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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Wednesday, 05 September 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the Ministers’ programmes. Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos will be travelling to Cairo tomorrow as part of a four-member delegation that includes his counterparts from Italy, Cyprus and Malta. This is an important initiative, because the Foreign Ministers of the European Union countries that are close neighbours to Egypt will have the opportunity to meet with Egypt’s political leadership and meet with the Secretary General of the Arab League. Meetings have been scheduled with the President of Egypt, with the Foreign Minister, and with Arab League Secretary General El-Araby. The Foreign Ministers will convey a message of EU solidarity with and support for the transition process that is under way in Egypt, as the Egyptian people make their way to democracy.

We think that the European Union needs to stand up and be counted in this transitional process and support this process – not in the sense of assistance, but in the sense of a self-evident investment it will make in an immediate and very important neighbour. We also believe that Egypt is a basic pillar of stability in the wider Middle East region and the Arab world, and that is why it is important for it to have the EU at its side every step of the way.

On Friday and Saturday, 7 and 8 September, Mr. Avramopoulos will be in the Republic of Cyprus – which currently holds the rotating Presidency of the EU Council – to participate in the Gymnich meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. This informal meeting will look at water and education as horizontal policies, as well as at the latest developments in Syria.

Mr. Avramopoulos will meet on Tuesday, 11 September, with the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Ms. Markoullis, who will be visiting Greece. After a private meeting, the two Ministers will make statements to the news media and then have a working luncheon.

Opposition party leader Alexis Tsipras will visit the Foreign Ministry at 12:00 on Wednesday, 12 September, for a briefing from the Ministry leadership.

On Thursday, 6 September, Deputy Foreign Minister Dimitris Kourkoulas will meet with Development, Competitiveness, Infrastructure, Transport and Networks Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, at the Development Ministry. On the evening of the same day, Mr. Kourkoulas will meet with Ambassador Tom de Bruijn, a member of the Task Force for Greece.

On Friday, 7 September, Mr. Kourkoulas will meet with the Greek MEPs, and on Wednesday he will meet with the Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean, who will be visiting Greece. The Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean will also meet with Foreign Ministry Secretary General Kaskarelis.

Finally, Deputy Foreign Minister Kostas Tsiaras will meet with the Board of the World Council of Hellenes Abroad (SAE) on Thursday, 6 September.

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

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, I would like your comment on the latest developments in Syria and whether Athens is concerned at the increasing tension in southeast Turkey – with the refugees and the PKK attacks. Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The situation in Syria is causing very great concern and is an issue we are monitoring very closely. Unfortunately, the worst scenarios are being borne out right now in Syria as it slips into a civil war with a tragic cost in civilian lives and for the Syrian people, with whom the Greek people have traditional relations of friendship and respect. We continue to believe that a political solution must be found for the Syria issue – a solution that comes from the Syrian people themselves, with respect for their sovereignty and their desire for a democratic transition. Consequently, it is important for there to be a change in the Syrian leadership so that we can reach an agreed solution amongst the opposed sides and so that Syria can gradually – with the support of the international community – find its way to stability and peace.

As you can see, the situation in Syria gives rise to concerns not only regarding developments within the country, but also developments in neighbouring countries. Syria has a decisive role in the equilibrium in the Middle East, which directly impacts all the neighbouring countries, and that is why we believe that it is urgent that we find a solution. This certainly requires the support of the international community; this requires an active presence, and the Syrian’s need to be able to talk amongst themselves to find political solutions. We do not think that military solutions and the escalation of hostilities can provide a sustainable response to the problems that exist right now.

The refugee issue is another burning issue arising from this situation. The refugee flows, and, by extension, the migration waves, are increasing constantly. There are already over 200,000 Syrians in neighbouring countries, which puts a great deal of pressure on countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and this is something that, as neighbouring countries, we are monitoring very closely.

The Greek side is carrying out the appropriate preparations so that we can deal with the reality taking shape, but there should be no doubt that for as long as the clashes continue in Syria, there will inevitably be refugees trying to escape from the ongoing hostilities.

A. TASOULI: Regarding the developments concerning Thrace, I would like to ask whether there is any truth in the reports that students who enroll in schools funded by Turkey receive a €500 subsidy.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: According to the information the Foreign Ministry has, these reports are not true. Whatever the case – and we have to realize this – there are some extremist elements in Thrace who are trying systematically to ghettoize the Muslim Greek citizens who live there. These efforts are failing. They are failing despite the persistent efforts of these extremist elements.

It has to be clear that Greece is an open society, a society and a state of equality under the law, with full respect for human rights and the religious rights of all its citizens. This universal participation in Greek society is what ensures that all of use, united, continue to move forward. All of the citizens of our country are certainly facing the repercussions of the current economic crisis, but together, united, we can emerge from this crisis. The current situation does not give the right to extremists to propagate scenarios or carry out actions that are aimed precisely at marginalizing an important part of Greek society.

L. VLAVERIS: Mr. Spokesman, I would like to ask a question regarding Syria. It is well known that the EU has at least the beginnings of a military mechanism – certain battle groups, one of which is headed by Greece and participated in by Cyprus. Is the activation of these mechanisms being considered with regard to Syria, whether regarding the refugee issue you mentioned or to manage any assistance that might be sent there? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Right now there are no such thoughts regarding external military intervention in Syria, and we believe, as I said earlier, that this would provide no response to the problems that exist in Syria. What needs to happen is for there to be an internal, Syrian political dialogue with all the opposing factions, so that the Syrian people themselves can determine their course, and this obviously requires a change in leadership and an immediate ceasefire. It is obvious that the longer the violence and clashes continue – and they are increasing, as is the number of victims – the harder it will be to achieve a solution. Consequently, we believe that we need to insist on a political process that can provide a sustainable solution.

N. MELETIS: Back to Thrace. Do you think Mr. Erdogan’s intervention was constructive: asking for the unity of Muslim Greek citizens in the Equality Party, etc., which was founded by Mr. Sadik? And second, whether there is anything new on the Greek-Turkish intergovernmental, interministerial meeting.

G. DELEVEKOURAS: As I said earlier, we believe that our Muslim fellow citizens live in a society and a state that fully respects their rights, and this needs to be respected by everyone. Greece is a model of harmonious coexistence of citizens of different faiths, and it would be good if other countries in our neighbourhood emulated this example.

As for the High Level Cooperation Council, as you know, we have agreed to hold a second meeting, which will take place in Turkey, given that the first meeting took place in Greece. The preparations are proceeding. The Foreign Ministry and the Greek government are coordinating amongst the participating ministries. The dates have not yet been finalized, but as soon as they are, you will be informed.

G. HADOULIS: Do these extremist elements or the people behind them have names?

The second question has to do with Libya – the issue of the provision of healthcare, which your Ministry has been dealing with. What’s new with the money Libya owes Greece and the course of the talks on the payment of that debt? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: We know who they are. What these elements are attempting simply will not succeed, because, as I said, Greece is a society that fully respects the human rights of all its citizens.

Regarding the second issue you mentioned, there was a major humanitarian effort on the part of Greece during the Libyan conflict. We hosted and provided healthcare for wounded Libyans. This cooperation continued after the end of the conflict, when the Libyan state could not provide such services to its citizens. The Foreign Ministry is closely monitoring the matter of the expenditures and money owed to hospitals and hotels. Foreign Minister Avramopoulos contacted his Libyan counterpart on this issue, and there have been ongoing contacts with the Libyan chargé d’affaires in Greece.

N. MELETIS: How much money are we talking about?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: That is an issue that is currently being discussed by the Greek agencies and the Libyan side, because there is no agreement on the exact sum. What I do know from the latest meeting we had with them is that some payments have already begun of a percentage of the outstanding sum, and we hope that the whole issue can be settled soon.

N. KOURBELA: I don’t know whether this has been covered, because I came in a little late. I would like to ask what happened with regard to the multiannual financial framework – which is of particular interest to Greece – in the discussion a few days ago in Nicosia. Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: There was a continuation of a discussion on an issue that is in any case very difficult. As you may know, the target is for these consultations to have been completed by the end of the year, when the Cypriot Presidency comes to a close. The President of the European Council has already announced an extraordinary Summit Meeting in November, precisely to continue – and possibly to complete – the debate on this issue. Together with other countries that share our views, Greece is participating in these discussions and we are trying to get the best possible result, the basis of our policy being that the EU budget and funds should function as a development tool. In this critical state of affairs and time of austerity, with the EU showing signs of recession, it is important that we be able to use the EU budget as a tool for growth.

M. KOURBELA: This question may be a little specialized and outside your area of responsibility, but as the Foreign Ministry represents Greece in the negotiations, I will ask the question. There is the impression that the data being used for the multiannual financial framework – the 7-year EU budget – is from the three years from 2007 through 2009: three years during which Greece was doing much better than it is now. Will Greece make a special effort to have the current situation borne in mind for the allotment of funding? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is one of the major issues of concern to us: the manner in which the budget will allot these funds. This is a central issue we are discussing.

S. SOURMELIDIS: Could Mr. Erdogan’s urgings to the Muslims in Thrace be considered meddling in domestic affairs, given that there is reference to political organizations in Greece?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As you know, there has already been a reaction from the Foreign Ministry regarding this message attributed to the Turkish Prime Minister. Beyond that, the citizens of Greece are the sole authority determining their future and fate. We are living in a civil society, and Greek citizens, irrespective of faith, take their decisions for the good of their country. This is the sole and fundamental principle that governs the participation of all of us in public affairs, and this needs to be recognized by everyone, including our neighbours. I will repeat what I said earlier: that Greece should be taken as an example, because in our neighbourhood Greece really is an example for emulation.

M. KOURBELA: Mr. Spokesman, Mr. Davutoglu made a statement regarding illegal migration as a result of the situation in Syria, and he proposed the creation of certain facilities, and Mr. Koumoutsakos, the MEP, and his Cypriot colleague reacted. What is the Greek position on these statements? Thank you.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Earlier, we discussed the refugee crisis as a result of the clashes in Syria. As I said before, this is an issue that gives great cause for concern. First of all, it is a matter of protecting these people, who are trying to get away from the conflict area, and providing first aid, food, water, so that they can survive. And this naturally creates a real security issue, given that with the refugees there comes greater migration pressure.

That is why Greece, as well as the EU, is talking about the issue with its partners, so that the EU can be prepared to deal with any situation that arises. At the same time we acknowledge the major pressure being experienced by Syria’s neighbours, and I would like to emphasize this. You referred to Turkey, but the pressures on countries like Jordan are just as great, if not greater – Lebanon, too. In the end, the only way to deal with the situation is for there to be a political solution in Syria. As long as the conflict continues, the civilian population can be expected to look for a way out.

That is why it is very important for us to emphasize this. The new UN and Arab League special envoy, Mr. Brahimi, whom we wish the best of luck in his very difficult duties, is a person who knows the region very well and can play a very important role. But it is obvious that he also needs the cooperation and the political will of the opposing factions if we are to be able to reach a solution in Syria.

M. KOURBELA: How is the issue of the EU-Turkish readmission agreement progressing?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The issue of this agreement is still pending. There has been some movement of late, but it unfortunately has not yet led to the ratification and implementation of the EU-Turkey readmission protocol. We believe that since Turkey itself has agreed to the content of the text, it should also move ahead quickly to its implementation.

It is an agreement that covers many of the issues that exist, given that Turkey is currently one of the main countries of origin of illegal migrants entering the EU. Turkey is also certainly a transit country, but we know for a fact that a large number of illegal migrants cross the Turkish border into Greece in their effort to move towards Europe.

That is why – and precisely because we are talking about a European problem – we believe that the EU needs to try very emphatically to be able to reach the implementation of this readmission agreement, with the concurrent, optimum implementation of the existing Greek-Turkish readmission agreement, which we have had since 2002, and which can currently cover the issues arising from the major illegal migration pressures Greece is coming under from people entering Greece from Turkey.