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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Sia Anagnostopoulou’s speech to the Hellenic Parliament Plenary (15.05 2019)

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

During the discussion on the draft laws introduced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the establishment of a border crossing point in the area of the Prespa Lake and the establishment of a new border crossing point between the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of North Macedonia, linking Promachoi, Hellenic Republic, to Majden, Republic of North Macedonia, the Alternate Minister noted, inter alia, “We are witnessing the real benefits of the Prespa Agreement. At last, the time has come to witness in practice that a country consists of the people, the land where the local communities live and everything they absolutely need.”

She further added, “The Prespa Agreement untied the hands of both the Greek state and North Macedonia.” Referring to the rumours that 80% of the Greek people are not in favour of the Agreement, she noted, “The benefits will arise when implementing the Agreement in practice.”

With regard to Turkey’s provocativeness, she stated, “The Government, in the most emphatic manner and in the person of both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence, has stated its views on the Turkish issue and its provocative activities in the eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Cypriot EEZ. And it has stated its views by always pointing to the issue of compliance with the international law, the international treaties and the talks. Because the country’s strategic choice has always been peace and it always sought to engage the neighbouring country in this, without of course – under any circumstances – while maintaining its capability to deter.”

Sia Anagnostopoulou also mentioned that the Team of Experts who will deal with the issues of trademarks and commercial names will meet for the first time in Thessaloniki tomorrow.

The complete transcript of her speech:

ATHANASIA (SIA) ANAGNOSTOPOULOU (Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs): Madam President, dear colleagues, to begin with, let me apologise for my short delay in getting here. It was not due to an escape attempt, seeing that the Government is on a deviating course as per Mr Koumoutsakos, but certain talks had to take place regarding the issue that arose with the United Kingdom.

I would like to tell you that as of today – as well as tomorrow, which I will get to later – but also from now on, we are witnessing the real benefits of the Prespa Agreement. After spending months upon months talking about a Prespa Agreement that provides this, that and the other, at last the time has come to witness in practice that a country consists of its people, the local communities and everything they absolutely need. This is what we are discussing today.

This draft law and these agreements did not fall from the sky. On the contrary, I was immensely pressured by the local communities to introduce this statute before Easter. And while I had promised them, and I apologise for this, we did not make it, given that the legislative process takes time and we did not make it. It was a direct demand by the local communities.

It was said in here that border crossings could have opened up and other things could have happened based on the previous framework and without the Prespa Agreement. Unfortunately, no and I am adamant about this. Mr Koumoutsakos, the framework that governed our bilateral relations up until the ratification of the Prespa Agreement was the one that existed between the Hellenic Republic and the then Yugoslavia of 1959. We have opened up hundreds of border crossings with Bulgaria and Albania; none with North Macedonia. We were unable to renew and update the institutional framework that governed relations between the two countries. And you know why? It’s very simple. Never had a statute been introduced to the Greek Parliament concerning the two countries. Why? Because of the problem with the name.

There’s one; it’s the Interim Accord of 1995, which provides for opening a border crossing in Laimos in Article 19. It could not come to Prespa because no names are mentioned in the content of the Interim Accord. It was Part One and Part Two. It could not be introduced to Parliament. Only one statute has made it to Parliament, the Stability Agreement of North Macedonia, then known as FYROM, for the European Union. Absolutely nothing else. It couldn’t. So, we had a framework for bilateral relations from back in 1959. The people of Florina called out to the authorities in vain since 1967, when the border crossing in the area of Laimos was closed down. They yelled and sent hundreds of démarches to have the crossing opened. It could not be opened and it did not.

The Prespa Agreement untied the hands of both the Greek state and the Republic of North Macedonia. Therefore, the Prespa Agreement was necessary.

And let me make a second point because we are constantly saying “80% of the Greek people are not in favour.” Well, given that the implementation of the Agreement will demonstrate in practice exactly what this Agreement is all about, this is why there are all these reactions of the type “No, it was unnecessary,” etc. Do you want me to give you a simple example I told the Committee yesterday? The Pan-Macedonian Association of Canada was against the Prespa Agreement, as were most Macedonian associations of our expatriates abroad. Do you know which agreement they used to refute the arguments of other organisations of the North Macedonia diaspora who used Ancient Greek symbols, emblems, etc.? The Prespa Agreement, as it has started to resolve issues.

And because Mr Koumoutsakos posed a relevant question at the Committee yesterday, the Committee that has been appointed under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for trademarks and commercial names is meeting tomorrow for the first time. It is meeting in Thessaloniki for the first time and will discuss issues raised by entrepreneurs from both sides that remained unresolved up until the Prespa Agreement was signed.

I also want to talk about Laimos mainly, about the Prespes, because as I said in the beginning, a country is the people and the land where these people live, who want to grow in this land and don’t want to leave it. We are all very well aware of the fact that while in Europe these European areas started developing in 1958 – they are cross-border areas that lead to the development of local communities around the borders, favour the protection of the ecosystem, and the Prespes have a unique ecosystem, and promote cooperation and reconciliation, in Greece the Prespa Park was only established in 2000 or 2001 at the time of the Simitis administration, if I’m not mistaken. It was not able to develop as much as it should have because there was no border crossing.

I was delighted to receive European Committee's approval today for a study to develop the area of Prespes and – owing to the Agreement – this border crossing will be able to be developed. However, because you talked about pesticides, etc. and because I talked about the institutional framework in the beginning and you said “What are these committees?” and “It’s not provided for”, I have these committees right here. Meaning, I have the Agreements, as these were signed, and the articles where plant health, environmental protection, customs and the police are provided for, based on the EU legislation. Here they are. I believe they should have been handed to you along with the draft law. I don’t know if you have them, but if you don’t, here they are and they can be photocopied, so you can also have a look at the tasks that will be performed by these appointed committees.

With regard to funding, as mentioned in the draft law, it will come from European programmes. However, I want to be more specific. Some 4 million euros have already been secured for Laimos in Florina through the INTERREG Programme, which will get the projects going, and 40 million euros left over from Egnatia Odos for the area of Pella. Meanwhile, because the Mayor of Prespes and the Deputy Head of Western Macedonia visited my office, met with me and pressured me to introduce the statute for the border crossing before Easter, they told me that the Region would cover the funds needed for the project to proceed. Apart from everything else, it is a development project in both cases, for Pella and Florina.

I would like to conclude with an issue about Turkey, because Mr Koumoutsakos said something that I do not want to leave unanswered. We all agree that the Government, in the most emphatic manner and in the person of both the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defence, has stated its views on the Turkish issue and its provocative activities in the eastern Mediterranean and especially in the Cypriot EEZ. And it has stated its views by always pointing to the issue of compliance with the international law, the international treaties and the talks. Because the country’s strategic choice has always been peace and it always sought to engage the neighbouring country in this, without of course – under any circumstances – while maintaining its capability to deter.

However, there’s something I would honestly like to ask you, Mr Koumoutsakos: What exactly are you issuing statements and warnings about? For the country not to move forward? So, is this Government considered to lack responsibility or national responsibility? Every democratically elected government of this country – I believe we all agree to this – has the responsibility and power to enact laws and carry out the mandate given by the Greek people for issues regarding external policy and national matters. I hope you are not referring to issues you have been briefed on many times at the National Council on Foreign Policy, meaning if the country has the right to expand its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea or not, especially when it has held talks and reached an agreement with the neighbours concerned about the issue.
I believe – and I said it yesterday as well – that there should be no bidding in national matters.

In spite of all these, I’m delighted that, after 1967, we have managed at last to open a border crossing in Florina, between Laimos and Markova Noga, and in Pella – which had never opened before – between Promachoi and Majden.
Thank you very much.

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