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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, following their meeting (Athens, 2 July 2015)

Friday, 03 July 2015

Ν. ΚΟΤΖΙΑS: Good day. It is a great pleasure to have here my colleague the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Belgium. I welcome him to the Ministry. We are among the first ten countries in the European Union. Of course, Belgium is among the founders. But we are the ones who, through Zeus’s “abduction” of the beautiful woman from Libya, gave Europe its name.

We are also firmly oriented in our relations and the relationship of member state within the European Union and the Eurozone. We believe, of course, that there need to be major democratic changes in the way it functions. We are against an exit from any institution of the European Union, and of course we are against those who want to see us only as submissive to the lenders.

We are a country that has always – in all the negotiations on all the treaties – fought and proposed better democratic structures. We believe that our position in the European Union is a position of proposals and defence of Democracy. That is why we proposed, in the draft European Constitution and in the Lisbon Treaty, the introduction of the institution of the referendum into the EU itself.

And of course we are aware that all of the referendum processes that have taken place in the past in the European Union were democratic, and the European Union, showing its democratic outlook, accepted the results of those referendums and moved ahead to new negotiation processes.

As I said on Monday, in the meeting with the ambassadors of the EU member states and the other powerful countries around the world, we remain at the negotiating table. We have to restore relations of trust. We have to move ahead, based on the rules of the European Union and the needs of our people, to a sustainable solution.

I want to thank Belgium from this platform, as well, because it has always shown deep European solidarity with every country that needed it. And I want to thank my colleague, who, from the very first day I was at the Council of Foreign Ministers, welcomed me in a friendly manner and always shared his thoughts with me; deeply wise thoughts. Because he is a person who has also served as the President of the Eurogroup, he has been the Finance Minister, he has seen much more than I have in Europe, and that is why I always listen to him closely.

I am happy that the Belgian Minister is here. Belgium is a country that has made many investments in our country, and we can further develop our commercial and economic relations. And the Greek government has with satisfaction taken note of a number of proposals that exist, particularly with regard to the energy sector.

This institution that we call the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, despite the difficulties we are having in the crisis we are going through, is determined to continue steadily and fulfil its duties. Foreign policy must contribute to the stability of the country and the region, be consistent and proactive. It must secure friends and allies.

My colleague and I talked about the Balkans, about Russia and Ukraine. We have shared concerns on the issue of migration, and I also want to thank him for the thoughts he expressed on these issues.
Didier, I welcome you to Athens and I am more than happy to have you here with us. Thank you very much.

D. REYNDERS: Thank you very much, and I want first to thank you, Nikos, for such a welcome in Athens. It’s the first time that I am coming in Athens, we have colder weather than in Brussels.

Just to say some words about some international issues that we discussed, first of all about the Balkans. I was very pleased to hear from Nikos about a lot of possible confidence-building measures proposals in Skopje to try to organize a process to go out of the difficult issue with FYROM. And I want just to say that we support such a process and those actions to try to be in touch with Sofia, with Skopje and with our different partners to have a real solution, like we support all the proposed measures to the Turkish government to try to solve the issue of Cyprus, because it is also a very huge discussion.

I want also to confirm that we are not so far from each other about Russia, because we are thinking it is needed to take some short-term measures to stop such a dramatic situation in Ukraine, but we also need medium, long-term measures.

I know the importance of the situation in my approach for the Greek government and we are on the same line. We need to stop the different possible aggressions in the eastern part of Ukraine.

But we need to be in touch with Russia, I repeat, to discuss about different international issues, like the situation in Syria and Iraq, the situation of course with the nuclear issue in Iran, but also about energy.

And about energy, I am very pleased to see that we are welcome some Belgian companies in Greece, because Fluxys is involved and an owner of TAP, but we are also interested in some privatization process in the country, and we will continue to discuss on that. And we really support the idea that with the European Commission we need to discuss about vertical corridors in the region, because it is important to provide energy to the entire region.

One word about migration, because I had the opportunity yesterday that I had dinner with our colleague in charge of migration, and of course we are aware of the difficult situation in Greece for the moment, due to the fact that there are so many refugees coming, and first of all maybe from Syria and from the region, to Greece. It is first of all an asylum problem, and so we are ready to take a part in such a process. I have said that we are ready to do more than was requested by the European Commission. We have said that to the Commission, but of course we try to go to a compulsory agreement in the European Union, and it will be better than the actual situation. And of course we will try to convince a lot of partners in the European Union to do the same and to have a common approach on migration and not only about the refugees; it is a more global issue, with a comprehensive approach.

Of course, we discussed also the situation in Greece at the moment and the relation with all the different partners inside the European Union. First of all, I want to repeat that it is an internal discussion; I mean an internal discussion in Europe, because Greece is part of the European Union and the Eurozone. I have said that in some years or so, as Minister of Finance, some years ago, it is possible to give more time to Greece, it is possible to get in some charge like the interest rate, but it is possible to do all those things, if it is possible also to see a real program of reforms, to go back to a better competitiveness in the country and to go back to a better situation in the public finances.

Since the beginning of the crisis, we have asked the Belgian population to support Greece, and it was a reality, due to decisions taken in Belgium to provide some financial support to Greece. And on the other side, we try to provide some technical assistance when it is possible, and you know that we are for the moment involved in a technical assistance in the Finance Department to give an example, for the customs, for VAT, and maybe to fight against tax evasion. I have asked the day before yesterday to the Belgian Parliament in the Finance Affairs Committee to vote for the ratification of a very important treaty, to exchange bank information in tax issues. And so, we are ready to exchange information with Greece about maybe some savings in our banks, if it is needed.

Of course, I don’t want to say anything about the referendum, because I am a Belgian Minister and not involved in the process in Greece. I want just to say two words about the day after. First, we have only one certainty: the day after Sunday will be Monday. And the other thing is that we need also maybe, and this is maybe our job, we need to put on the table some CBMs like you said, some confidence-building measures, because it is quite important to rebuild real confidence, to start some negotiations, but it will be long and it will be about a new plan, and so it is quite important to think about the difficulty to do that. But I was very pleased we had such a very open discussion with Nikos about that. I thank you again for such a frank and open discussion, like we say it all the time from diplomatic relations, but it is more here, among friends, because we are sure that we need to go further and to try and take the good decisions to have Greece as a real partner in the European Union and in the Eurozone.

N. KOTZIAS: Thank you very much.

S. ARAVOPOULOU (Athens News Agency): Mr. Minister, I would like to ask, in recent days we have seen many European leaders take not just a negative stance on the referendum, but an open stance in favor of ‘yes’, and, of course, against ‘no’, and with many negative characterizations. What is your opinion on this?

D. REYNDERS: First of all, I was in charge in the last six months of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. And you have seen maybe yesterday the statement of the Council of Europe, saying that it is very difficult to agree about such a process for a referendum in Europe, because eight days to ask the population to give advice about difficult documents is short and is difficult to see that it is a real democratic process, so I had the same feeling from the beginning that it is difficult to manage that.

The second question – I have said I am the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs and I don’t want to give some advice about the possible way to vote on Sunday. I have said just that my intention is to support a new negotiation process, but it will be long and it will be difficult, because we will start with new confidence-building measures to be sure that we can start something, and we will discuss about a new plan. It is not the old one. It is done. So we will start to discuss for a new plan.

It’s just that. For the rest I don’t want to give an advice about the way to vote. I am a liberal and I am in favor of the freedom of expression for all the Greek citizens.

JOURNALIST: A question for Mr. Kotzias, from the representative of Belgian state TV, RTBF. I would like to ask you, Mr. Minister, if the result of the referendum is in favor of ‘yes’, what will happen with the government the following day? Because Mr. Tsipras has said he will resign, Mr. Varoufakis the same. Will you continue? Will you resign? Might the government need to change?

N. KOTZIAS: First of all, I would like to say with regard to the Council of Europe, which considers the space of one week to be short, imagine if it were a longer space of time with this situation with the banks. But the main thing is that I understand the representatives of the Council of Europe, because they did not live through five years here. Every man on the street may not know every detail of the proposals, but they have been shouldering this burden for five years.

Now, with regard to the government. You don’t even know me yet, and you want me to go? Mr. Tsipras has not said he will resign. Mr. Tsipras said, “I will not implement just any policy.” This means that we have to wait for the result, which we hope will be ‘no’, and we need to see the real percentages.

I think that a great effort is being made to influence the opinion of the Greek people. We even had the Prime Minister of a member state of the European Union announce that that he will negotiate with another government on Monday.
We responded as the Foreign Ministry.

There are certain member states that are not acting like member states of the common destiny that we call the European Union. There has to be respect for the country’s domestic processes, and that is why I thank my colleague Didier very much, because his response showed Belgium’s Europeanism.

I think it needs to be understood that our country is in a weak position economically, but it has not lost even an iota of its rights in the European Union. And I wish two things for those who today are violating the EU’s rules on how the members states function in relation to one another. First, that they not find themselves in a weak situation like ours, and, second, that all the member states should act in the manner in which Belgium is acting when they do find themselves in a weak position.

And I want to say something from the heart: the situation should not be dramatized, I mean from the point of view of relations and the institutions – not the economic situation, which is in fact dramatic.

We will still be married on Monday, and we will have to live together and talk together. There won’t be an earthquake on Sunday. There will be a democratic referendum, which is natural in Europe and is based on the very treaties of Europe.

From the very outset, I said that we are using a normal tool of democracy, and we all need to guarantee democracy constantly – everyone. Including the democratic dialogue with our partners. Since I was a young child, I have said, “Greece was never boring in its politics.”

Thank you.

N. MELETIS (ERT): Mr. Minister, my question is for you. I would like to ask about the case in which the ‘no’ wins – as you believe that it will be a booming ‘no’. Can the government -- in the wake of everything that has happened in recent days, having accused the Eurozone and the ECB that they are blackmailing the Greek people with the closing of the banks – be a collocutor for the CBMs the Belgian minister mentioned earlier and in this process, as the minister also said, that will last for years – do you believe that the country and the economy can last with the banks closed? Thank you.

Ν. ΚΟΤΖΙΑS: First of all, you know that during the twenty years during which I was an employee of this Ministry, I worked to create confidence-building measures in all the sectors where they were necessary. I am a supporter of CBMs and trust.
Will Greece have difficulties? With a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’, it will have difficulties, because we have a five-year drama here. It’s just being realized now. I think that what we need to avoid is not a victory for ‘yes’ or ‘no’, but a victory for fear.

We need sobriety, we need composure. We need to consider with a clear head whether we want this slow death that has been underway for five years to continue. My opinion is that Europe has the democratic ability to perceive the will of a people after a referendum.

It is certainly the case that tough negotiations will be needed; tough negotiations that cannot be carried out in 24 hours, but without accusations and stereotypes during the negotiations. This means that liquidity needs to be ensured in Greece during the negotiations.

I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest in Europe or the world for there to be destabilization in Greece, adding to the destabilization in the region. This is why I believe that we will find a direct solution regarding liquidity, and we will agree, following negotiations, on the new program positions between the two sides.

JOURNALIST (Belgian newspaper): For the Belgian Minister. You came here to talk about EU-Russian relations and their development. You are in Greece, a country that has good relations with the government of Russia. Why did you make this statement here? Do you think that the Greek government can help in the diplomatic development of relations with Russia? Can it help towards positive developments?

And with regard to the referendum. In the case of a ‘no’, do you believe Greece will continue to have a place in the Eurozone, given the statements to the contrary from many European officials?

D. REYNDERS: I want just to repeat about the referendum: ‘yes’ or ‘no’, it will be a choice of the Greek people, but after we will have, I hope, negotiations about the new plan. And it will take some time to do that and it will be difficult.

And about Russia, again, I had a lot of meetings with our colleague Sergey Lavrov in the last month, two times in Moscow and also in Brussels, and we have the same approach to be in touch with Moscow for the medium- and long-term relation. But of course on the short-term, we need to put pressure on Russia with sanctions to avoid more violence in the east of Ukraine.

And of course we need to push pressure together, to have the full implementation of the Minsk agreement about Ukraine and we need to have relations with Russia in the guidelines of the European Union. If we are still in the guidelines of the European Union, we don’t have any problem.

Ν. ΚΟΤΖΙΑS: Thank you.


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