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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis’ address to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs (09/10/2019)

Wednesday, 09 October 2019

Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis’ address to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs (09/10/2019)“Ladies and Gentlemen,

From 1974 until today, a precious bedrock has been created in the field of foreign policy and security and defence policy. These attainments were achieved mainly by the two most important figures who played a role in this field: Konstantinos Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou, who together created the post-junta bedrock of our foreign policy.

Andreas Papandreou’s foreign policy choices in the bipolar world that existed at that time faithfully followed the core of all the strategic choices that had been made by Konstantinos Karamanlis.

His final choices realised the doctrine of “We belong to the West”, not only in the sphere of the European Union and European integration, but also in the sphere of NATO – in other words, European and Euroatlantic security policy.

The post-junta attainments concern the country’s critical and firm strategic choices:

Our first choice, a choice that began very early on, started in the early 1950s, right after the civil war, in the heart of the Cold War, and was of course our joining and remaining in NATO. But in the public debate, our collective understanding of things, we were slow to accept the importance of this choice.

The second choice was the Greek-American relationship, within which – from the perspective of social attitudes and public rhetoric, and with impressive ease – we have gone from zenith to nadir and back again. But the result is that these relations are firm, they are strategic, they are improving, and of course now the new agreement we signed with the U.S. is a key step in our effort to project our country’s strategic weight and to gain the maximum national benefits for security in the wider region.
The third constant is the strategy of avoiding tension with Turkey and the policy of strengthening the Armed Forces so that they are a plausible deterrent to the Turkish threat.

The fourth constant is the choice to respect international law in every aspect of our foreign policy.

The fifth constant is that Greece is always the country seeking stability in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. Our fundamental choice is peace, security and stability in the wider region, the non-contestation of existing borders. We chose to try to border on countries that belong to the European family. This is why we were the first to support – and why we continue to support – the European perspectives of the Balkan countries and Turkey.

The sixth constant is our choice to have friendly or even privileged relations with Russia – relations that we of course have without shedding our capacity as a member state of the European Union and NATO.

The seventh constant is the preservation of our Mediterranean dimension, in relation to the Balkan element. The delimitation of maritime zones with all of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean is a priority of our foreign policy.

Our eighth constant is our good relations with the Arab world. A tangible result of this strategy is our solid relationship with Egypt.

This takes us to our ninth and newest constant, which is our relations with Israel.  This led us to the choice of the Greece-Cyprus-Israel and Greece-Cyprus-Egypt trilateral cooperation schemes.

The tenth strategic choice is the conscious and persistent opening up of our relations with China, which really is due to a private initiative on the part of Greek shipping, but which is now strategic in nature following the agreement with Cosco on the Port of Piraeus.

Finally, the eleventh and perhaps most important strategic choice is our accession to the EU and our participation in the endeavour of European unification.  Our joining the European Union was the most strategic choice, mainly for political reasons.

In recent years, various challenges have cast their shadows across Greece and Europe. The economic crisis, the migration crisis, terrorism, Brexit, to name just a few. Unfortunately, these challenges served as a pretext for the rise of populist and extremist voices from across the ideological spectrum that claimed we could overcome these challenges through isolation. This is a naive, irresponsible and dangerous approach.

After ten years of crisis, Greece is returning more actively to European Union affairs. And it is returning dynamically, with vision, faith and an appetite for work. It is returning to a European Union that is also turning a new page. A Union that, following the economic crisis, is changing its agenda, leaving behind the debates over rescue packages and choosing to look ahead, building a new geopolitical pole.
In successive national and European elections, our voters have sent a loud message that political leaderships cannot continue with the same policies and that, at long last, the time has come to shun populism and extremist voices.

They have shown that they want a European Union that is more effective and stronger, more secure and more socially just. In other words, they want more Europe, a green Europe, a Union in which no citizen, no social group or geographical region is left behind, excluded from growth.

Today, Europe is being called upon to meet serious challenges that will be discussed at the upcoming European Council meeting:

- enlargement of the EU in the Balkans,
- the Union’s long-term economic planning, with the adoption of the new Multiannual Financial Framework,
- the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, a key member state, from the Union,
- the protection of external borders.
With regard to Enlargement Policy, Greece has always supported the European Enlargement Policy in the Western Balkans, believing it is a powerful means for achieving peace, stability and prosperity for the wider region.

However, Greece's support for the European perspectives of the countries of the Western Balkans is intrinsically linked to compliance with strong conditionality and with the principle of own performance of the candidate countries. Because the Albanian national element is scattered throughout the whole region, decoupling and the launching of negotiations with only one candidate country may, rather than deepening stability, bring about a return of destabilisation on our northern borders. This is why our country believes that the decision on the opening of negotiations should be taken at the same time for both countries (coupling), avoiding the decoupling of the candidates.

Another important issue that will be discussed at the General Affairs Council next week and at the October meeting of the European Council is the Multiannual Financial Framework. The EU Financial Framework – in other words, the seven-year programme (2012-2027) of the EU’s revenues and spending – is obviously a very critical issue, as its contents will determine whether the Union can implement the policies and actions deemed necessary for the achievement of the common goals. A central Greek priority is the safeguarding in the new budget of the traditional policies; that is, the Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy. Maintaining spending on these two policies at about the current levels is seen as vital.

In this direction, the government is asking that special care be taken with regard to member states impacted by the very serious economic crisis, and especially Greece, which was hit harder than any other member state, losing 25% of its GDP.  The aim is for this provision, in fiscal terms, to lead to the appropriate level of funding to be provided to Greece, increasing the amount of the relevant funding.  It’s worth mentioning here that the height of the EU Budget will be impacted significantly by Brexit.

Brexit has now become part of our daily lives, as the rapid developments affect us all. A no-deal Brexit means that on 1 November 2019, Great Britain will no longer be a member of the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement will not be implemented and there will be no alternative trade agreement between the EU and the UK. On a national level, an interministerial plan has been implemented very effectively by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with an action plan with a clear timeline of actions for timely preparation of Greece’s public administration for the no-deal scenario.

Very soon, we will be submitting a new omnibus law with the individual actions and regulations for timely and effective handling of the complex challenge that is Brexit.

Part of the legislation is the operational Action Plan with 128 pending actions that must be carried out by Ministries and Authorities, and implementation of this is in an advanced stage. At the same time we are working for the post-Brexit preservation and deepening of our longstanding and historical relations with Great Britain.

Another important issue that will be on the agenda for the upcoming summit meeting of the European Council on 17 and 18 October is Turkey’s stance with regard to its violations of international law in the maritime zones of the Republic of Cyprus and with regard to the refugee issue.    

Regarding Turkey’s actions within the maritime zones of the Republic of Cyprus, it is self-evident that Greece will support Cyprus in the relevant debate if Cyprus pursues more targeted measures/sanctions against Turkey. 

With regard to the refugee/migration issue, Greece believes that Turkey needs to do more to restrict the flows that have increased dramatically in recent months.  Europe needs to act collectively to deal with the migration issue, based on the principles of solidarity and burden-sharing, providing all manner of assistance to countries that are initial points of entry.  Our country is also prepared to contribute more effectively to the implementation of the Joint Declaration, accelerating the rate of returns.