Minister the fact that Romania will host and will make the invitations in September – most probably after the Bulgarian legislative elections that will take place in a number of weeks – to hold this trilateral meeting between the Ministers of Interior from Romania, Greece and Bulgaria so that we can continue to cooperate on combating illegal trafficking, and managing migration.

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