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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis’ address in the context of the Parliamentary debate on the government’s policy statements (Athens, 21 July 2019)
Mr. President, fellow MPs,
Greece and the Greek people have shown, through painful sacrifices, that we want to be at the core of European integration. In our party, this DNA goes back to our very beginnings, because it was the historic figure Konstantinos Karamanlis who, against the tide of the times, brought our country into the European family, with the aim of giving it independence, consolidating democracy, and achieving economic development and, of course, social and economic progress.
What we are being called upon to do within the framework of Europe is to pick up the thread of growth. And to deepen our bilateral relations in the context of the institutions. Not to be the beggars of the European system, but to be those who come to the table with solutions, participating in the fruitful European dialogue. We withstood the ten years of the crisis to remain at the hard core of the European Union, and – as was clear in the European elections – the European Union itself withstood the forces of populism and scepticism.
Of course, now we have to move on to the next phase. And in the next phase we need to confront the problems and challenges that are ahead. One of the salient problems, a salient challenge, is the new Multiannual Financial Framework; in other words, the tool we will use to fund the Greek economy in the coming years. And we come to this debate prepared to claim as much as we can. Because Greece has suffered a very large reduction in its GDP. This has to be taken into account. The two policies that have traditionally been the core of the European Union must be kept active: the Cohesion Fund and the Common Agricultural Policy.
But beyond that, we believe that, on policies that are now on the table – at the centre of the table – such as policies for dealing with the refugee and migration crisis, we need to ask for more and more. We are sending a message: That Greece will now implement the community and national law on refugees and migrants, that Greece will stop being the country that doesn’t guard its borders or the country in which anyone who arrives will stay for long period.
And of course, what we are pursuing from our partners is not just economic support, but also political support. We are pursuing it and will pursue it in every context. Because we believe that the equal sharing of the burdens brought by these issues should take place in the framework of solidarity and in the framework of European cohesion. A new window of opportunity is opening: the creation of the European defence fund – which is expected to have a budget of €13 billion – and we have to pursue this funding in two contexts. First of all, in the context of our national position, our geographical position, the threats that exist to our national space. And on the other context is the need to strengthen our defence industry.
We don’t believe in a Europe of multiple speeds. This leads only to the rise of populism and nationalism. We believe in a Europe that moves ahead at a unified pace, implements common rules of law. And we believe in a Europe that opens prospects for its enlargement, especially in our Western Balkan neighbourhood. This is why we have always supported, and continue to support, Turkey’s European path, even if this path has been “frozen” because Turkey itself, which has shunned the principle of good neighbourly relations and failed to recognise a member state of the European Union, continuing in this vein through its conduct in Cyprus, and particularly in the statements it has made in recent days, insulting the memory of the thousands of victims of the invasion of Cyprus. We do not accept the results of this invasion. We will fight in all European and international fora for a solution to the Cyprus problem. And of course, we will support the Republic of Cyprus in its struggle to capitalise on its offshore wealth, securing its European course.
I also want to say a few words about the Prespa Agreement, because yesterday Mr. Tsipras and Mr. Katrougalos and various others -even its architects, including Mr. Kotzias, who is not an MP, and I wonder why the architects and key supporters of this agreement are not MPs today- and I think there is a big misunderstanding. When moving out of the prime minister’s office, certain people took their propaganda machine with them. And with regard to me, at least, they did not listen to the whole of my recent speech at the Economist Conference, where I clarified certain things.
I made it clear, first of all, that the Prespa Agreement is a bad agreement. And that New Democracy fought this agreement and did everything it could to keep it from being signed and ratified, precisely because we did not think it resolved the national issues in our national interest. But this agreement has been inherited by this government, together with all of the other problematic legacies from the Syriza government. Syriza-ANEL, Syriza-independents, Syriza-other elements. Just as you have left to us the commitments to large primary surpluses and the time bomb that is the Public Power Corporation (DEH), you left to us this bad agreement, which we have to work with, within the narrow margins for making its results much better. And there are two areas we need to work in: The first is economy; in other words the issue of the companies, the products we need to support. We have to impart the momentum needed to secure their authenticity on the European level. The second area is the issue of irredentism. And here we want to send a clear message: That we will constantly be monitoring the implementation of this agreement’s provisions, and even more so when our northern neighbour’s European path opens up. At every stage of its European course, we will be there to monitor things, because we want the Western Balkans to move towards Europe, but without lowering the bar on issues of irredentism or rule of law.
Ladies and gentlemen, the rule of law is not just an idea. It is the foundation on which our common European future will be built. And if today we have seen significant backsliding in the Visegrad countries with regard to their domestic implementation of the rule of law – the rule of law in the European sense, with independent institutions, an independent judiciary, a free press, independent functioning of parliament – we need to monitor the Western Balkans in the same way. And the path of European integration will be a long one.
I want to say outright, to all of our compatriots, that I and all of my colleagues in the government will work and do everything in our power on the international level, using all of our negotiating cards, to make the terms of these agreements – and I am referring in particular to the Prespa Agreement and the reality we will experience as a result of this agreement – as favourable as possible for our homeland and to resolve any outstanding issues that even today are damaging to our national interests.
So, don’t resort to saying we are co-signing the Prespa Agreement. We inherited it. We will try, within the narrow framework it describes, to improve the reality it creates, and we will do this diligently, through hard work, through international alliances, and without jeopardising our country’s position. Because, any other policy would mean our having relinquished our key weapon, our right to veto Skopje’s accession to NATO, and it would also mean our having lost the interim accord, which provided for the way in which this country is represented in international organizations. We stated this clearly to the Greek people before the elections.
We received the consent of the Greek people and the people of Macedonia on this – and I say this as a descendent of Macedonians. We are certain that by securing our historical heritage, by securing the authenticity of the Greek products from Macedonia, supporting the Greek companies whose products bear the name Macedonia, and, of course, monitoring our northern neighbour’s course in the EU we will be able improve the results of this bad agreement so that it benefits Greek citizens, national interests and Greek enterprises.