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Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis meets with Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Affairs Aleš Chmelař (Prague, 4 November 2019)
Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis met with the Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Affairs, Aleš Chmelař, during his visit to Prague on the occasion os the Friends of Cohesion Summit.
During the meeting, they discussed the new European budget, Brexit, the refugee issue and EU enlargement in the Western Balkans. The Czech Deputy Minister underscored that bilateral cooperation on all levels, and mainly the economy, can be bolstered with the new Greek government. Mr. Varvitsiotis stressed that, with the election of the new government, Greece has changed its policy on the migration issue, underscoring clearly and in all directions that “we do not have open borders.”
The Greek Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs stated, among other things, that the Friends of Cohesion Summit will send a message that Cohesion policies cannot be considered obsolete, as the goal of these policies has yet to be achieved. “Cohesion policy makes citizens believe in Europe and changes their daily lives,” he noted, adding that a meeting has been scheduled with the diplomatic representations of the Visegrad countries, which will lead to the development of a fruitful dialogue. Similarly, the Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs stressed that there can be no discrimination between traditional and newer policies in Europe. The meeting ascertained a convergence of views between the two sides on the allocation of funding, as they agreed that funding for Cohesion policies must, at the very least, be maintained at current levels.
Regarding the issue of asylum and the Union’s migration policy, Mr. Varvitsiotis argued that it is necessary to increase border guarding and adopt a common European asylum policy, as this problem cannot be allowed to disproportionately burden front-line countries. He also underscored the necessity of the common policy on returns, noting that Turkey is taking advantage of migration flows for its own ends. “We cannot handle the migration issue effectively if we restrict ourselves to Greece and Italy. Europe must be united in order to manage this major problem,” Mr. Varvitsiotis stressed to his interlocutor, asking for proposals for managing the increased migration flows.
On the same topic, the Czech Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs argued that “we cannot send the message that Europe is an attractive destination that has structures and mechanisms for hosting migrants. We have to address the countries of origin,” he noted, adding that stricter controls are necessary on the other side of European borders. Despite a difference of opinion on the asylum issue, Mr. Varvitsiotis highlighted that there is ground for the adoption of common policies.
There was a discussion of FRONTEX, during which both agreed that FRONTEX can be made more effective, both on land and at sea.
Finally, discussing enlargement, Mr. Varvitsiotis stressed that the goal for Greece is the coupled accession of Western Balkan countries to the EU, as Greece will, for the first time, have EU member states on all of its northern borders. There was also a convergence of views on this matter, as the Czech Deputy Minister expressed his favourable view of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.
“The accession process stabilises the region and strengthens the rule of law and institutions in the countries pursuing accession,” Mr. Varvitsiotis stressed. “We want to have good neighbourly relations with these countries, but we must be strict about their meeting the criteria for accession,” he concluded.