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Joint statements of Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic, L. Zaoralek, following their meeting (Prague, 16 May 2017)
L. ZAORALEK: Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to welcome my friend and partner, Mr. Kotzias, to the Czernin Palace. I am particularly pleased to have been able to invite him and welcome him warmly to the Czech Republic today.
I want to stress in particular that many Czechs will visit Greece. Today, I can say that nearly half a million will be visiting your country, because they greatly prize Greece's beauty and security.
We looked at bilateral cooperation issues, as Greece is a partner with whom we want to develop our relations, particularly in the field of enterprises. We are very pleased that the refugee/migration wave that hit Greece has stopped almost completely, and the situation in this sector has shifted for Greece.
The issue that interests us in particular is the future of the European Union, because we are countries of approximately the same size in terms of population, though Greece's is a little larger, and we are interested in the future of Europe as a whole.
I would like to mention an issue that is of particular interest to our audience and all of the Czech Republic, and it concerns the court case of Czech citizens, Messrs. Buchta and Pezlar. I would like to stress that we have assisted our citizens, we have given them legal support. They have not been convicted of a jailable offence, but given a suspended sentence, and the charge has changed on this matter. I would like to stress, once again, that there was a change in the charge, from a jailable offence to an offence carrying a suspended sentence, and I would be very pleased if it were just a misdemeanour. We are awaiting the result from the appeal that has been lodged with the Greek court.
I am of the opinion that Greek-Czech relations are very good, and, once again, I am pleased to receive Mr. Kotzias here in the Czech Republic.
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you very much for the interpretation. I thank my friend Lubomir very much for the invitation to come to Prague, a city with a great history; a city that Greeks love, especially for its arts, history and literature. First of all, I would like to wish my colleague every success now that the Czech Republic – in a few days, in Nicosia – will be assuming the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. I can assure you that the Committee will be in good hands.
The future of the European Union is of great interest to me – it is of concern to both of us. We have to help for there to be a substantial debate among our partners, our societies and the institutions regarding the future of Europe. A debate on the future of Europe means our agreeing on how we imagine the European Union and what we aspire for it to be and develop into in the 21st century. On what our vision is for Europe and our Union, and what principles and values we will strengthen it with. How we will make it attractive to the younger generation again. How we will develop a social Europe, so that it once again becomes more attractive to our citizens. We have to avert the trends toward the fragmentation of Europe.
We have two major and difficult geoeconomic, geostrategic problems before us in Europe: to optimise our organisation of the Brexit – for both sides – and to stabilise our relations with Turkey. I always say that Greece has every interest in wanting a European and democratic Turkey, but it is up to the Turks themselves to decide whether they really want to work and to promote the necessary reforms so that they can join the European Union.
My colleague and I also talked about the Western Balkans. How we can strengthen the region's course towards the European Union and Euroatlantic structures. How we can contribute to the further development of a political culture of consensus and compromise.
The last thing I would like to mention is that there is also broad scope for our bilateral cooperation. In particular, we want to enhance – and I have a number of proposals and thoughts on this – the cooperation between our Ministries of Foreign Affairs and between the two states as a whole, in the sectors of education, research, culture and new technologies. Our meeting today, which follows on our meeting in Athens, will not suffice. I hope Lubomir finds time to come to Athens again, and it is certain that we will take a big step in our good relations. Thank you again for the invitation.
JOURNALIST: A question for Mr. Kotzias: When do you think the package of measures will be approved by Parliament?
N. KOTZIAS: On Thursday evening.
JOURNALIST: What can you tell us in regard to this?
N. KOTZIAS: If I could sum up the situation of the Greek economy in a single phrase, I would say this: it isn't what we would like it to be, but it is much better than what we found two and half years ago. After eight years of a crisis that was the biggest economic crisis in the world, I would say, since the Second World War, given that we lost 27% of our GDP.
We are now once again on a growth track. We managed to get our surpluses to three times the level set by the programme. Unemployment fell by nearly 5%. Nevertheless, unemployment remains high. We have new investments: I have just returned from China, where we signed agreements on a total of €1.7 billion in investments, with the largest being that of ZTE, which comes to €500 million and concerns fibre optics. We are in a position to adopt a relief programme for the poor, as poverty has reached very high levels in Greece, and, with certain exceptions, all of the players have understood that these austerity programmes must stop and that we must move on to growth programmes.
In brief: We took major steps forward, but this isn't enough for us to be satisfied. We have a lot of difficulties to face, but this time we have a plan for how to deal with the crisis and return to strong growth rates.
In fact, all of the data indicate that this year we will have a record in foreign trade between Greece and the Czech Republic. While last year we saw a reduction in tourist flows from the Czech Republic, with under 300,000 arrivals, this year we will see a return to over 400,000 – towards half a million. The development of our relations with the Czech Republic is another element that helps in the stabilisation and growth of our economy. This is why I want to thank every Czech who comes to see the beauties of the land, history and culture of Greece, and every Czech who contributes to the growth of trade between the two states. Thank you.