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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dačić, following their meeting (Belgrade, 25 June 2015)

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Foreign Minister Kotzias’ statements following his meeting with the First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Serbia, Ivica Dačić (Belgrade, 25 June 2015)I. DACIC: I want to reaffirm our friendly relations and express great satisfaction at the fact that my counterpart and friend, Nikos Kotzias, is here today, visiting Serbia, a friendly country, and our people, who consider the Greek people to be among their closest friends in the world. We are linked by a history of longstanding friendship and alliance, and, in this sense, I want to note our firm dedication to staying this course in the future as well.

I want to express gratitude to Greece for the support it provides to Serbia; Serbia’s European integration. I briefed Nikos today on the course of the Dialogue with Pristina, in Brussels. I also expressed gratitude for the Greek stance, which respects the principles of international law. I informed him of Serbia’s desire to be a constructive factor in overcoming all of these problems, as well as of our desire for the progress and opening – at the soonest possible time – of the accession Chapters in the negotiation process with the EU.

I would also like to express my satisfaction at the fact that Greece is one of the countries with the highest levels of investments in Serbia; investments that come to some €2.2 billion. Our volume of trade comes to €400 million, and of course could be larger. We agreed that, in the coming months, we will set up special technical teams that will look at the situation in specific sectors in order to identify what we can do in given sectors, such as, for instance, economy, education, culture, cooperation in the security sector, cooperation in the field of migration – that is, confronting illegal immigration, etc.

What you could hear from our side and the Greek side is that the two Prime Ministers, Messrs. Vucic and Tsipras, talked on the phone about Prime Minister Tsipras’ visit to Serbia. I personally had the opportunity recently, in St. Petersburg, to talk with Prime Minister Tsipras, and the role of the two of us here today was to prepare for this upcoming visit. After this, Nikos will meet with Prime Minister Vucic. We all hope that this visit will be a success and constitute yet another step in good bilateral relations.

There was high-level consensus on various issues today. Greece is a country with which we have no pending issue. In fact, we have many shared positions, particularly as regards the need for a more balanced approach on the part of certain other regions and parts of the world to our region, without double standards and, as Nikos too has said, without 19th century diplomacy, threats, intimidation, humiliation of our region. For this reason, there is a vital need for regional cooperation, good relations among the countries of the region, and joint formation of stance. We are firmly dedicated to the goal of Serbia’s being a factor for peace, stability and regional cooperation, and in this sense we extend our hand to everyone for cooperation in the Balkans.

Once again, a heartfelt welcome, and I hope that this becomes a standing practice in our bilateral relations. Thank you.

N. KOTZIAS: Good day. I would like to thank the Serbian government for receiving us in an extremely hospitable and friendly manner. And my special thanks, of course, to my friend Ivica, with whom I’ve met many times. I said that I am lucky today, because I am at a much easier meeting than our Prime Minister, in Brussels.

Greece supports two things: First, the strengthening of cooperation with Serbia and all of the Balkans. We need to take measures for stabilization and security in the Balkans. We are linked to all of the Balkan countries by age-old relations of friendship and cooperation. We are linked by common needs and concerns, common economic interests, and many common cultural elements. As Greece, we need to strengthen our relations with Serbia and in the Balkans overall, so that we can have a better position in both Europe and the world.

And second, we want Serbia in the European Union. And we will do anything we can to support the Serbian course towards the EU and to help, with the experience and know-how we have, as the oldest EU member state, those Serbian institutions and organs that ask to confer with us. I underscored to my Serbian counterpart that support for Serbia is not just an act of friendship towards Serbia itself, but also an act in defence of multiculturalism, democratic conduct, and the vision we have in the EU itself.

It is perfectly clear that the two peoples are linked by great friendships. We only have a little rivalry in basketball. These relations of friendship must be developed in all sectors: in the economy and on technical issues, on security and justice issues, education, tourism, culture. Both countries are currently going through difficult times, and good cooperation between us will facilitate and accelerate our exit from these difficult times. So I am pleased to be here in Belgrade, and I thank my counterpart for the hospitality and for the talks we had.

Responses to questions on immigration

I. DACIC: Of course we discussed this issue. It is one of the most pressing current issues. There is no doubt that it is now at the door of Europe itself. Until now, it was mainly the countries hit hardest that dealt with this issue; that is, the countries on the periphery of Europe – mainly Greece, Italy, and our country as well, which has lately been the victim of illegal migration. Europe did not show a great deal of understanding when we repeatedly warned of this problem. Nor did it take note of our need for financial assistance to upgrade border controls. For example, when I was the home affairs minister, I spoke three times with the home affairs ministers of Austria and Hungary, and, among other things, at a trilateral meeting, I proposed joint border controls; that is, the green zone: the areas apart from border crossing points. Serbia doesn’t have the funds for something like this. We asked for help from the European funds and they rejected us, saying that this wasn’t a priority. And now they are putting up fences and walls.

Look, Europe has to make a decision on this: Is the era of walls in the past, or is it perhaps the future? I thought the Berlin wall had fallen. But now a new wall is being built. We have very good relations with Hungary. We will have a G2G meeting on Wednesday. But we are wholly and strongly against their decision to build a “fence”. Europe needs to decide that this is no longer a Serbian, Hungarian or Greek issue. This is a European issue. They have to decide whether they consider this region to be part of the EU or a region surrounded by walls and fences. And I don’t want to comment on what this was called in the past.

With regard to the measures we need to take, we ourselves are victims of this situation. But, in cooperation with the European institutions, we will support everything we can in order to become part of a Europe of action. So we are discussing this. There is no question as to our readiness. We, Serbia, will take an initiative to hold a regional conference on the problem of illegal immigration, with the participation of the countries of our region and representatives of the EU and other international partners.

N. KOTZIAS: So far, the migrants coming to Greece have been trying to get to Central Europe via Italy, but the European countries want to make us a “black box”; to have us receive hundreds of thousands of migrants, from Syria, 300,000 from Afghanistan and Pakistan. On some islands the migrants outnumber the locals. They let all this pass, and then we, based on Schengen, Dublin II and III, cannot move them on.

To change this situation – because it is natural, when you have a seven-digit number of migrants, that they will slip through in many directions – the European Union, as I said on Monday and Tuesday in Luxembourg, has to use all of the tools at its disposal, like the tool of readmission: returning migrants, by EU means, to the countries from which they come.

The European Union hasn’t shown great interest in either implementing Mr. Avramopoulos’ proposals or using all of its tools. It is planning the bombing of vessels coming from Libya, but not from the countries on the eastern side of Europe. We insist that the EU has to implement all of its tools.

And what we need to avoid in the Balkans is arguing amongst ourselves because the powerful countries of Europe don’t want to utilize the European tools. Together we need to demand their implementation. We have no differences with our friendly country to the north – we have the common will for the implementation and utilization of all the EU’s tools, with their funding secured.

Second question on migration pressures

N. KOTZIAS: Europe has had a migration problem for some time now. When I raised the issue at the European Council this past January, they looked at me as if I were a strange leftist animal and refused to deal with the issue. But the problems are here. It’s not the messenger’s fault. And the problems were created by unfortunate actions in our region. We have to think about whether all these wars in Africa and the Middle East benefited people or created large migration currents. And we cannot have a division of labor in Europe, with some creating the problems and then saying to us, “you pay for it.” Europe’s migration policy needs money. We have said this repeatedly in Brussels.

Europe’s migration policy needs to become a model for the world. If we want the EU to be a model for the rest of the world, we also need to show this is our policy on the issue of migration. It also needs to show its societies that it is in a position to resolve the issue. If it leaves it as it is today, in the Balkans, Europe’s societies will become more xenophobic and lean towards the extreme right. We need joint actions. That is why, as a country, we support Migration Commissioner Avramopoulos’ proposals 100%. We are waiting for Europe’s North Atlantic countries to accept that they will be obliged to take a portion of the refugees – rather than raising dividing lines – and contribute to the major social project of changing living conditions in countries that are the source of migration.

Until all this happens, we need cooperation here in the Balkans. We agree with Serbia’s idea for convening a regional conference. We have to coordinate the work of our competent ministries and authorities that are dealing with migration, from the social aspect – health of and healthcare for migrants – to the institutions for protecting borders. But I stress again that our efforts, if they are to be effective, need the material and legal assistance of the EU. And one last thing. We need to stabilize, with all the measures, and bring security to the Eastern Mediterranean region.

We are very interested in the stability of Egypt, a country with a population of over 100 million, of whom 2/3 are under 27 years of age, unemployed, without big dreams for their lives in that country. Anyone who wants to destabilize Egypt today is playing with the fire of future waves of migrants from beyond Egypt: civil war in Sudan, Somalia is essentially a failed state. This is why we have an urgent duty to cooperate here in the Balkans, with assistance from the EU.

Response to a question on Russia

I. DACIC: I don’t know whether I fully understood your question. For Serbia, there is no doubt about the fact that we want and have cooperation with Russia. We don’t want to choose between the EU and Russia. We don’t like divorces. We want to become a member of the EU, but we also want to have broad cooperation with Russia. And we’re doing this. I will make the reminder once more that, for the Serbian people, the Greek and Russian peoples are the closest. No one can change this, ever, with any political, bureaucratic or administrative decision. So we want good economic and political relations with Russia as well, as we do with China. I remind you that the former Yugoslavia had good relations with many countries in the world; relations that, over time, have been neglected. We want the renewal of our traditionally good relations, not just with Russia and China, but also with a number of other countries, including South Africa, Ethiopia, Algeria, Tunisia, Angola, Latin America; Asian countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Philippines, India. These countries – all of them – are our friends, and thus there is no issue of any polarization. There is no Europe without stability and cooperation throughout the continent.

N. KOTZIAS: I will agree with my counterpart. We are a member of the EU, this is our position. We want the EU to develop and to strengthen its role in the world, and we believe that part of this role is to contribute towards peace, communication and mutual understanding with other peoples. We want a Europe with open horizons that don’t limit itself.

In this Europe, as a member state of this Europe, Greece has the same rights as every other small or large state. We cannot have someone making pointed comments about our relations with Russia while at the same time preparing major projects. We cannot talk for months about the gas pipelines in the Balkans, and then hear, the day before yesterday, that in the north they are making new pipelines without any discussion. We are a member state of the EU. We want the development of our relations with the emerging world, in a manner both European and democratic. We have the same rights and obligations as every other member state. And European foreign policy covers and must cover our interests as well.

Thank you very much.

I. DACIC: And one more piece of information. During the current year, the volume of trade between Serbia and Russia fell. Even though we did not take part in the sanctions (against Russia). In contrast, in the last year, the volume of U.S.-Russian trade increased by 30%. What sanctions are these if the volume of trade increases? But no one dares ask the U.S. about this. While we are always more ‘visible’, because we are small.

I have one more thing to say, unrelated to the subject. Excuse me, Nikos. Brussels: We had talks a few days ago with the delegation from Pristina and with Federica Mogherini. Prime Minister Vucic headed our delegation. We agreed that the Dialogue will continue next week. We also agreed that, due to Pristina’s conduct in constantly giving information to the news media, claiming that something has already been resolved in their favor and thus imposing the issue of the status (of Kosovo), information will no longer be given to the news media during the course of the Dialogue.

However, two claims appeared yesterday in the Pristina news media: First, that everything has supposedly been agreed on all of the issues, which is in no way the case. And I can say this as an eyewitness to and participant in the talks. Quite to the contrary, the talks are continuing, and Serbia will abide by the agreed ‘silence’ towards the news media. But this shows a lack of seriousness on the part of the Pristina delegation.

Second, as soon as the new round of talks was completed, Edita Tahiri, who participated in the Dialogue, made statements about “genocide” of the Albanians by the Serbs. And why, then, are you talking to us if you believe something like that? This shows a lack of seriousness and it shows irresponsibility. If someone has something to say, there are meetings, there is a place where these things are said. Edita Tahiri had spoken in this way, and when she was called upon to speak on energy matters, even in that speech she started to say that Serbia “lost Kosovo in 1999.”  At that point, Ms. Mogherini cut her off and Ms. Tahiri withdrew – in practical terms, she was made to leave. She wants to deal with political issues, while, at the same time, as the Prime Minister said, they (in Pristina) aren’t interested in how the energy system in Kosovo will operate, but in who will be the owner. But we don’t want to converse in this manner. We are constructive. We want to contribute, but we do not allow anyone to address us in a raised voice, as some do.

Thank you.