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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and Albanian Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati during their press conference (Tirana, 15 July 2015)
D. BUSHATI: Good day to you all. It is a pleasure to be welcoming today the Foreign Minister of Greece, our neighbouring country, Mr. Nikos Kotzias. This is Mr. Kotzias’ first visit, and it is a first opportunity for us to examine and to look at the progress in the bilateral relations of our countries – both regionally and on a European level – two neighbouring countries that have relations of strategic importance.
For our part, we appreciate that only through dialogue, talks and the principles of international law can we overcome the inherited obstacles of the past; obstacles that are politically and sentimentally charged.
What does it mean to be a neighbour in this region? The relationship between neighbouring countries can best be described in the words of Sophocles, who says that trust can fade very easily, whereas lack of trust can blossom more dynamically. That is why we need to invest more and more in the spirit of trust. Our being neighbours means that our relations are more than obligatory: they are necessary. It means that the things that unite us often seem to divide us. It also means that, though relations may have fluctuated, the efforts for us to find once again the climate of solid trust must never stop.
What does it mean to us to be a good neighbour? In our view, it means that we necessarily share a common future, where, as the Dutch philosopher Spinoza said, “peace is not the absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition of benevolence, confidence, justice.” As a result of our being neighbours, which is of strategic importance, there is no taboo between us.
I know that visits such as this, of high-level officials of Greece to Albania, and vice versa, create expectations in public opinion. In the context of these expectations, I can tell you that my counterpart Mr. Kotzias and I talked – in a very direct and sincere manner, and in a very warm climate – about all of the cases that we consider to be part of our agenda on the bilateral level or, as it is said otherwise in diplomatic parlance, from the cases regarded as old or left over from the past, to the concerns that exist currently on a day-to-day basis.
Regarding all these cases, I am happy to say that we have not just debated them, but we have also tried to outline and seek possible ways forward. And if we are not yet able to resolve the problems, we will work within the boundaries of international law, which dictates the solutions that will be accepted to the contracting parties. We are two member states of NATO, and Albania is a country that aspires to become a member state of the EU.
In this spirit, we encourage Greece to continue its constructive approach to the region. Greece’s stance is well known, and this is apparent from the stance that the current government declared before the elections, as well as from the Thessaloniki Agenda for the Western Balkans and the results of this Agenda.
At the same time, for our part, we encourage and support Greek Foreign Minister Kotzias’ visit to Kosovo, which constitutes a move of rapprochement from the Greek side, and we encourage the recognition of the independence of Kosovo
The challenges being faced by Europe and the region are bringing the two countries face to face with new responsibilities. First and foremost, we have the issues of security in the south and east of our continent. Second, we have the economic crisis our neighbouring country is facing. We have not confronted this crisis as a Greek case, but as a political issue for the future of Europe, which concerns the geostrategic position of Greece.
In this sense, we hope that the present situation in Greece is overcome as soon as possible, through the agreement reached recently with the EU, for the prosperity of the Greek people and of the Albanian citizens who live and work in Greece.
At this point I would like to thank the Greek side, which, despite this difficult time, has found the time to pass, in the Hellenic Parliament, the law on citizenship, which will benefit a large number of children of Albanian immigrants; children who were born in Greece.
Third, I want to underscore the importance of matters of energy security, which will continue to be on the agenda of this corner of Europe. In this sense, Albania has shown, through its dynamic and constructive policy in the region, that it is fully in line with the stance of the EU and is a trustworthy partner.
Today we committed to the realization of the plans that are important for the energy security and economic stability of the region, including common natural resources.
We think the time has now come to lay new foundations, revising the implementation of the existing Friendship Agreement. This revision will serve to establish a new legal framework, so that the specific problems can be solved through new mechanisms, in accordance with their real weight. We will also take into account all of the responsibilities in the region, the spirit of equality, mutual respect, far from any tinge of nationalistic rhetoric.
Finally, I want to thank my counterpart Mr. Kotzias for Greece’s support for Albania on the course of the process of European integration, which was also supported by the previous Foreign Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, during an earlier visit to Tirana.
Today we have the opportunity to complete and sign the memorandum of cooperation for accelerating Albania’s accession to the EU. At the same time, the memorandums we signed today on tourism and agriculture bear clear witness to the fact that the two countries are committed to not letting any pending issue impact the positive outcome of the accession processes, which will be in the interest of both countries.
In closing, I want to stress that today’s meeting clearly shows our will to continue the talks in an open and transparent manner, as is fitting for neighbouring countries.
N. KOTZIAS: I must start not with Albania, but with the Albanians who live in Greece. I always say publicly in my country that we are fortunate to have such fellow citizens, who are people with a culture of willingness and hard work, efficiency, a desire to rise dynamically. I think we are the luckiest in Europe to have such immigrants. With the new law passed by Parliament, these immigrants, and especially their children, are the link between our two countries. And I must say something honoring my students: that in university classes, the Albanians are always among the best five or ten students. With a strong will to succeed, to learn, to open up paths in their lives. I appreciate them and love them very much. I am lucky, as a Greek, that we have these active immigrants from Albania, but I am also lucky as a professor to have had – and, I hope, to have in the future – such good students. It is the spirit of a people who want to open up paths to the future.
We experience this willingness to fight for tomorrow – a desire for peace, democracy, social justice – every day with our Albanian fellow citizens, with my Albanian students, and I found it in our meeting today, and I am very thankful for the hospitality and the very good conversation we had.
Albania is a part of Europe. It is a part of the Balkans. It is a strategic partner, a strategic friend and a strategic neighbour. God, or Allah, sent us to live together in this region, and we are obliged to become creative. We want to be creative in our cooperation on Albania’s preparations to join the EU. We want to be creative in our cooperation in NATO. And I must say that I am very insistent with regard to the international projects: Whatever happens in the Balkans must include Albania. Whether it is energy security, new communications lines, new transport lines. We have a policy of inclusion, and not exclusion.
We want the two countries to play a stabilizing role in our region. You know that I often say that we are in a triangle of instability, with Ukraine at the top, Libya on the left, and the Middle East on the right. And there we must stabilize our environment, to deter the waves of instability and emit waves of stability.
Our cooperation is not just important for the two states, for the two peoples. It is important for all of Southeast Europe, given that our cooperation in the Adriatic has taken on new institutional characteristics.
We moved ahead with a number of agreements with Minister Bushati. We signed three agreements today. I think that, in the future, we will sign much more important agreements, and one of these will certainly be the renewed Friendship Agreement, which will include all of these networks, from energy to communications. We also talked about the agreements that already exist and need to be activated so we can look at issues again, like the school books. But we also talked about how we will resolve matters of common interest that have to do with international law and the Law of the Sea, and I think that Minister Bushati and I firmly believe that problems exist so they can be solved.
That is why we believe that this trip, too, as well as the Minister’s visit to Athens in the fall, I hope, are big steps of cooperation and friendship between the two peoples, the two states, and between us. Because, as you know, trust is a precious commodity, and trust is formed in peoples and in institutions, but also between individuals. This is why I am very satisfied, and I want to express my thanks for the open manner of friendship and trust in which we talked in order to find creative solutions and promote our cooperation creatively. Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: You referred to Albania as a strategic partner, but the Greek state maintains the law on the state of war. Will the Tsipras government do something about the state of war? And a second question: Will your government’s stance on the Chameria issue change?
N. KOTZIAS: Greece and Albania have two strong bridges of friendship. These are the Albanian immigrants and, of course, the large, old, indigenous Greek minority in Albania. Together with these, diplomacy and our common interest build many bridges.
We believe that there is no state of war with Albania. We believe that all the agreements, the treaties, the statements of the Ministerial Council in the 1980s, our cooperation in NATO, make us not only friends, but two states that are also partners and allies. We understand that our reading is often not the best reading in Albania. That is why, in the next agreements we are to conclude, we will find a legal way to reaffirm that we are not in a state of war. We aren’t, but we will reaffirm this.
As regards the lifting of the agreement on the appropriation of property, we support that any Albanian citizen may have recourse to the Greek court and, based on the law, pursue his claims. We don’t want cases of individual property rights to be a dark point in inter-state relations or undermine our friendship.
Moreover, in reference to your second question, I often say that we need to learn from history, we need to find support in history, not repeat the mistakes of the past. But nor should we be become prisoners of history. And anyone who wants to imprison us there – having made historical mistakes and bearing responsibility – will not be followed by us. We want to build the future with Albania. A future that belongs to both states, to both peoples, and especially to our younger generation.
Thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: I would like to ask you about the agreement of 2009, on the maritime border, which was overturned by the Albanian Constitutional Court. There was, we would say, a global precedent, because the same method used for this agreement between Greece and Albania had been used in 1992 for a corresponding agreement between Albania and Italy. Of course, that agreement wasn’t called into question. Moreover, in this agreement with Italy, you gained 70 square kilometers. There is a major difference regarding your positions on the one and the other case, on essentially the same agreement. What can you tell us on that? Thank you very much.
D. BUSHATI: Thank you for the comment, as well as for the question you asked on this case. I can tell you that, from a geographical perspective as well, the case of determining and delimiting the economic zone and the continental shelf between Albania and Italy is not the same case or the same thing as that which should be delimited between Albania and Greece.
The same holds true for Greece and Italy. This is imposed by the geographical position. But it is important for us to stress certain things today. The case, which is known as the Sea Agreement, and which, in a more professional consideration, refers to the need to delimit the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone, is one of the issues we discussed with Mr. Kotzias. It is one of the issues on which the contracting parties have differing perspectives.
Moreover, the positions and developments in Albania and Greece on this specific case are well known, and what is rightly expected by both Albanian and Greek public opinion is that we will get past this situation and come to a solution accepted by both sides. A solution that for us – I will say here what I also said during the bilateral meeting – should be a solution that will be fully based on international law, a solution that will be carried out based on the European framework, and not as something that functions as a precedent for cases that may or may not be considered similar.
That is, I would not be my preference, and I don’t think it would be advisable, to orient public opinion towards other cases that may not be relevant to our own case. It is a solution that we two Ministers want to be tabled first by the experts and the groups of specialists, so that we can gain a deeper perspective as to the direction and orientation of this case. As I said very clearly here earlier, if, following a long process that can be carried out by the groups of experts, we do not reach a correct and mutually acceptable finding, then the International Court and the European framework are what will direct us towards the mechanisms or organs we can appeal to with confidence that they will give us a definitive solution.
To refer to the relationship between Albania and Italy, I can tell you that the negotiation process lasted about seven years and there is a thick file at both our Ministry and on the other side. Thus, regardless of what we expect and the questions that are raised, by both Albanian and Greek public opinion, these are issues that require time and the right moment to be resolved.
And last but not least: There is strategic interest in our resolving this case – for both us and Greece – because we have the maritime economy, which we should explore and develop. We have the directives and the strategies of the EU for the macroregions, and we have never believed that there can be a one-sided solution on this specific issue. Moreover, we are well aware that Greece is a country that, like us, respects the principles of international law and wants to achieve an agreement that is acceptable to both sides.
So, regardless of anything you read about our approach to this case – which is not the sole bilateral issue, though public opinion is very sensitive to it – I can tell you that, at this time, the points that bring us together are greater in number than those that divide us. Because our common course is towards International Law and the European framework. We need to study with precision the directives given us by European Law, the European acquis, and what we need to keep at the foundation of our friendship, so that we have a positive climate in public opinion, which will support both the political factors and the groups of experts, so that we can move to a mutually acceptable solution.
As for what this solution would be, I can tell you that, due to both the corresponding professionals and the good working groups, at both the Greek Foreign Ministry and the Albanian Foreign Ministry, I can say that this is not a fallow period, as we are studying in detail all of the ways in which we can move towards a common language regarding delimitation of the continental shelf, the exclusive economic zone, and see how the economic exploitation of the sea will take place, bearing in mind the positions of our two countries.