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Excerpts from Foreign Minister Droutsas’s press conference with Greek correspondents in London

Thursday, 17 February 2011

· “I saw UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, as well as Minister of State for European and NATO Affairs David Lidington. I met yesterday with opposition leader Edward Miliband, as well as with shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander. I must say that all of the talks were very good and took place in a warm climate.”

[On developments in the Middle East and North Africa]

· “As you know, Greece – and we have stressed this often – is part of the region. It is our immediate neighbourhood. So we have a special interest – and responsibility, I would say – to our neighbours.”

· “Mr. Hague visited Tunisia very recently, and he briefed me on developments there, as he sees them. We agreed that it is a long process of change towards a real Democracy. This is the will of the people, as expressed in recent days and weeks. I also discussed with Mr. Hague a thought that Greece has: How could Greece contribute even more, and particularly in the direction of this transition? That is, how can we help these countries become real democracies, which means these political forces that appear to be transforming into political parties that can play a role in a real democratic system?”

· “Here we have formulated this thought, and we will see how we can act on it: Greece is the birthplace of Democracy, and we have to use this term and this symbolism a little more. The thought is for us to found in Greece a center – let’s say, a Center for Democracy – that will be aimed at contributing to training new politicians that will emerge from this process now. We want to see how we can help to train these new political movements that will evolve into political parties. It’s a thought – an idea we are looking at. I had the opportunity to discuss it with Mr. Hague. And there is some little symbolism here, as well, as we both noted. Greece is the birthplace of Democracy, and Britain had the first Parliament. So, there is common symbolism here. We’ll see how we can realize this thought and work closely together on this.”

· “You will be aware that – along with some other Mediterranean countries – we have asked Lady Ashton for an emergency meeting of Foreign Ministers on the developments in the Middle East. The agreement is – and for practical reasons – to have a Foreign Ministers’ dinner in Brussels on Sunday, dedicated to the developments in Egypt and other countries in the region. We will continue our discussions here. I will have the opportunity to discuss this thought with my other colleagues in the EU to see – when we draw up a package of support measures from the EU – how we can find the right mode of collaboration.”

[On EU enlargement in the Western Balkans]

· “Beyond the fact that it is a top priority and strategic goal of Greece to promote the European accession course of the Western Balkans, we ascertained that Britain shares this goal. I had the opportunity to brief Mr. Hague on the next initiative Greece wants to take in this direction: You know that about a year and a half ago – right after we entered office – we presented our Agenda 2014 for the Western Balkans, with the aim of creating fresh momentum for the idea of further EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. And this is because it was our impression that the momentum created by the 2003 Thessaloniki Agenda had been lost. Our first goal was to revitalize this dynamic. I think that we succeeded in doing this with Agenda 2014.”

· “Now we are going to a further stage – the next phase in our activities. Our goal is to convene – during Greece’s next EU presidency, in 2014 – an EU-Western Balkans Summit, like the one we had it Thessaloniki in 2003, with the participation of all the leaders of the Western Balkans. If this proves feasible – and we have time ahead of us to work on this, for the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans to prepare adequately – our goal is to agree at this Summit Meeting on a specific target-date for the accession of the countries of the Western Balkans, which will impart fresh and serious momentum to these efforts. And I can say that the UK side agreed with this thought, and, as we said, we will continue our cooperation on this issue through the Council.”

[On EU-Turkish relations]

· “Everyone knows that if Turkey does not meet its obligations to the European Union – to all of the states of the European Union – at some point the accession negotiation process will break down. As you know, there aren’t that many chapters left that are currently available for opening for negotiation.”

· “As you know, Greece’s position is clear on this: Turkey needs to do what it has to do to meet the obligations it has undertaken. But I want to stress that Greece remains a supporter of Turkey’s accession course. We believe that it is in Greece’s interest – and I think the political leadership of the Republic of Cyprus share this feeling: that Turkey’s accession course is in the interest of the Republic of Cyprus and the efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue.”

· “But Turkey is certainly running out of elbow room. In this direction, and in this context, I also discussed with Mr. Hague the idea that we expressed a short time ago: that sometime soon there needs to be a serious discussion – again, within the framework of the European Union – on the issue of the European Union’s relations with Turkey.”

[On developments in the Cyprus issue]

· “As you know, before I came to London, I visited Cyprus and had a long working meeting with Mr. Christofias, with Foreign Minister Kyprianou, and with all of the leaders of the political parties. As I said in Cyprus, the aim of my visit to Cyprus was to look jointly at the recent developments and to prepare our next moves together.”

· “We all observed – and I stressed this in my talks here in London – that there is a tendency among certain international leaders to gloss over certain positions expressed by the Turkish Cypriot side – Mr. Eroglu, specifically. Meanwhile, the constructive stance maintained by the Greek Cypriot side and President Christofias is taken for granted; it is a given.”

· “I stressed that what we want to see is for everyone to look at things objectively; not to gloss things over or take a simplistic view. The details are not easy. We want to see precisely this stance from everyone, so that we can see a substantial continuation of the efforts being made in this process of resolving the Cyprus issue. A process – and I had the opportunity to stress this – a process that has been agreed upon. And based on this process, President Christofias and Mr. Talat agreed in the past that this basis must be maintained and respected by everyone if we are to see substantial progress in the talks from here on in.”

[In reply to a question on the possible increase in migration flows as a result of developments in North Africa]

· “It is well known that on the matter of illegal migration, Greece has reached its limit and may already have gone beyond that limit.”

· “Right now, Italy is dealing with the matter of the flow of migrants from Tunisia. I want to stress that Greece has not had a problem yet. We are simply saying – preemptively, and we said this from the outset of these developments in the Arab world, and particularly in Egypt. We addressed the EU directly and stressed that this needs our attention. If these developments were such as to lead to major migration flows, the European Union as a whole would have to handle it. No country – and certainly not Greece – can shoulder the weight from a possible rush in migration.”

[On the meeting with the Secretary General of the IMO, Mr. Mitropoulos]

· “I met with Secretary General Mitropoulos and representatives of Greek shipping. The main topic of discussion was piracy, the outbreak of which – particularly in Somalia – concerns both the IMO and Greek ship owners.”

· “I also discussed this issue with Mr. Hague, who conveyed to me the particular sensitivity of the UK on this issue. We agreed to take a joint initiative to hold a meeting of experts from Greece and the UK so that they can look at solutions for dealing with piracy.”

· “We are taking this issue to the EU. In fact, in a letter I sent to Lady Ashton today, I noted the problem and asked that it be put on the EU agenda so that we can look at measures we can take to deal with it. It is obvious that piracy cannot be dealt with by an initiative from two countries. We need comprehensive action from the international community. There will be close Greek-UK cooperation in this direction.”