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Foreign Minister Droutsas’s Economist Conference speech

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Foreign Minister Droutsas’s Economist Conference speech “The Foreign Policy Agenda in view of the current developments in the region Middle East and North Africa Southeast Europe and Eastern Mediterranean”

Dear Colleagues,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Distinguished Guests,

From a Foreign Minister's point of view - at least as a proposition - our topic: "Driving the foreign policy agenda in view of the current developments in the region", seems to come back on itself; if this topic were a foreign minister's dog, it would be chasing its tail.

To put it another way, "Current developments" are our daily bread; foreign policy is the entire table.

I say this because there is often a tendency to get caught up in current developments and lose sight of the overall picture.

And it is exactly this - the overall picture - that is the driving force behind our foreign policy agenda.

In this regard, we have to look beyond the events taking place in real time.

Even though I fully understand the impact that globalized news networks are having on the way we view the world, I don't think we should allow a "breaking news" mentality to be the determining factor in the shaping of our foreign policy.

We also have to look at the day after and at the realities that will take shape on the ground when the dust settles.

This is particularly true for the Middle East and North Africa.

But in spite of the fluidity of the situation on the ground in some of the countries of this region - the focus being, of course, on Libya - the international community is in broad agreement as to what we would like to see emerge once the dust has settled:

stable, prosperous societies, wherein there is respect for human rights and the rule of law and where the aspirations of the peoples themselves are met and addressed through democratic processes arrived at freely and without external pressures.

We have all had our own national experiences in this endeavour - democracy - and we are well aware of both its value and its potency.

We all know, as well, that this is rarely a painless struggle.

What we do forget sometimes is that this is a never-ending struggle:

even in the most advanced democracies, democratic values and principles need to be protected and promoted on a constant basis.

Such is the case in the other region this panel is discussing:

Southeast Europe and Eastern Mediterranean.

What sets this region apart from that of the Middle East and North Africa is, of course, that the countries of this region - and in particular those of Southeastern Europe - are either already full members of the EU or aspire to accession to the European Union.

This European dimension, what we call the European perspective, has been a significant driving force for these countries and has had Greece's unswerving support over the years.

My friend and colleague Vuk will, I suspect, touch upon Serbia's own experiences in this regard, so I will not delve too deeply into this matter.

I would however] like to highlight that for our immediate neighbourhood, the Balkans, Greece has put forward the "Agenda 2014" initiative with a view to speeding up the process of integrating our Western Balkans partners and friends into the European family.

Our message was clear and still is: full membership is an achievable goal.

And we have already decided to dedicate Greece's EU-Presideny in 2014, to this goal of EU-enlargement towards the Western Balkans by calling for a Summit Meeting of the EU and all Balkan countries, with the aim of, hopefully, setting a concrete roadmap with a concrete target date until which EU-accession of all countries of the Western Balkans should be accomplished, if the necessary requirements are met.

In today's EU, enlargement fatigue is a fact: the dire economic situation fosters skepticism as to the advisability of further enlargement.

The latest enlargement - 2004's accession of 10 new member states - was a real shock to the EU's system.

But the prevailing thinking at the time was - and correctly so - that, in the end, foregoing enlargement would cost more than going ahead with it.

This view has been vindicated, I think.

As big as the economic and political shock was, there has clearly been a positive repercussion that has made it all worthwhile:

Everyone now realizes that the EU needs political unification, an unfettered foreign policy, and an economic policy that creates development while ensuring social security.

And it is in precisely this collective manner that the countries of Southeast Europe need to proceed today.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since we are discussing two different regions in this panel, allow me at this point to stress that regardless of whether a given country has a European perspective, the democratic ideal and goal should be a "stand-alone" and not contingent upon any other factor.

This is the call of the peoples of the region - the call their leaders must heed.

This should in no way, of course, be interpreted as meaning there is no role for the EU in these developments.

Quite the contrary.

Both nationally and within the EU, we are constantly striving to develop the most appropriate strategy to assist these countries and their peoples in their efforts towards reform and economic prosperity.

But because there is no all-purpose roadmap for institution building, modernization and democratization, we need to be clear that no change can be properly implemented unless two key preconditions are met:

respect for the peoples' specific cultures and genuine support from the societies themselves.

At this particular juncture, the future of relations between the EU and its Southern Neighbours is a major challenge to all of us, and Greece strongly believes that the Union should reaffirm its role as a full-scale partner.

This is why we are developing a comprehensive approach within the EU:

"A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean", through targeted actions addressing specific requirements and tailoring them to the particular characteristics and needs of each one of our southern neighbours.

This is a demand-driven and incentive-based approach.

But it is equally imperative that our actions combine both political measures - promoting democracy and institution building - as well as boosting social and economic development.

These two are mutually reinforcing and should be promoted in tandem.

For obvious reasons, we must make sure that a portion of the measures be geared towards bringing an early harvest of immediate and tangible social benefits on the ground, especially for youth.

Moreover, we fully support the enhancement of civil society in the reform process, and this goes hand-in-hand with democracy and institution-building in each country.

Particular attention must also be paid to the principle of ownership:

our actions should always be guided by respect for the dignity and sensibilities of our Southern neighbours and partners - lest we forget that this transformation was initiated by the peoples themselves - and our main goal should be how best to support them as they make their own way towards democracy.

Developments in the South are affecting us directly:

a crucial aspect of the recent crisis in North Africa is the subsequent increase in migration flows towards the EU.

Being on the external borders of the EU and in immediate geographical proximity to this area, Greece is one of several Member States directly and seriously affected.

A large percentage of illegal migrants apprehended at the external borders of the EU are detected at the Greek frontiers.

The call for solidarity among EU members cannot be stressed more.

The problem is not just Mediterranean, but an escalating European concern, underlining ever more clearly the need to enhance practical cooperation between Member States and cooperate effectively with countries of origin and transit.

Regarding the region and the Arab world, we, as European Union, are faced with both a challenge, but also a chance.

A chance to contribute to peace and stability in the region.

But also a chance to lend the EU the voice it deserves and must have in international developments, let alone in it's own neighborhood.

So let me repeat our proposal for the need of a "European Marshal Plan" for the region.

This engagement by the EU should not be seen as pure economic support and assistance in necessary institution building.

It should be seen as an investment for the EU.

An investment in peace, security (internal and external), economic growth - both for the region and the Arab world, but also for the EU itself and its Member States.

And certainly, one thing should be avoided:

By no means, should we create the image - a very wrong image - that the EU, the Western world, is trying to impose or dictate her views on our Arab friends.

It is all about partnership, cooperation and solidarity.

And talking about partnership, cooperation and solidarity, in particular, this brings me to the current developments regarding the challenges Greece and the Greek people are facing regarding the economic crisis.

Greece and the Greek people are committed to a serious and stringent reform programme, which has produced already quite impressive results.

Nobody is ignoring that the situation is still difficult and the challenges huge.

And Greece, the Greek government and the Greek people continue the fight for our future, with the same and continuous commitment to our reform programme.

Much is being said about Greece.

And the genuine spirit of cooperation, solidarity and even good advice is necessary, self-evident and certainly welcome.

But what Greece does not need, and what the Greek people certainly do not deserve, is comments and so-called recommendations that do not help in this giant effort Greece and the Greek people are currently undertaking.

Every political force and every political Leader personally in Greece must take up his responsibility and is certainly accountable and will be judged on his decisions and choices.

I - and I think the entire Greek people - can only hope that everybody in our country will stand up to his responsibilities and the huge challenges we are facing for our future and will make the right decisions and choices towards consent and cooperation.

Finally, allow me to say a few words on the crisis in Libya:

The crisis in Libya cannot be overcome with military means only.

The time has come to look into serious opportunities to seek a political solution, and to arrange negotiations between Tripoli and Benghazi.

The cost of delay is continued violence and death, proliferation of weapons, greater movements of population across frontiers, and, increased stress within NATO over priorities and resources.

As one of the countries closest to Libya, Greece is firmly of the view that the benefits of negotiation outweigh the cost of protracted conflict.

So we propose another way: strike and talk.

Keep the pressure through sanctions, no-fly zone and military action, while start talking also to key elements of the regime, but with a very clear deadline for results.

The necessary elements for a "roadmap for Libya" are well-known and already elaborated in detail - and Greece was able to contribute to this, with concrete ideas and proposals, right from the beginning.

What is still missing, and what we have to work for, is the necessary will and determination to go along those lines.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I said earlier, the international landscape in which we are exercising our foreign policy is in constant flux.

The world is changing, and the pace is breakneck.

We have to follow these changes and adapt accordingly.

But let's draw at least two lessons from what we see happening around us:

The first is that change, even crises, can be converted into opportunities for all sides.

And the second is that calls for change should never be ignored.

In the midst of crises of such magnitude and importance, the European Union can be neither absent nor silent.

The European Union - as envisioned by its founders - does not stand idly by as a mere observer.

The European Union shapes events - or at least helps to shape them - with a specific goal in mind:

the promotion of its principles and values.

Thank you very much.