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Joint statements of FM N. Kotzias and the FM of Germany, F. W. Steinmeier, following their meeting
N. KOTZIAS: Frank-Walter, it is my great pleasure to have you with us in Athens. A friend of old, as we say in Greece, is with us in Athens. I think that during these two years of our collaboration, we have managed to change the climate between our two countries, to a degree, and I want to thank my German colleague for the help he has given in order make my country’s needs better understood and for the German people to understand the real image of my country.
I think that if Frank-Walter weren’t the Foreign Minister of Germany, there would be much greater difficulties. I am convinced that personalities play a role in history.
We share a common course as persons. You know that we studied at the same university, with the same professor, Grobat. You know that we are concerned about the cooperation between our two peoples, and what we signed was a joint action plan, which includes not only the cooperation of our Ministry with the Foreign Ministry of the Federal Republic of Germany, but also a number of joint actions in many sectors of social activity, as well as on many levels, from the government to local administration.
We are in a Europe where, I think, the most logical people are saying, “fortunately there is no longer the Greek issue, to be added to the Brexit.” We are in a Europe that is trying to find its stride for the 21st century. The easy dream according to which the 21st century would be the century of Europe, with Europe itself prevailing against emerging powers, like China or -- in this dream -- a declining U.S., was not borne out.
The capabilities and power of a Union like ours presupposes the undivided support of our peoples, functioning as democratically as possible; it presupposes our seeing beyond the end of our noses and realising that we mustn’t limit Europe to just sanctions and memoranda. Europe is something much more. It is the home of our peoples. It is the dream of other peoples. It is our democracy in the conditions of the 21st century, the social state in the 21st century. It is Europe of solidarity and mutual understanding.
Europe has a great past, but we must take care that it also has an even greater future. I think that Frank-Walter is a person of realism in foreign policy, of substantial and creative pragmatism, and he will agree with me on the need for us to again give dreams, hopes, positive outlooks to our Youth, to our citizens, for the Europe of the 21st century.
We are going through difficulties, like the refugee crisis and the Brexit. At the same time, we have two elections today, with, from what they say, the first positive results -- and I hope this is how it will go -- with the Greens and majority candidate appearing to avoid defeat in Austria.
We are awaiting the result in Italy, which is of great importance to us.
We talked with our friend the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany about the issues in our region. We talked in particular about the cooperation we have as Greece, and I briefed him on our recent trips to Egypt, Libya and Lebanon, which he himself visited the day before yesterday. Our country is a country of great geostrategic importance. It is a factor for stability in the region. A country that thinks as a European country, moves within the framework of the European Union, and there defends its interests.
We also talked about the Cyprus issue. We are both optimistic about the positive impact the resolution of a 42-year-old problem will have on the future not just of Greece, but of the European Union as a whole. A solution that must be based on the will of the two Communities -- Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot -- and the three small minorities on the island.
A solution that must constitute an optimistic message, but at the same time must also be based, in Greece’s opinion, on European and international law. I don’t think there is a European state that would want a member state of the European Union to be subjected to guarantees or to the presence of an occupation army.
The messages from Cyprus are positive. We hope that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which essentially deals with disarmament, will contribute in its own way -- which we will explore together with my colleague -- to the solution of the Cyprus problem becoming more productive.
We also talked about our Balkan policy and the region’s problems. I remind you of what I always say -- Churchill said that “the Balkans produce more history than they can consume.” It is time we were able to produce more future than in the past.
We will continue our talks at our dinner at the Acropolis Museum. It was, I imagine, a tiring trip for my colleague. Berlin to Thessaloniki early in the morning. In Thessaloniki, the event co-organized by Greek and German institutions was very nice, showing in practice how well we can work together.
We are now in Athens, and we will continue tomorrow with the meeting the German Minister will have with our Prime Minister, and with an interesting discussion at the German School of Athens. Also interesting was the discussion with the President of the Republic, a large part of which concerned the Treaty of Lausanne and the importance of respecting it.
I want to say to our Turkish friends that there is no country that wants more than Greece to see the further democratization of our neighbour Turkey. No country wants Turkey’s European orientation more than Greece, because we will be the biggest winners.
And for this European orientation to exist, the tone has to fall. This concerns all of our neighbours. The restlessness has to be curbed -- you will remember that there were some who described Germany in the 19th century as a “restless” power -- and international law has to be implemented. International law means implementation of and respect for the Treaty of Lausanne. Because I remind you that certain provisions of this Treaty, like those for the self-administration of the islands of Imbros and Tenedos, continue to be unimplemented.
Once again, I am pleased to have an agent of a realistic, peaceful pragmatic policy, a friend in Athens, Walter, a thousand thanks for your presence here, for everything you said in Thessaloniki, for everything you are doing for Europe. I wish you good fortune in your travels, and the doors of Athens and Greece are always open to you. Thank you very much.
F.W. STEINMEIER: Thank you very much, dear Nikos, you welcomed me with a well-known phrase: “A friend of old.” I want to assure you that I wasn’t just a friend of old. Now, today and in the future, I can assure you, dear Nikos, that I will remain a friend. I want to thank you very much for the warm welcome to Greece, not just to Athens, but also to Thessaloniki, where I had the opportunity to be with you. I think that, so far, it has been a very good visit, which was not limited to discussions of just a political nature, which we had this afternoon. I think that such opportunities as we had this morning in Thessaloniki are good for both of us, to reflect jointly on the shadows of the past, to realise that we are linked by a common history. For us to have insight into this history and, based on this insight, to shape an even more dynamic future for us, both bilaterally and on a European level.
Regarding our bilateral relations and our relations in Europe, I want to thank you. I know that you suffered, as did I, from the tensions that existed in our relations, and after official meetings in Brussels we often talked to each other and said that things cannot stay this way.
And the idea not just for one to talk about these things, but also to work for something better for the future, for a joint action plan -- this idea was mainly yours. I want to thank you and your team very much, because they worked hard on this initiative, which we now have the opportunity to co-sign today.
We have now reached a point in Greek-German relations where the will is clearly apparent for us to make the framework between us even better and not let the past cast a shadow on our relations.
Moreover, this cooperation was also discussed with the President. We have to try to send a positive message to Europe. Particularly following the Brexit decision, the centrifugal forces in Europe have become palpable and we are facing a twofold challenge: Now, to negotiate with Great Britain its exit and what shape the relations between Britain and Europe will take in the future, while equally important is the challenge concerning the relations between the 27 European partners; that is, the European partners without the UK.
I think that, with regard to the current crises in Europe, the issues of concern to the citizens of Europe, all of these issues urgently require a response from the European Union. They are issues that have not been responded to, and among these are issues of security, which have become more urgent because the security climate has changed. Growth and employment are also key issues, as well as the migration issue, which we have discussed repeatedly.
I think that in these three sectors we could again make progress for Europe and gain greater acceptance in Europe with regard to these issues.
In our talks with the President, we also had the opportunity to talk about the Cyprus issue. We will also certainly talk about this during tonight’s dinner. I know how painful such negotiations are -- negotiations during which the sides are called upon to give up established positions of the past -- and I think that, at this time, the north and the south of the island have taken major steps.
And when I think about negotiations on other issues, controversies, then I think that there is always a long road that one must travel, and it is in these last few metres that one will probably meet with the most obstacles. But if all the sides have the will to cross the finish line after such a negotiation, then no obstacle is enough to stop them.
I know that an understanding on the Cyprus issue will also constitute a message of stability for Europe. A development that we need urgently and that is something more than the Cyprus issue. There is the issue of whether we are at a point where a dispute that has existed for many years can now reach a solution in this way.
I want to say the following regarding Turkey: No one will question the fact that the relationship between Turkey and the European Union is tense at this time. I don’t think there as a lack of statements from Germany, too, condemning the coup attempt that took place in Turkey. We showed respect for those who came out in favour of democracy in Turkey, but I also made it clear to Turkey that we cannot turn a blind eye to mass arrests of journalists and other people in the country. The issue you referred to earlier -- any public reference to the Treaty of Lausanne viewed as political ploy cannot be a choice. Everyone knows what it would mean for us to start questioning the borders in Europe. This certainly does not contribute to the vital stability that citizens are seeking.
Finally, as regards the elections in Austria, the process has not yet come to completion, and as we are in the midst of our talks right now, I haven’t been in a position to monitor the news and developments. What we know is that, according to predictions, Van der Bellen is ahead, and I would say that if this is also the final result, it would be a good sign for the struggle against populism in Europe. It would be a sign I would be very pleased at, because I am receiving this news here in Greece, the cradle of Democracy. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: I would like your comment, Mr. Steinmeier -- as well as the Greek Foreign Minister’s -- on the aggressive rhetoric from Ankara, which has intensified in recent days. What is your position, given that Greece’s borders are also the borders of the European Union? Thank you.
F.W. STEINMEIER: I can’t comment on that. In my political statements I have repeatedly criticized this fact. We pursued the discussion with Ankara because I think that there should not be a lack of clarity between us with regard to our political positions. And this is why I was there two weeks ago. I talked to the Foreign Minister, to the Prime Minister, to the President of the country, about migration issues as well as issues bearing on domestic policy. Of course, we also conveyed and explained our position regarding the Treaty of Lausanne, which is a longstanding position; that is, that the Treaty of Lausanne cannot be disputed by anyone.
N. KOTZIAS: As you know, Greece is a country of stability in a region of increasing instability. Whether we are talking about the wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, or the instability of political systems, as with the recent changes taking place in Bulgaria and, much more so, the coup attempt in Turkey.
A principle of our foreign policy is to remain sober, to face matters calmly; to neither magnify the problems nor try to circumvent them. Our principle with regard to dealing with Turkey is that Turkey is a neighbour that has been next to us for centuries, with whom we want to coexist and have extremely good economic and social relations. From tourism to the new projects we want to build, such as the Istanbul-Thessaloniki rail line, the shipping link between Izmir and Greek ports. We are on a good path. But within Turkey, a large portion of the Turkish elite are showing a restlessness.
What we aspire to do is to contribute to the limiting of this restlessness and certainly to keeping it from exhibiting itself abroad. We hope and believe that Turkey -- also listening those to whom it needs to listen -- will be able to once again pick up the thread of the democratization of its society, bring down the tone of rhetoric, and not have internal crises find expression in external relations.
We always extend a hand of friendship to Turkey and the Turkish leadership. We want dialogue. We have taken care to keep all the channels of communication open and remain calm and composed, because we believe in a better future between Greece and Turkey.
And I want to reiterate what I said before. We want a European, democratic Turkey that is integrated into the European Union. We want a neighbour that conducts itself based on International and European law. It is up to Turkey whether it follows this path. If it doesn’t follow it, our country will always be prepared to defend the European values and visions of the 21st century.
JOURNALIST: I remember, it wasn’t long ago, when members of the Federal Government weren’t received, didn’t receive such a friendly welcome here. Things are different now. What brought about this change?
N. KOTZIAS: I would say that our relations have developed optimally of late. And I would say that we have good joint cooperation and understanding. All sides are more realistic today than they were in the past. What concerned me in the past was the way Greece was criticized.
There is a difference between two categories of criticism. One is where you criticize policies and the persons who exercise these policies -- this is political criticism -- and the other is when one criticizes countries and peoples.
I think that whenever, in the European Union -- as well as in the bilateral relations of many countries -- criticism did not concern policies and the persons implementing them, but rather concerned peoples and states as a whole, we had misunderstandings.
Today, both of us know our weak points. We know what our disagreements are, but we also know how to seek common ground, and this is our thinking. Today we believe that we can impart positive momentum to Greek-German relations.
And one last thing. You will have heard it. I said it in Thessaloniki. I always stress that our relations with Germany were not just the difficult relations of the 1940s, not just the difficult relations of the first years of the memoranda. Through the centuries, there is an intellectual relationship, a social relationship, in which Germany itself laid the foundations for its enlightenment through ancient Greek letters and philosophy, showing to all of Europe what had been lost.
Greece’s significance is linked to Germany’s bringing this importance to wide attention. And anyone who forgets these very deep ties between the two sides, anyone who forgets the social ties we have -- as you know, I am married to a German and my child was born in Germany, during the time of the Junta -- anyone who forgets these ties can then, through day-to-day struggles, be dragged into polemics that are not consistent with a common course for the building of Europe.
I also think that, on most issues -- those that have to do with the region, but also European issues -- Germany and Greece are very, very close to one another. Of course we have certain difficulties, sometimes many, in the economic sector. But we have made great progress in the sectors in which we are working together.
And I think the joint action plan we signed today is an excellent basis on which we can develop Greek-German relations equally, creatively and productively. There are always difficulties in the relations between two states. You have to choose whether to get past them or allow them to drown you.
And you know that I am a swimmer year round, and I also like underwater diving.
F.W. STEINMEIER: I’d like to add something too. First of all, concerning the personal level, I think that what unites us, Nikos Kotzias and myself, is that we never consider bilateral relations and international situations to be final. We are in a position to cultivate relations and to judge matters from a historical perspective.
And we don’t want to give up on things that it took generations to shape. Generations of good bilateral relations between Greece and Germany. What changed, we must be honest, is also the relations in Europe.
The economic and financial crisis made it seem if there were a homogeneous whole in Europe, with Greece outside of that. Today, with the support and solidarity of Europe, things have changed. I have no doubt today that Greece is among the most ardent supporters of Europe and that European integration will remain a pursuit.
What you referred to in your question that had to do with migration, I think that it is something that is being handled in a positive manner by the Greek side with regard to us. Because you see that, in Germany, this matter of the European Union and Turkey, the agreement, that is, between Europe and Turkey, is coming in for criticism from a portion of the population.
I think that, if this agreement didn’t exist, then Greece would have to shoulder the whole weight of the problem. And this is why, of course, it is inherent in the agreement between Europe and Turkey that Greece be able to deal with this problem and not break under too great an influx of refugees. Because you will remember last year that there was an increase in the influx of people.
Second -- and Nikos, I don’t know if you see it the same way -- we Germans truly support this commitment we have undertaken; that is, that we will accept a portion of these refugees. Five hundred refugees are accepted each month, and this is something that is functioning with the cooperation of German services as well.
I talked earlier about the fact that the framework of political conditions changed throughout Europe. But collaborations were also created to confront the refugee crisis.
JOURNALIST: There are important upcoming meetings in Europe on the issue of the Balkans, the European perspective of the Balkans. Two questions on this: Should we expect any important news on this front? And, second, especially with regard to Albania, what are the conditions that have to be satisfied for Albania to advance to the next stage in its relations with Europe? Thank you.
N. KOTZIAS: First of all, I would like to say something regarding the refugees, because I want to be fair. I think that Germany is very, very close to us in handling this problem, as Frank-Walter described it.
I just want to express our dismay, as well. When, two years ago, we began to say that the refugee crisis was coming, a large portion of the European news media accused us of supposedly wanting to distract European attention from other problems, like the financial crisis or other geopolitical issues. Unfortunately, life showed us that is was a very big and real problem.
Now, regarding the Balkans, our government wants to resolve the problems from the past as well and as productively as possible. It is well known that with Albania we worked systematically to determine the issues on which we need to work together to find solutions jointly, whether these problems come from the past or determine the future.
We have created six working groups on the individual problems, under a large umbrella group which is the responsibility of the Secretaries General of the two states. Unfortunately, there was infelicitous handling of matters on the part of the European Commission, and there is unfortunately a trend, ahead of elections, toward emerging nationalism.
Our recommendation and urging to everyone is to bring down the tone of the conversation, to agree on the European path, and, as much as we can, resolve our problems in a timely manner and not allow those problems to interfere with Albania’s European accession process.
With regard to the sectors, it should be clear -- and this will be apparent on Monday, 12 December, with the Council Conclusions -- that we want Albania’s accession to the European Union. European neighbours around us is a big win for us. But we also have to see satisfaction of all the criteria that were also set for all previous enlargements.
In this specific case, these are the criteria concerning the Judicial System, Administrative Reform, the fight against organized crime, specific measures regarding the problem of narcotics -- as there is large production of narcotics in our neighbouring country -- protection of property rights, which have been, since the time of John Locke, a fundamental right in the system we live in, and protection of the Greek National Minority.
That is, they have to transcend the thinking of Hoxha, according to which a member of a minority is someone who lives only in a specific area, and large populations, which are a majority in some areas, do not have minority rights. This can and must be complied with by Albania, and we can and must help in the process of compliance.
We have proposed a number of measures, we have a certain expertise on these issues so we can help.
With regard to our northern neighbour, with which we have friendly relations, we have taken many steps. Our proposal for confidence-building measures has gone into implementation. Diplomats from both sides are doing important and great work, and I would say that it is as intensive as with any other country. We are now building gas pipelines from Thessaloniki to Skopje, we are building a new rail line from Florina to Bitola, we have now established the cooperation between our universities, police, exchange of information. I wouldn’t want to take up a lot of time on this during a press conference of this kind.
Finally, I will note, because we also have German friends here, Greek-Bulgarian relations are historic. Our German and French friends may be proud of achieving peace after 150 years of wars, but I want to remind you that Greece and Bulgaria had 1,600 years of wars and occupation and resistances, and, in fact, at one time, for Byzantine emperors to become emperors, I remind you, they had to be called Bulgar Slayer. That is, have a name that showed they killed Bulgars. And, correspondingly, Greek Slayer, for Bulgarians.
Today we have the best relations we have with any country, and we see this as a European model: how a harsh history of 1.600 years can end in friendship and in cooperation that is a model and example for all the world. And we are very, very proud of this, and this is why we hope that, with the two other countries, we can resolve all the problems carried forward by history and find ourselves without Bulgar Slayers, Albanian Slayers or Greek Slayers in our relations.
JOURNALIST: A question for both Ministers, regarding two important European developments. Mr. Hofer conceded defeat a short while ago. Would you like to comment? And, second, what do you expect from the Italians? What would you like to see from the Italians with regard to Europe today?
F.W. STEINMEIER: I understand your question very well. I think that you, too, understand that, given that I am not in a position to be informed personally about what is happening, due to the political talks I am carrying out, I can only refer to what I said earlier.
It really is positive that on such a day -- when we have so many things to say about the crises in Europe, about centrifugal forces, nationalism and populism and populist parties -- we are, on such a day, in Greece, the cradle of democracy, to hear the news that Van der Bellen is probably ahead. This is already something very positive.
I haven’t yet heard anything about Norbert Hofer conceding defeat, but I believe I will hear it.
N. KOTZIAS: Regarding Italy: You know that Italy is a very important country for Europe. And it is so important that no one is saying to Italy what they said to us, despite their having a €2 trillion debt. Italy and its stability are key to Europe. The stability of the government in Italy can do only good for the European Union’s relations with Italy and Greece’s relations with Italy.
We have agreed on certain very good projects, and I hope we will be able to implement them in 2017. I also hope we see you often, and I hope we also see my old fellow student and friend, always, here in Athens. He is always welcome.
I must tell you that this land is very fond of the German Foreign Minister. I must say that he is very popular, that at our Ministry -- it isn’t right for me to say this about a single Minister, but because we Greeks are a little emotional -- he is highly appreciated, and that is why it is a pleasure for us.
You know, moreover, that he holds a doctorate from my university, let’s not forget, in Piraeus. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University, where my students always remember the speech he made at the ceremony very fondly.
Good travels, always, Frank-Walter, always close to us. May we always smile and hope for a better future and a better Europe.
Thank you very much for coming to Athens and Thessaloniki. Thank you very, very much.
F.W. STEINMEIER: And I thank you very much.