Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of Slovakia, Miroslav Lajčák, following their meeting in Bratislava (13 May 2016)
M. LAJČAK: Good day. I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to
meet for the third time in the past three months with my Greek
counterpart and friend, Minister Kotzias. As you know, the first visit I
carried out was to Athens, and I am very pleased that the Minister
accepted my invitation to visit Slovakia. This alone shows the trust
that exists between our two countries and the high degree of mutual
understanding. Greece is an important partner for Slovakia. Greece is an
ally of ours in the European Union and NATO.
We share common views on many issues. We are united by our strong support of the European project. The statehood of our two countries is founded on a strong anti-fascist tradition. Our relations have developed traditionally in a friendly, transparent and constructive atmosphere. Greece is a very important tourism destination for Slovak citizens. Moreover, Slovakia is a very good destination for Greek university students who come to Slovakia’s universities to study. There are certainly differences between us on some issues, but we agreed with my Greek counterpart to intensify the meetings and other forms of communication between us to further develop our relations.
As regards Slovakia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union, it is obvious that many of our priorities are priorities of interest to Greece. The migration crisis is a crisis for the whole of the European Union and not just for Greece or Italy. We have to help Greece to manage these refugee flows. The current development of the situation with the migration issue gives us some hope so that at least we can look to the future with optimism.
With regard to the process of reviewing the Greek reform programme, we are prepared to support its speediest possible completion so that the next tranches can be disbursed to Greece. We want to express our solidarity with Greek citizens, who have to suffer painful reforms similar to the ones we suffered in the past.
We talked about a wide range of issues, the Western Balkans. In the Western Balkan region, both Slovakia and Greece have interests and show interest in the region. The issue of the Western Balkans will be one of the themes during our Presidency. We agreed that we must develop further bilateral meetings on all the other levels as well, including at the highest level. On the occasion of the Slovak Presidency, it is natural that many delegations and high-level officials will be coming from the Greek side to Slovakia, and thus there is ground and opportunity for our further developing our relations.
Mr. Kotzias, Thank you very much for the productive talks and meeting we had.
Please, Mr. Kotzias, you have the floor.
N. KOTZIAS: I am very grateful for the invitation of the Slovak government and, in particular, of my friend Miroslav. It was a pleasure to meet with him again, because he is a foreign minister whom we respect and appreciate in Europe. I am pleased that I will be in Bratislava again in three months, for the Informal Council of Foreign Ministers on 2 and 3 September. And I extended an invitation to the Foreign Minister of Slovakia to attend the International Conference on Security in the Mediterranean, which we are hosting in Rhodes on 8 and 9 September.
I also had the pleasure of meeting with the President of the Republic, with the Parliament’s European Affairs Committee, and with Deputy Prime Minister Pellegrini. Of course, the main weight of our discussions was with the Foreign Minister.
We agreed to meet at least once a year to develop our cooperation in all sectors, from tourism and investments to cooperation between businesses in sectors of new technologies. We are two ministers who are also very interested in culture.
Our two countries are linked by centuries of common history and we are associated with the birth of Christianity in the region, with the alphabet, in the first phase of Slovak history. In modern history we are linked by our common concern, which was satisfied, for Slovakia’s joining the European Union, which happened during our Presidency and is one of the things that it is apparent, and shown by history, that we did well.
I would like to take this opportunity the thank the Slovak leadership and people for the support and solidarity they have shown us during this period of our economic crisis and the refugee crisis, and despite certain differences that arose on one or the other issue, the convergences we have in terms of interests and outlooks are much greater. We agreed on the need for security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, we jointly support the resolution of the Cyprus problem, and in our many meetings we have developed creative thinking on the integration of the states of the Western Balkans into the European Union.
As I said to Minister Lajčák during his visit to Athens, the Hellenic Republic fully supports the success of the upcoming Slovak Presidency’s programme. The success of the Slovak Presidency will be the success of a friendly state, as well as living proof that, in the EU, the best presidencies are those of small and medium-sized states. I say this knowing the Presidency’s programme and its people.
Miroslav, once again I thank you very much for the invitation, for the hospitality and for the talks we had.
JOURNALIST: From what I know, you talked about the issue of tourism in Greece. Slovakia has a very firm tourism base in Croatia and offers assistance to its tourists in this country. Are you thinking, as minister, of creating something similar in Greece? That is, providing services for Slovak tourists in Greece?
M. LAJČAK: This was not one of the main topics of our talks today. In Greece we have quite an extensive network of honorary consuls who can help Slovak citizens there, when needed. But if we need to help in some other form, for example – as is the case in Croatia – by sending police to Greece, perhaps we can look at that in the future.
JOURNALIST: A question for the Greek minister. The number of migrants reaching Greece from Turkey has fallen recently. To what extent does the Greek side fear that, if the EU-Turkey doesn’t work or is breached, a large number of migrants will be trapped on its territory, given that Greece’s northern border with FYROM is closed?
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you very much for the question. It really is a central question.
We have to say that the implementation of the agreement has so far been successful. The number of those passing from Turkey to the Greek islands has fallen from 3,000 or 4,000 to 100. And there are days when no one passes over to the Greek islands, as well as days when the number reaches 150 or 160. So all sides need to take care that this agreement is implemented into the future.
I hope that there won’t be any deviation from this agreement and that Turkey will implement all of the conditions. It is in this direction that all of the member states of the Union are working, along with the Dutch Presidency, the future Slovak Presidency and the European Commission. Should there be different developments – and I hope and don’t think this will be the case – the refugee flows will not be headed to just Greece. I often invoke the strong example that the United States, which is the most technologically advanced country in the world, built a wall to stop the influx of economic migrants from Central and Latin America, and 43 million made it across, with 14 million still there illegally. I say this to underscore that the refugee problem is not a Greek problem, and should there be any deviation from the agreement, it won’t concern Greece alone.
I would like to make two more brief observations, if I may. The first is that the refugee problem has a source: the war in the Middle East. And there was not sufficient funding for the refugees who lived in the countries around Syria. The second is that what unites us with Slovakia is that neither of us is the cause of these wars. We are just paying for them. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: I would like to as Minister Lajčák whether he supports a model similar to the agreement that has been signed with Turkey for an agreement between the EU and the countries of North Africa.
M. LAJČAK: You know that, recently, in Valetta, there was a conference of EU and African states, and we are expecting the results of that conference to go into effect. Migration and the migration crisis are a complex issue. The agreement signed with Turkey was principally aimed stopping the refugee and migration flows on the so-called Balkan route – from Turkey, through Greece, towards the Balkans – but apparently there are also other, alternative routes.
JOURNALIST: A question for the Greek Foreign Minister. From what you said in your speech, you expressed your confidence and desire that the agreement with Turkey will be fulfilled. But do you see any possibility of its not being fulfilled? And what would be the consequences of this non-fulfilment on the part of Turkey of the obligations deriving from this agreement? Do you think that the political crisis in Turkey and the prime minister’s recent resignation are a factor that might lead to the agreement’s being breached?
N. KOTZIAS: Every agreement is like a tango. It takes two. I have to think about how to dance well with my partner. I can’t think constantly about what will happen if she steps on my feet. And if I do think about it, I don’t have to say so in public. Thank you very much.