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Briefing of diplomatic correspondents by Foreign Ministry spokesman Gregory Delavekouras

Thursday, 12 July 2012

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Good morning. I’ll start with the programme. This morning, as you will have seen, Foreign Minister Avramopoulos had a meeting with the 27 EU member-state Ambassadors to Greece, on the initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Athens, and more specifically the Cypriot Ambassador to Athens, with the participation of the two Deputy Foreign Ministers. And a short while ago, Mr. Avramopoulos completed his meeting with Tourism Minister Kefalogianni, with whom he discussed ways the Foreign Ministry can assist in the major effort that needs to be made to support Greece’s tourism product. Right now, the Foreign Minister is meeting with the Japanese Ambassador to Athens.

Tomorrow, 13 July, Mr. Avramopoulos will meet with Japanese Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ryuki Yamane.

Tomorrow afternoon he will meet with Mexican Foreign Minister Ms. Cantellano, who is visiting Greece. After their meeting they will make statements to the news media, and Mr. Avramopoulos will then host a luncheon in his Mexican counterpart’s honor.

On Tuesday, 17 July, the Foreign Minister will receive the Turkish Ambassador to Greece in a courtesy meeting, and later the same day he will host a dinner for the Ambassadors of Arab countries to Greece.

Deputy Foreign Minister Kourkoulas will also meet tomorrow, 13 July, with Japanese Parliamentary Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ryuki Yamane.

On Monday, 16 July, Mr. Kourkoulas will meet with German Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Link, and on 17 and 18 July he will be in Brussels to participate in the negotiations on the European Union’s multiannual financial framework.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tsiaras met today with a delegation from the Board of Directors of the World Hellenic Inter-Parliamentary Association. During the meeting they discussed, among other things, issue that concern the promotion of Greece’s image in their countries of origin, as well as the effort to further promote Hellenic culture and the Greek language.

On Friday, 13 July, Mr. Tsiaras will meet with and host a working luncheon for Georgian State Minister for Diaspora Issues Mirza Davitaia, who will be accompanied by the Deputy Minister for Diaspora Issues.

Finally, within the framework of the provision of national assistance to Greece by the Task Force in the sector of promoting exports – on which Holland has undertaken the role of main advisor – the Secretary General met today with a special team of Netherlands experts and will participate in the presentation of the results of the introductory meetings this team has had with key public and private agencies. That presentation will take place tomorrow, 13 July, at the Netherlands Embassy.

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

M. KOLONA: Regarding the meeting the Minister had with Ms. Kefalogianni, is there anything you can tell us? Were specific decisions taken, or was it just a meeting to coordinate what needs to be done?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: As soon as the new government took office, there was collaboration between the two Ministries so we could look at ways in which the Foreign Ministry can assist the Tourism Ministry, and at the same time find ways to collaborate with market agencies. Today, the two Ministers essentially announced the start of ongoing collaboration between the two Ministries, with other competent agencies also working with them so that we can have a mechanism that will be able to effectively manage crises or problems that arise as a result of the presence of millions of foreign nationals in Greece, and, more importantly, with regard to Greece’s image in the international news media.

As you are well aware, our country has come in for negative coverage, and coverage that is often based on stereotypes and misinformation. So it is very important that we make this effort so that we can reverse the negative image while at the same time showing everything that is positive, given that Greece is still one of the most beautiful, safest and most competitive tourist destinations in the world.

We also discussed all the actions the Foreign Ministry is taking to ease the visa regime. This is a very important part of the process of attracting tourists to Greece, and instructions have been issued to all our Missions abroad to make the easing of the visa issuing process a top priority; to make it fast and friendly, serving interested parties.

In this context, instructions have also been issued to capitalize on all the potential provided by the Schengen Treaty. Examples of these include the potential to issue visas for up to five years in duration for multiple entries, which simplifies things a great deal for people, for foreign nationals, who visit our country often. In this way you reduce the cost of their visit, along with the fuss of having to go to the Consulate and get a new visa for each visit. These are people whose good faith has been ascertained, as they comply with the regulations for acquiring a visa and, as a result, we, too, need to do everything we can to facilitate their visits.

Another tool we have is visas that are issued free of charge for special categories of visitors. One such case is, for example, children under 12. For a family of four, this means the cost of visas is reduced by half. This is very important, particularly for people who visit our country frequently. Other possibilities are free visas for other groups, like students, university students, scientists, athletes.

We will use all of these tools to the greatest extent we can, and at the same time we will start working with visa centers throughout the world so that we can accelerate the visa issuing process and increase the number of visas we can issue, as well as serve interested parties in cities where Greece doesn’t have consular offices. So this gives us the potential to greatly expand the scope of our activities in major markets.

S. RISTOVSKA: A question on the name issue. What is Athens’s response to the proposals made by Skopje? These are proposals for a development initiative, for deepening relations between the two countries. That’s one question. The second is, was there an informal, unofficial proposal from Foreign Minister Popovski that he and Mr. Avramopoulos meet for coffee in Edessa?

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Let me start by saying something, first of all, regarding our relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. You saw Foreign Minister Avramopoulos’ statements during the presentation to Parliament of the government’s policy papers: that Greece is pursuing the improvement of relations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, pursuing the finding of a solution on the name issue. It is an issue that, for 17 years now, we should have been able to find a way to resolve.

In spite of that – and this gives rise to very serious concern – we saw the initial reaction of the Skopje government immediately following the new government’s entry into office. It was a very stringent attack on Greece, an effort toward negative propaganda, which does not allow us to see how the government in Skopje will at long last come to approach the name issue in a positive manner, so that we can achieve a solution.

Greece has declared its support for, and continues to support, the negotiation process under the UN, and in fact we hope that very soon there will be an opportunity for meetings with Mr. Nimetz so that we can look at the next steps. But it has to be clear that there needs to be sincerity if we are to move ahead. There has to be a stop to the negative propaganda that is essentially poisoning public opinion in Skopje and preventing the achievement of a solution. We need sincerity in our relations, and this propaganda has to stop.

We saw the recent statements from the FYROM government spokesman, who mentioned some ideas that have been presented in the past, and many of these are already in development, with clear results. For example, there was mention of cooperation between customs authorities or police authorities, when we all know that such cooperation already exists and is at a very good level, and we see its practical implementation every day.

But we can’t miss the forest for the trees, and the forest is the achievement of a solution on the name issue. There is no excuse, after so many years, for the Skopje government’s persisting with these intransigent policies that block us from freeing up the dynamic in our relations. This needs to be realised at long last, and there has to be a change in stance so that we can move ahead.

I haven’t seen the informal proposal from the FYROM Foreign Minister. Obviously, there will be meetings, but the thing is for us to focus on the essence of the matter. it isn’t a matter of a photograph or exploiting the P-R potential of a meeting. The thing is for there to be real willingness on the part of the other side for us to move ahead. Greece has shown that it has this willingness; it has shown this in a tangible way, through the stance it has maintained. And at long last we need to see the same thing from the government in Skopje.

M. KOURBELA: First of all, let me say regarding the last issue that, according to information, there is or there will be cooperation between the two countries for the provision, by the Greek side, of know-how for the adaptation of FYROM legislation to the European acquis. Can you confirm that for me?

The question I want to ask is this: there are two new European laws – a regulation and an amendment – that amend the Schengen Space. This provides for the imposition of a six-month suspension of a Schengen member that does not comply with the prerequisites for membership. And this suspension can be repeated for a further two six-month periods. This is for countries that do not comply with all the conditions, of which Greece might be one. Will you do anything before these regulations are issued? Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: Starting with the first issue you raised, this is just one example of the many examples of cooperation that exist between the two countries. What we want is for there to be substance, for us to be able to move ahead and resolve the main problem, the name issue, under the auspices of the UN. We want to reach a solution and move ahead with our relations, because there really is great potential.

I’ll just remind you of the visit of the Vice President of the FYROM government, Ms. Arifi, to Athens. At that time we decided to establish collaboration on a technocratic level, on EU issues, and the first meeting has already taken place – and there will be others in the autumn. There are the meetings Foreign Minister Avramopoulos had, in his previous capacity, with his FYROM counterpart. When Greece finds a collocutor with whom it can move ahead in its relations, it takes the opportunity, it is ready and willing, it takes the initiative to do it. But there has to be a collocutor. This is basic, and this is what we have to see at long last: whether or not there is a collocutor in Skopje.

Moving on to the second issue – though this is not an issue within the purview of the Foreign Ministry, because it is being discussed within the framework of the Home Affairs Council, though the Foreign Ministry is of course following all the developments very closely – a process has begun by order of the European Council, and the European Commission has presented some proposals regarding both the manner of the implementation of the Schengen Treaty, as well as the agreement itself. There has been some progress. the Commission has presented its proposals, and the Council moved ahead to a discussion of those proposals. Essentially, however, it is still an open political issue. There are some issues that are still being discussed amongst the Commission, the European Parliament, and in end the Council, so I think it would be premature to talk about a final result. I just want to note that there are already, today – given the way the Schengen Treaty framework functions – there are procedures that provide for exceptional circumstances in which control can be returned to internal borders to confront critical situations. That’s where we stand today.

You should know that Greece has made very great efforts to confront the huge pressure it is under from illegal migration pressures. Our partners have to bear this seriously in mind, because they may be protected somewhere within the internal borders of the EU, but they mustn’t forget that a country of 11 million – Greece – based on data from recent years, has to deal with some 150,000 illegal migrants per year.

There are times when 300 to 400 people per day cross our borders illegally. This is a huge burden for any country, and all the more so for a country like Greece, which for two and a half years now has been in the midst of a serious economic crisis. In spite of this, the Public Order and Citizen Protection Ministry and its Minister, Mr. Dendias, have already announced the next steps being taken to improve the asylum procedures, to lighten the load of cases that exist, to create reception centers, to provide legal protection and health care.

But we have to bear in mind that this is a European problem. It is not just a Greek problem. That is why it is imperative for there to be clear European solidarity and European participation in management of this problem.

M. KOURBELA: [off microphone]

G. DELAVEKOURAS: This is another issue that is an important priority for us. As you know, there is a bilateral readmission protocol between Greece and Turkey, which, however, has not been implemented as it should have been, and at the same time the EU-Turkey negotiation process has been completed for a readmission agreement, and we want to see that signed and implemented as soon as possible. It is a necessary prerequisite and priority. Greece cannot shoulder the burden on its own.

P. PAPATHANASIOU: Mr. Spokesman, the President of the European Commission – asked about the election process in Greece and the entry of Golden Dawn into Parliament – expressed his concern in the Parliament and stated that the Commission will watch vigilantly for any violation of Community Law, so that might put any necessary mechanisms into motion and render it illegal. I want to ask what the Greek side’s reply was to Mr. Barroso’s intervention. Thank you very much.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The election process in the Hellenic Republic is a purely national, internal affair. It is not within the Foreign Ministry’s responsibilities to comment on domestic political developments in our country.

D. KATSIMENTE: I would like your comment and the position of the Greek Foreign Ministry on the new provocation from the Turkish side, which today decided to carry out exercises in the Cypriot EEZ, without obtaining permission from the Republic of Cyprus, of course.

G. DELAVEKOURAS: The Turkish side is in fact moving ahead with the carrying out of exercises in the area of Cypriot responsibility, without providing the notification it is obliged to provide to the Republic of Cyprus under the regulations. These constant attempts on the part of Turkey to call into question the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus – and even to affront European institutions, such as the institution of the Presidency – must stop.

It is the wrong way to look at things, and it leads nowhere. At long last, Turkey needs to understand that it can only gain from the fact of the Republic of Cyprus’s membership in the EU. It can only gain form the resolution of the Cyprus issue, the progress of which it is hindering through its stance, by presenting this or that “plan B” for partitioning, by making threats, by trying to intervene in areas where it has no authority.

It is clear that the Turkish Cypriot side is essentially being guided by Turkey with regard to the stance it is maintaining on the Cyprus issue, and since March, for practical purposes, we have not had negotiations. Since March, essentially, Mr. Eroglu has withdrawn from the negotiations, blocking any progress. We want this stance to change. It is in everyone’s interest for this situation to change so that the island can be reunified.

Thank you very much.