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Joint press conference following the BSEC Ministerial (Thessaloniki, 26 November 2010)

Friday, 26 November 2010

Mr. Droutsas: I would just like to say a few words first, if I may. The Thessaloniki Ministerial brings to a close the Greece BSEC Chairmanship, which began on 1 June of this year.

As you will remember from the presentation we made in June, in Athens, when launched our Chairmanship we set as our main priority the promotion of a model for green development for the BSEC and its member states, with the slogan “Black Sea Turns Green”.

Today, six months later, I can say that the Greek Chairmanship is ending in success. First of all, we have in our hands a joint statement from all of the Ministers of the BSEC member states, and in this joint statement, all of the Ministers acknowledge that the Black Sea region is susceptible to climate change.

We agree to make joint efforts to confront climate change, with emphasis on sustainable development plans that promote innovation and green entrepreneurship.

This statement will be submitted by Greece – on behalf of the BSEC and its member states – at the UN climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, next month.

During the Greek Chairmanship, there were a number of meetings of various working groups; meetings through which we enriched the sectors of cooperation between member states. We also organized what I dare say were two very successful ministerials in the sectors of energy and tourism, and I want to stress that the BSEC is first and foremost and economic organization that lays great emphasis on development and entrepreneurship.

Green development, which is the focus of the Greek Chairmanship, is opening new roads to the promotion on business actions and synergies.

In light of this, the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) – under the auspices of the Foreign Ministry – is organizing a business forum today, in tandem with the BSEC Ministerial, with a focus on the various aspects of green development and entrepreneurship. And the extensive participation of enterprises from Greece and all the BSEC member states is proof, I think, of the interest that exists.

I would like to mention something here that I mentioned earlier in the welcome speech I had the honor of giving at the business forum. In Classical times, the Black Sea was a unified economic space; a space where trade in products and ideas flourished. The wealth produced by people through these exchanges was intellectual as well as material, and this is precisely our vision for the BSEC today.

Finally, I would like to wish the upcoming Romanian Chairmanship strength and good luck. It can depend on our support, and allow me to close with the necessary expressions of gratitude – real gratitude – that come from the bottom of my heart; gratitude to the participating Ministers, the heads of delegations, to the representatives of BSEC observers for their truly constructive participation in the work of the Greek Chairmanship.

And of course, warm thanks to all of the Foreign Ministry personnel – particularly those of the Economic Relations Directorate and the Protocol Department, as well as the Secretariat General for Information, for the excellent organization of the Ministerial.

And, finally, allow me t giver the floor, with warm thanks, to Deputy Foreign Minister Spyros Kouvelis, who was the one who really carried the full weight of the Greek BSEC Chairmanship. I thank him once again, and, before we hand on the Chairmanship to Romania, I would ask Mr. Kouvelis to say a few words.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Kouvelis: Thank you very much, Dimitris, for your kind words and for this opportunity to say a few things in marking the end of Greece’s BSEC Chairmanship.

I’ll start by saying that the slogan we presented some months ago when we assumed the Chairmanship – “Black Sea Turns Green” – proved to be a successful effort, mainly because it garnered the support and efforts of all the countries of the Black Sea.

Within this framework, the Greek Chairmanship promoted all of the sectoral working groups of the BSEC that focus on energy, the environment, SMEs, transport, etc., and ensured that the momentum gained on this basis will remain with the BSEC agenda after the Greek Chairmanship ends.

The milestone, I might say, of the Greek Chairmanship, was the preparation of this joint statement on combating climate change – the Thessaloniki statement, which was today a really important moment that was applauded by everyone, as it was approved by the BSEC Council of Foreign Ministers.

Let me say here that a few days ago, when we were discussing this issue in an open debate, a representative of an NGO said something to me that impressed me. He said that with this statement we are essentially opening the door to a new future for the Black Sea. And I think that with the help of the NGOs we are realizing this, and that is why I believe that we are making a serious mark on the course of the Black Sea through the Greek Chairmanship.

This declaration sets out the common will of the BSEC member states to work together to promote green development, and it will of course be submitted by our country – as the Chairmanship – at the upcoming UN climate change conference.

I will also refer very briefly to the importance of the business forum taking place today, in collaboration with the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises and the Association of Exporters of Northern Greece, because it gives us the opportunity to formulate and give substance and content to this goal of a new development policy.

It is enterprises, it is citizens, it is people who give momentum to this course that can be followed by the Black Sea region and, together with these, our country, I would say.

Finally, I want to mention the work done by BSEC-affiliates: the Black Sea Organization, the International Center for Black Sea Studies (ICBSS), which is the organization’s think tank, which gave us yet another success a few days ago, when Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Achim Steiner – who is also the executive director of the UNEP – was in Athens.

He talked to the Hellenic Parliament in an excellent ICBSS event about how green development is key to a region like the Black Sea. And the other affiliates: the Business Council, the Black Sea Trade and Development Bank, and, of course, the cooperation of the parliamentary members of the Black Sea, which is of great importance for bringing citizens closer.

I will close by mentioning two very important events that were held during the Greek Chairmanship: The meeting of BSEC Energy Ministers, which took place in Nafplio, on 12 October. This provided the outline of the initiative for the development of green energy, a subject that I was happy to hear was of great concern to the upcoming Romanian Chairmanship as well. And we also had a meeting of Tourism Ministers in Athens, on 15 November, where we discussed the potential for simplifying visa regimes and promoting regional cooperation.

Finally the BSEC Hellenic Investment Fund, which is funded by our country, has provided €500,000 for the funding of pilot programmes that will create this entrepreneurship. Right now we are looking at promoting just such types of proposals.

In closing, I would like to thank, first of all, the countries participating in the BSEC for the excellent cooperation we had throughout this time, during the Greek Chairmanship, the Secretariat and the affiliated organizations.

And as a last word, I would like to express my best wishes for the Romanian Chairmanship and my certainty that we will have a very good Romanian Chairmanship, which I am glad is following up the course of sustainable development. And on a personal level I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to Dimitris Droutsas, because although his role in this Chairmanship wasn’t highly visible, I must say that you feel very much like a deputy minister when the Minister supports you, and this is what Dimitris did during the Greek Chairmanship, and I was really moved. Thank you very much.

Mr. Droutsas
: Thank you very much, Spyros. I would now like to give the floor to the incoming Romanian Presidency and Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi. Teodor.

Mr. Baconschi: Thank you very much, dear Dimitris. As the incoming chairman in office of the BSEC, I would like to commend the current Hellenic chairmanship for the excellent organisation and achievements of this twenty-third meeting of our ministerial council.

Together with Minister Droutsas, we have addressed the participants at the Black Sea Business Forum, emphasising the need for their efforts in the wider Black Sea region, to complement ours.

We had consistent discussions and have reviewed the state of cooperation, in the main field of cooperation among BSEC member states.

We also discussed the signing of an MOU on cooperation in science and technology with the US. We have extended the observer or partnership for dialogue status with a series of states and organisations, and also welcomed a new partner for dialogue, the Republic of Korea. I welcome their acceptance, and I express my belief that cooperation will be beneficial for both sides.

It gives me great pleasure to acknowledge the growing interest for BSEC in other regions of the world.

We also examined the extended activities of the BSEC affiliated bodies. I would like to point out the importance of this cross-link cooperation.

We have adopted the mid-year on implementation of the 2010 BSEC budget, and have a substantive exchange on development funds, concrete projects and other ways to improve the efficiency of the organisation.

A concrete contribution of our organisation is represented by the adoption of the Joint Declaration on Combating Climate Change in the Wider Black Sea Region.

Last but not of least importance, we have tackled the BSEC-EU interaction. In our view, the Union is a natural partner for BSEC, and a growing interaction between the two will be beneficial for all BSEC member states.

I would like to point out that, aside from the three EU member states, our organisation includes states with a special relationship with the EU, candidate and potential candidate countries, as well as states included in the Eastern Partnership. We encourage the constructive contribution of all our BSEC partners to this interaction, and we look forward to an equally proactive stance from the side of the Commission.

Briefly, turning now to the incoming Romanian chairmanship, let me share the motto chosen to guide our activity: Building Sustainability, Enhanced Commitments. This motto mirrors the acronym of the BSEC and spells out our strong commitment to the organisation and its activities and to continue a wide consensus-based process of reflection regarding the perspectives of our organisation.

I have previously emphasised the concept of sustainability and the need to continue the efforts of previous chairmanships. Effectiveness means we will try to imprint a more project-oriented approach of the BSEC and, by increased commitments we understand to undertake common actions designed to give us a better rate of success on this purpose than act individually.

This will be the third time Romania will have the great honour and responsibility to lead the BSEC since it has become a fully fledged organisation. I hope that all our partners will support us in building further on BSEC’s economic mission and mandate, focusing on increasing trade and investments at regional level.

Given the importance and role of BSEC in regional cooperation, we also believe that next year might provide a good opportunity to start reflecting, together with all the BSEC member states, about the perspective of the organisation and its future strategic objectives.

Romania is keen on strengthening the democratic and European path of its Eastern neighbourhood, both states sharing the same language, culture and history. In this context, Romania, as an EU member state, will support all democratically elected governments, which promote consistently not only at the rhetorical level the necessary reforms in order to accelerate the European integration objective.

Just a few words, lastly, on the BSEC budget. We have followed with concern the financial situation of the BSEC PERMIS. We have also acknowledged the efforts made by the host country to support a proper functioning of the Secretariat in 2010, and hope that a legal solution in the case of the former accountant will be decided soon.

As in the incoming chairmanship, we appeal to the BSEC member states to pay their mandatory annual contribution for next year in advance, and based on the commitments made by some of my colleagues during this meeting, we believe that conditions will be created in order to ensure the smooth operation of the organisation during our chairmanship and beyond.

Under our mandate we will continue considering all necessary precautionary measures, including those of legal natures, in order to avoid such regrettable situations in the future. Thank you.

Mr. Droutsas: Thank you, Teodor. And since we are here as a troika, may I ask the previous BSEC chairmanship in office, Bulgaria, to say a few words. Deputy Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, Dimitar Tsanchev – Dimitar, the floor is yours.

Mr. Tsanchev: Thank you, Mr. Minister. Ministers, dear colleagues, I’ll be very brief. I would like to thank the Greek chairmanship in office for its warm hospitality, to commend its efforts that were concentrated on the green element. These efforts were crowned with a very good result, the Joint Declaration on Combating Climate Change in the Wider Black Sea Area. This joint declaration both reflects the ability of the organisation to take common positions on global and regional issues, and represents a valuable contribution to the forthcoming Cancun conference on climate change.

I would like to note with satisfaction the continuity that existed between our two chairmanships in office, and to express our confidence that the next Romanian chairmanship in office, concentrated on the motto of sustainability, will be as successful as the Greek one. I would like to wish the Romanian colleagues that their efforts are crowned with the same positive results, and to assure them that we will be supporting them and be a responsible member of our organisation, as we have been until now. Thank you once again.

Mr. Droutsas:  Thank you very much, and may I finally give the floor to the Secretary General of BSEC PERMIS, Ambassador Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos.

Mr. Chrysanthopoulos: Thank you Mr. Minister. It was a very good Chairmanship, which in point of fact has not ended yet. Don’t think that you have handed everything over. We still have a month and a few days, and you have a lot of work in Cancun.

Yes, today’s meeting was very important, mainly, as the Ministers stressed, because of the statement on combating climate change. And this statement is important for two reasons: first, it is a small contribution from the BSEC to the salvation of our planet and its passengers, mankind.

Second, it is the first BSEC contribution to the UN, a substantial contribution that will be made through the Greek Chairmanship. This has not happened before, and I stress the importance of this.

Other issues we focused on and that were not mentioned earlier include the memorandum that was signed with the U.S. – the Romanian Foreign Minister mentioned it. It is a memorandum of scientific and technological cooperation that will allow for the disbursal of more U.S. money to the countries of the BSEC, through this agreement.

Of course, we also discussed EU issues, where the EU needs to make something of a greater effort than it has to date in order to strengthen relations with the BSEC. And another agreement with another decision taken today was the extension of BSEC passage permits for trucks. This is a prototype plan we are implementing. We give the seven participating states BSEC permits which essentially replace the bilateral permits for the participating states and allow a truck to leave Ankara, for instance, and cross the countries of the BSEC with one permit instead of 7.

And, of course, for me it will be the second Romanian Chairmanship. During the first, a very important step was take for the BSEC – BSEC reforms were set in motion and resulted in what we saw today. What started in 2006 culminated today in our having the Committee of high-level officials, which was carried out swiftly, effectively – and, in general, since the reforms were put in motion, the BSEC has functioned much better than before.

I would like to thank the Greek Chairmanship for hosting a perfect Chairmanship, with efficiency that allowed the BSEC to become visible in the world. Thank you very much.

Mr. Droutsas: Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador. Any questions?

Journalist: I want to ask this: Whether the Greek Chairmanship has in mind some case that might begin immediately for regional cooperation with the aim of promoting green development, renewable energy sources, etc.

And a question for Mr. Droutsas. You came under attack from Mr. Samaras today for the initiative for a Summit Meeting with Turkey. It’s another issue, of course, but as he said it publicly, you might want to reply.

Mr. Kouvelis: Regarding the issue of regional cooperation and the implementation of these commitment, as I said earlier, Greece has in any case created the Hellenic Development Fund to fund the launching of these efforts.

I think there is great scope for such cooperation, as we have started on a bilateral level with a number of countries, and this cooperation, including a number of programmes that broaden the potential for green development in the region. We are starting gradually and getting into the implementation of projects.

In this regard, I must say that today the Black Sea Development and Investment Bank announced today that it increased, that it essentially upgraded its credit abilities, and this is a very important tool, precisely to enable it to fund infrastructure projects.

And I will finish this brief reply by mentioning that in parallel with the local forces in the Black Sea region, there is exceptional interest from third parties interested in participating in this process. These include the U.S., and Japan sent a representative from Tokyo to today’s meeting. And there are other countries, like Korea, which joined the BSEC observer countries today and want to participate in these projects.

So we have opened the way, and I think that we will see results very soon.

Mr. Droutsas: I will answer you very briefly, though I would rather not mix domestic issues with the BSEC topics were are here to discuss. You said I came under attack from the head of the main opposition party. Personally, I would prefer us not to use such terms, particularly in regard to foreign policy.

I am always a man of dialogue. It is well known that the government is exercising a foreign policy distinguished by its respect for longstanding positions that Greece has. We are exercising a foreign policy with new thoughts and ideas. We are open to dialogue, and you can be sure that every new though, every new idea, will be discussed in Parliament and the National Council on Foreign Policy. This is our approach, and you can be sure that the foreign policy being exercised by this government is guided by the interests – the defence and promotion of Greece’s interests.

: I noted from the opening of the Ministerial and from Mr. Chrysanthopoulos, who talked about a BSEC member state that had not paid its dues, as well as the note made by the Romanian Minister that the BSEC can take legal action in such cases. I sensed some concern regarding the organization’s finances. Is something going on?

Mr. Chrysanthopoulos: We had the case, due to the economic crisis affecting the region, of a member state that said it couldn’t pay the obligatory contribution paid by every member state -- €250,000. This created something of an operational problem, because the budget uses all of the member-state contributions, which we were able to avoid through savings the Secretariat made in its operation.

That is essentially the main issue we had, and it has been resolved, in the sense that we will make it through to the end of the year, and next year there will be quick deposits from the other member states. Of course, if other member states start not paying, then of course we will have an operation problem. Thank you.

Journalist: I would like a clarification: what is the total budget. Whether each member state pays the same amount. Which state had trouble paying its dues?

And I would also like to ask whether the fund created by the Greek Chairmanship, which has €500,000 – whether there are specific proposals for funding through this fund.

And I would also like you to tell me the extent to which Black Sea Turns Green was fleshed out in the sectors of energy or tourism.

And regarding the interest expressed by the U.S. and Korea – it the interest in specific projects? Thank you.

Mr. Kouvelis: Allow me to start with a few words about the Hellenic Development Fund. It is funded by the Greek state. The Hellenic Development Fund was founded and went into operation last year, in 2010, for which it had this €500,000 in funding.

The fund operates on the basis of call for proposals. A call for proposals was initiated last year, and the submission of proposals is by thematic area: green energy, renewable energy sources, making buildings energy efficient, and other units of energy use.

This call for proposals has produced 5 or 6 proposals that are being evaluated right now. The intervention of the Greek state, as the source of funds, was that it wants to ensure the smooth implementation of all the programmes approved, as well as the best value for money.

That is why we are in open communication – not on the evaluation, but regarding the manner of operation – with the Director of the Hellenic Development Fund, that that what is done will really have added value for the development work being done by Greece.

These are proposals that are submitted – mainly in cooperation – by varies agencies from more that one country, and this is a measure of success, I think: that it is a platform for cooperation between Black Sea countries.

The second thing you say – whether this vision of a turn towards green development is being fleshed out. I would say that at this time we have the bones. I’m kidding. At the time we have the backbone for proceeding with all of these collaborations. We have opened the energy cooperation issues the Romanian Minister and others who have taken the floor today have referred to.

We have transport issues. We have water resource and utilization issues. Management of liquid waste so that we can protect the marine environment.

And on precisely this basis, there is also the though of moving ahead with the next call for proposals across a broader scope. But the same thing is being done by the other affiliated organizations – the ICBSS, the Black Sea Organization – which provide know-how and directions in which we can move.

And in cooperation with the Business Council and the Investment Bank, so that specific projects can move ahead.

I think the Secretary General is competent on budget issues.

Mr. Chrysanthopoulos: Thank you Mr. Deputy Minister. We have three categories of countries. The four large countries, which give about €270,000; the mid-sized category, which give about €50,000; and a third category of €30,000.

I don’t want to tell you which of the large countries has not paid. One did not contribute for the reasons I explained. I hope it will be able to deposit the money in the near future. It wasn’t Greece. I can assure you of that.

Journalist: Which countries are in that group?

Mr. Chrysanthopoulos: Now this is like a game. Greece, Turkey, Romania and Ukraine.

With regard to the U.S., this agreement opens many prospects for cooperation. To date, we have done two seminars that were co-funded by the U.S. One was on environmental protection, and that took place two years ago. The other was a seminar on terrorism – fighting terrorism – and that took place in Istanbul. Both were successes.

But the U.S. could give money only through the State Department. This agreement allows other Departments and Agencies in the U.S. to participate in the funding of events or projects – or even investment activities. I think that covers it. Thank you.

Mr. Droutsas: Thank you very much.