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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Friday, 25 November 2011

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good afternoon. At 13:30 today, Foreign Minister Stavros Dimas will be received by the President of the Republic. And at 15:30 he will meet with the French Ambassador to Greece.

At 11:15 tomorrow, 25 November, Mr. Dimas will meet with the Netherlands European Affairs Minister. Earlier, at 10:00, Alternate Foreign Minister Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou will meet with her Netherlands counterpart.

At 13:00 tomorrow, Foreign Minister Dimas will attend a luncheon hosted by the Polish Ambassador for EU ambassadors in Greece. Poland currently holds the rotating EU Presidency.

On Tuesday, 29 November, Mr. Dimas will be in Berlin to participate, together with his German and Polish counterparts, in a panel discussion – “What Role for Germany and Europe in a New World Order?” – hosted by the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum. At 18:00 that evening, Mr. Dimas will meet with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.

On Wednesday and Thursday, 30 November and 1 December, Mr. Dimas will be in Brussels to participate in the Foreign Affairs Council. At 19:00 on Wednesday, he will attend the joint dinner for Defence and Foreign Affairs Ministers, which will focus on Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) initiatives.

On Thursday, the Foreign Minister will participate in the proceedings of the Council, the agenda for which includes recent developments in the Southern Neighbourhood – with emphasis on Egypt, Syria and Yemen – the Western Balkans (ahead of the General Affairs Council), Iran and the Middle East peace process, while the High Representative will brief the foreign ministers on recent developments in the Palestinian application for admission to the UN.

A few words about the week after next:

On Monday, 5 December, the General Affairs Council will take place in Brussels. The agenda for the Council includes preparations for the 9 December European Council and the issuing of Conclusions on Enlargement and the Stabilisation and Association Process.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, 6 and 7 December, the OSCE Ministerial will take place in Vilnius. The agenda for this meeting includes recent developments in the southern Mediterranean region and the confronting of extended conflicts (e.g., Transdniester, Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia). There will also be a discussion of European security issues within the framework of Greece’s “Corfu Process” initiative.

The NATO Ministerial will take place on Thursday and Friday, 8 and 9 December, in Brussels. At Thursday’s meeting of the North Atlantic Council, there will be a discussion of Afghanistan; the Western Balkans (with emphasis on Kosovo); relations with Russia and the anti-missile shield; and the Deterrence and Defence Posture Review. On Friday, there will be a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and a meeting of ISAF participants.

I would also like to mention a positive development we’ve had. Since February 2009, a Greek seaman, Nikos Papafotis, has been detained in Egypt due to a matter concerning the guarding of a vessel under Greek flag. Following a number of efforts by the Greek authorities in Egypt and the Foreign Ministry, in cooperation with the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, they managed to settle matters and Mr. Papafotis is expected to return to Greece in the coming days.

Finally, with regard to the revelations on the atrocious racial murders that took place in Germany in 2005, I must inform you that a Greek, Theodoros Voulgaridis, was among the victims. I would like to inform you that the Greek Embassy participated yesterday in a special event organized by the German government, and there we expressed the great importance of solving these crimes. Let me also say that the Embassy is in contact with the victim’s family to provide any assistance they might need.

That’s it for announcements. Your questions, please.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask what the Greek reaction is to the IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear programme. Whether, in your assessment, a possible toughening of our partners’ stance might impact Greece’s relations with Iran, particularly on the important issue of energy cooperation. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The issue of the IAEA report essentially points up the serious lack of trust that exists between the international community and Iran regarding the latter’s nuclear programme. As you know, it is the inalienable right of every state to develop nuclear programmes for peaceful uses and always in accordance with IAEA regulations. Beyond that, however, it is very important for there to be trust, cooperation and transparency. This issue is being discussed in the EU, and we are participating actively in the discussions. We hope the conditions can be created for restored trust and avoidance of tensions.

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, the European Union is currently preparing to amend the new Treaty. Do we know what points will be amended and what the Greek position is on this? Have you started an internal discussion to prepare the ground? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: A substantial discussion is currently underway regarding the institutional strengthening of the European Union, the strengthening of economic governance and the progress of the monetary union within a substantial economic and political union.

We believe that this is a very important discussion, because, apart from anything else, it can provide the tools the EU needs to confront the crisis and protect itself from the pressure coming from the markets right now. This discussion is underway and will continue, and Greece is obviously participating in these preparatory discussions.

We will have to see how the positions of member states take shape, but whatever the case, we believe it is important for the European Union to take steps forward, to be able to take steps toward further deepening, because the current crisis shows that the monetary union did not have the necessary tools to really deal with the kind of pressure we have seen in recent years. And that is why it is so important that it finally get the tools it needs. We will see how the debate proceeds, of course, and what decisions are taken in the end.

M. KOURBELA: Would you support the creation of a super Commissioner with the responsibilities of an Economy Minister?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Given that official proposals have not been submitted by anyone at this time, I don’t want to get into a hypothetical discussion. Nevertheless, I will say that we believe that the institutional strengthening of the EU in the direction of economic and political unity is very important, precisely because it will give Europe the tools it needs to deal with the crisis.

M. KOLONA: Mr. Spokesman, I would like the Foreign Ministry’s comment on the Environment Ministry’s plans for Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean to get electricity from Turkey.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I think there is a detailed announcement from the Ministry of the Environment, Energy & Climate Change setting out Greece’s policy on this issue and answering your question.

S. RISTOVSKA: Mr. Spokesman, do you have any information on when the ICJ decision will be coming out? And a second question: What can we expect from the new Greek government with regard to the name issue? Whether we can expect any developments, given that the government includes the LAOS party, the only party that doesn’t accept the inclusion of the term Macedonia in the name – that doesn’t agree to a compound name.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Regarding your first question, the court has not yet announced when it will issue its decision on the application made by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We will wait for the announcement to see how things develop.

But I want to stress that regardless of the judicial procedure, there is a substantial political procedure: the process provided for in the Security Council resolutions. And that is where we are waiting for the government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to arrive with a constructive stance, so that we can see progress on the name issue and reach a solution at long last.

It has been proven by the stance Greece maintains in the negotiations and by the efforts we have made that Greece really has the will and resolve to move ahead to a solution. And unfortunately we see that the messages from the other side do not give cause for optimism.

In fact, in recent months the government in Skopje has employed aggressive rhetoric against Greece; rhetoric that undermines the efforts to improve the climate as well as the creation of appropriate conditions for our being able to reach a solution.

Because when public opinion in Skopje is essentially being bombarded every day with statements attacking Greece, we cannot expect that public opinion is being prepared for progress in the negotiations.

Beyond that, and as the Foreign Minister expressly stated in the government’s presentation of its policy platform, Greece still has the crystal clear, firm position that we should move ahead with the negotiations to reach a solution. This is clear, and Greece’s willingness should be considered a given.

S. RISTOVSKA: One more question. So, should we expect that there might be some initiative for a solution during these three months?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We can’t ignore the reality of the situation, which is that right now the statements coming out of Skopje, on all levels, are statements that are aggressive and do not inspire optimism. Nevertheless, I want to reiterate that Greece wants a speedy solution on the name issue. But this will come from the negotiations, and for us to have progress at the negotiations, there needs to be a shift. Greece has taken major steps for its part, but it remains for the government in Skopje to meet us half way.

A. ATHANASOPOULOS: A question on the same subject. Do you believe that the political process you are talking about for the resolution of the name issue will go unaffected by the Court’s decision. Because the way you put it, essentially, the two processes are in no way linked. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The fact of the matter is, the two processes are not linked, because on the one hand you have a judicial procedure on a specific issue, while with the political negotiations being carried out under the auspices of the UN, you have a clear mandate from the UN Security Council that says the two sides must negotiate a mutually acceptable solution. So, this determines the framework for resolving the dispute.

What’s more, the Security Council resolutions make it clear that this is very important for regional stability and security, and that is where we have to put the emphasis. The resolution of the name issue can free up the dynamic in the relations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

It would allow us to develop our relations. It is a given that Greece will be the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s closest partner on its Euroatlantic and European course. Greece has proven – by its actions – throughout this time that it wants to help the country and see it make progress.

It is in their interest as well as ours, because it is in our interest to create a zone of stability, security and development in our neighbourhood, on our borders. This would benefit the whole region, and that is why we are working so hard within the framework of the EU, as well, to promote the accession process of all the countries of the Western Balkans.

A. FOURLIS: Mr. Spokesman, would it be wrong for us to think that during the term of the current government we will not see meetings on the level of Ministerial Councils between Greece and Turkey and Greece and Israel?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Look, as you know, we are in contact with Turkey and Israel. We talked on the phone to the Turkish Foreign Minister, and we had Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon’s visit the day before yesterday. Our contacts are frequent and we want cooperation with both of these countries. Beyond that, these Councils, as you can understand, require very good preparation if they are to produce results that are mutually beneficial for the peoples of the two countries. We are already in close contact with both countries and we will have to see in the coming time how, and to what extent, these Councils can take place. So I don’t want to get ahead of developments right now.

G. VLAVIANOS: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask whether you are concerned at the events taking place in Egypt today and whether you consider the issue of Egypt to be related to the relations we want to build, the government wants to build, with Israel.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We see Egypt as a strategic pillar of stability in the wider Middle East region. We consider it a very important country that is essentially taking its steps towards democracy right now, following the revolution.

Greece has stood by the Egyptian people, with whom we have traditional relations of close friendship and cooperation. We want to have a privileged cooperation relationship with Egypt, and that is why we are very interested in Egypt’s being able to move ahead with the process of reform and democratic change and a return to normalcy.

Obviously, the tensions we have seen in Cairo in recent days have given rise to concern, and we hope the tensions will stop and the election process will be able to move ahead, so that the Egyptian people can have the opportunity to elect their representatives and move ahead with reforms at a fast pace.

You should be aware that Greece will continue to pursue close contact with Egypt. We have very good cooperation in many sectors. We have the presence of a Greek community in Egypt. There are Greek enterprises active there, and they have shown that they want to support the processes that are underway in Egypt; even since the revolution, we have seen an increase in investments by Greek companies.

Let me take this opportunity – because there were some items in the press – to say that there is no cause for concern at this time regarding the Greeks living in Cairo. They are fine.

Our Embassy is in constant contact with them and with the community, and I would like to make that clear. I’ll close by saying that the Greek government will pursue close cooperation with the Egyptian authorities in the coming time.

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, the Austrian side has said that the process for opening negotiations with Skopje should move ahead, regardless of the name issue. Doesn’t this conflict with the principle of good neighbourly relations?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: You answered your own question. First of all, we need to say that there are unanimous decisions from successive EU Councils stressing the importance of resolving the name issue and respecting good neighbourly relations.

This is a fundamental prerequisite, a fundamental principle for all candidate countries, and it must be upheld. That is exactly why we are putting so much emphasis on the speedy resolution of the name issue.

Greece supports the European perspective of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We have done so at every opportunity, and we will continue to do so, but all of this has to happen on a proper foundation.

A proper foundation means that we will have a mutually acceptable solution on the name issue, and that is why we call on the government in Skopje to come to the negotiations in a constructive spirit.

V. PALLAS: Does the new political leadership intend to declare the Greek exclusive economic zone?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Greece’s policy is the delimitation of all maritime zones with all of its neighbours. This is the firm policy that has been followed by successive Greek governments in previous years, and it is obvious that within this framework Greece does not relinquish any right it has under International Law or, more specifically, the Law of the Sea.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Mr. Spokesman, in recent month we have heard just about everything from European governments regarding whether we can hold a referendum, what the content of the referendum would be, when we can hold a referendum and when we can hold elections. This is the first time since 1945 that this has happened in European politics, and many see this as an obvious intervention in the domestic, constitutional affairs of a member of the European Union; a country that is also being told it will remain – or not remain – in the EU under certain terms.

It’s like a teacher saying, “I’ll throw you out of class if you don’t do this.” To date, there hasn’t been an official reaction on this level. Is the new Foreign Minister or the Foreign Ministry thinking of doing something to draw the attention of European governments to the fact that this is outside the principles of the EU and outside the principles of democracy and Greek constitutional order?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Obviously, I won’t comment on domestic political developments. It’s not my role.

What I can say is that from the very outset, the Foreign Minister made it clear that the top priority right now for Greek foreign policy is for our country to regain its credibility and be able to show our partners that Greece is doing its part. But also that Greece will not be an easy target for anyone.

If this crisis has shown us anything over the past two years, it is that despite Greece’s frequently being at the epicentre, the problem is not Greek. The problem is European, and every day we see new signs that prove this fact.

Greece has made great efforts and constantly shown its determination to emerge from the crisis and do whatever it takes to ensure the country’s position in the euro zone and in Europe. No one should doubt this.

In the coming time, the Foreign Ministry and every one of us, from our given positions, needs to work so that our country can regain its credibility. And I repeat that this is the Foreign Ministry’s top priority.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: Excuse me, when you say regain its credibility – when and how did it lose its credibility? What do you mean? And to whom, if you will?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I don’t think there is any point – for the purposes of this briefing – in our starting this discussion. But it is a fact that for two years now, Greece has been coming under attack from analysts, specialists and non-specialists, from politicians, from the news media, who often essentially distort the image of Greece and the efforts it has made.

This has to change. And it will change, first of all, through our work; through the results we get. Right now, Greece has a government that has undertaken a difficult task. But it is determined to carry out that task: the implementation of the 26 October decisions, which will strengthen the Greek economy and ensure that the steps are taken that will enable us to emerge from the crisis.

A. FOURLIS: I wanted to ask whether this credibility message – regaining Greek credibility, which, if I remember correctly, the Minister set out when the Ministry was handed over to him – will also be the main goal of the visit to Germany. Will this be the message he gives to Mr. Westerwelle? And whether you can enlighten us further on that. What will he say, in other words, so that we can understand the content of this tactic, this policy you are following?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Already, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister have, in all their contacts, pointed up Greece’s determination to take the necessary steps to exit the crisis and implement the 26 October decision. All of our efforts in the coming time will be continued in this way.

The visit to Germany is an important one. Germany is an important partner with whom we want to have very good cooperation. And it is equally important that the German side be fully aware of Greece’s efforts and resolve.

This is precisely what the Foreign Minister will have the opportunity to discuss with his German counterpart. Earlier in the day, Mr. Dimas will have participated in the Forum I mentioned, which will be an opportunity for a broader discussion of the role of Germany itself in Europe and the world at this time, and of how important it is, when all is said and done, for Europe speak with a single voice.

Because Europe is much more powerful when it surpasses the sum power of its parts. Europe is much stronger when it speaks in a single voice. Europe is a market of 500 million – the biggest market in the world – and it has to conduct itself accordingly.

Greece is an intrinsic part of this Union. Everyone should understand that. The attacks made on Greece and the attempts to tarnish its image essentially undermine the very effort to emerge from the crisis, not just in Greece, but also in the countryies the attacks are coming from.

Because when you turn public opinion in any European country against Greece, you are essentially making it more difficult to take the decisions that are needed – collectively – from Europe so that we can exit this crisis. And this is a mistake.

At the same time, by undermining Greece’s credibility at a time when it is important that we return to growth – when we need investments for development projects in the country – you are creating obstacles on this path.

So, all of this will naturally be on the agenda for the meetings the Foreign Minister has with his German counterpart, just as it has been on all the agendas for all of his contacts and meetings since he took office.

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, the thing is, I will stay on the subject of credibility, I wouldn’t call it credibility, I would say this creates confusion between the state of the economy and Greece’s inability to negotiate as an equal partner. Second, yesterday saw the publication of the first six laws, which essentially set up economic governance. In one of those laws, which is on sanctions, it says that the member state that does not comply with the provisions will not participate in the decisions of the Council – of the 17. So, automatically, this undermines negotiating capability while also compromising moral standing; that is, it’s like they aren’t taking you into account if you are in debt. I want to ask whether you are going to take measures on the level of the European Parliament and on all the levels of the institutional organs of the European Union, supplementary or not. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: I will repeat what I said before: first of all, Greece is participating and negotiating in all the decision-making processes of the European Union, and it will continue to do so.

Beyond that, there is no point in our going into a discussion at this time of hypothetical scenarios concerning various ideas that have been heard from time to time. We should wait for these discussions to take place, for these negotiations to be carried out, and for the framework for what we are discussing to take shape.

But it needs to be clear to everyone that Greece participates and negotiates fully within the framework of the European Union, and that it is in everyone’s interest for Greece to succeed. But this requires everyone’s cooperation. There is no point in one country turning against another in the European Union, because the pressure is on everyone, and this has been borne out by the crisis itself.

Thus, the logic of one attacking another must stop. That is, Europe needs to reach a level where it speaks with a single voice, because the situation is very, very serious.

A. FOURLIS: Beyond the European intentions you are describing, we are interested in Greek positions. So, in Berlin, if I understood correctly from your answer regarding the goal of restoring Greece’s credibility, the Minister is going to do two main things: make assurances that Greece is participating in the European effort to exit the crisis, and that Greece is determined to implement the 26 October decision. We need to know.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Yes, but the talks won’t end there. It is a meeting of Foreign Ministers. They have a number of other issues to discuss. As for the specific issue you raised …

A. FOURLIS: Regarding the restoration of Greek credibility in particular, because that is the top goal the Minister himself set …

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Of course. And the importance at this time of the Europeans talking as Europeans, with a single voice – not each state separately.

Because our interests are the same, and we need to realize this: that if Europe does not speak with a single voice, it will be weaker and become an easier target.

At this point, the issue has gone beyond Greece’s borders. The issue has to do with structures that were lacking in the European architecture, and that we have to build. And it has to do with Europe’s lack of resolve; a resolve that it needs to regain.

It is vital for Europe to be able to come out of this crisis stronger. All of these processes are in progress right now. The negotiations in the coming time will be important, and that is why it is equally important for us to have good cooperation with all our partners.

D. KONSTANTAKOPOULOS: The Minister comes from a party that, until yesterday, said that the Memorandum was wrong. Will he now ask for a change in policy, or will he go to pursue credibility in implementation of the policy? We are a little confused – if you could set us right. Now, maybe this isn’t your job, of course – excuse me for putting the question to you …

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Greek government has presented its goals – the very important, very difficult goals that it needs to achieve in the coming time, during its time in office. The Prime Minister set them out in Parliament, and the Foreign Minister set out the foreign policy goals before Parliament. So, this is the government’s platform, and that’s what needs to be implemented. And it is important for it to be implemented so that Greece can come out of this crisis.

Any other questions? Thank you.