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Alternate FM Xenogiannakopoulou’s statements regarding the situation in Egypt (at the GAC/FAC in Brussels, 31 January 2011)

Monday, 31 January 2011

Ms. Xenogiannakopoulou: We had two very important meetings of the General Affairs Council (GAC) and the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC). We also had the opportunity for a very interesting luncheon with President Rompuy, particularly regarding matters concerning Friday’s European Council, which I will refer to in a little more detail.

I would like to brief you on four issues: at the GAC there was a discussion of the Hungarian Presidency’s priorities, as well as of the conclusions for Friday’s European Council, which, as you know, will look mainly at energy and innovation.

At the luncheon with President Van Rompuy, there was a specific discussion on confronting the economic crisis and the relevant discussion to be held at the European Council.

At the FAC, as you can understand, developments in northern Africa – and particularly in Egypt – were the order of the day. The discussion will be continued at the dinner.

I would like to start with the issues concerning Egypt, due to both current events and importance. The Greek people are linked to the Egyptian people by a long tradition of friendship. The situation in the country remains very unstable. We need to continue monitoring the situation closely. But we mustn’t impose or indicate how things are to be settled in the end.

It is important that the final outcome should arise from domestic processes carried out in Egypt itself, by the people of Egypt. Stability and change require institutional reforms and the appearance of real political parties and ideologies.

The European Union needs to assist in this process with the tools at its disposal – even developing new ones, all of this as a package – to meet the needs of the Egyptian people and their prospects. Egypt is too important a country to be left in the margins right now.

That is why every potential for our participation in what is happening there needs to remain open. Another important parameter – and this is something we stressed at the Council – is the impact these developments will have on the Middle East peace process. As you can see, this situation will bear significantly on developments in the wider region and on the international stage in general.

Beyond the political aspects, we need to bear in mind that the fluid situation in Egypt and the Middle East in general – and this is a point that we insisted on during the Council meeting – may have serious humanitarian repercussions.

This means that we might see an increase in refugees – migrants asking for political asylum – and flows in general, when our country is currently feeling a lot of pressure.

That is why we called upon the European Commission – and I must say that Commissioner Fule, who was in attendance, said he would come through – to work out specific ways to deal with potential situations of mass flows of migrants and refugees, as well as arrangements for better distribution of the burden, because, of course, countries of first entry – like Greece – can’t possible shoulder the whole burden of the obligation to provide asylum. And I am aware that there was a special interministerial meeting at the Citizen Protection Ministry in Athens today on the issue of confronting these developments.

We expressly stressed this need and the importance of proactive moves on the part of the European Commission. And the competent Commissioner said that he will draw up a specific plan for coordinating the tools we have.

As a neighbouring country with a vital interest in security and stability in the region, Greece will be at Egypt’s side every step of the way, taking every possible initiative that might contribute to normalization of the situation and the building of a future that meets with the expectations of the Egyptian people.

As for the matter of Greeks in Egypt right now – people working and residing there – the Foreign Ministry, as you know, has already decided to send three Air Force C-130s to Alexandria tomorrow morning to facilitate the repatriation of Greek citizens who wish to return to Greece.

Our Embassy and Consulate are in constant contact with the communities of Greeks. There is already a hotline at the Foreign Ministry to maintain constant contact and help Greeks in Egypt at this difficult hour.

I would also like to say that the Council adopted conclusions regarding Egypt. I think they are positive and balanced conclusions that send a clear message to the European Union that at this time the goal is a smooth, orderly transition to a stable, pluralistic and democratic Egypt; a process that will lead to free and fair elections, underscoring, of course, that the Egyptian people have the first say in these developments.