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Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, following their meeting (Athens, 29 October 2015)
N. KOTZIAS: I was to have said good day, but I guess I should say good evening. I am pleased to be welcoming Frank-Walter Steinmeier to Athens; an old friend and fellow university student, with both studies and professors in common with me. He was the first to welcome me when, in January 2015, I went to the Council of Foreign Ministers, and I thank him for the warmth with which he has treated me throughout this time. And, you know, it is a particular honor for me to accompany Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the ceremony at which he will be awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Piraeus. The Rector told me you are all welcome.
And you know my view that Greece and Germany are two countries that have very, very deep and longstanding cultural ties. I often say that, if today we talk about the role of Hellenic culture in the European Enlightenment and the development of Europe, there are two factors that played an important role: the Arab intellectuals and, later, the fact that Greek civilization was an element in the identity of Germany itself when it founded its state, once again giving flight to the great classical texts of Greek culture.
The German Minister and I discussed the developments in the Balkans. We talked about Greek-Turkish relations and the developments in Cyprus. And of course – as with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister – we talked about the refugee issue. I think that Germany and Greece are two countries with common interests and concerns with regard to the refugee influx, because we are a country that is receiving the waves of war and economic refugees, who are still in the UN camps in Jordan and Lebanon, from the war in Syria. And a great number of these refugees have ended up being taken in by Germany. And we all understand the great needs of these populations, both when they enter Europe and when they reach Germany.
We talked in detail with the Minister, who is a person who has undertaken great efforts for peace – I remind you of the Minsk Agreements, the first and the second, which are his work. I remind you of the agreement with Iran, and I remind you of the efforts he is making now, as together we pursue peace in Syria. He is a figure who, beyond Greek-German relations, we must always bear in mind as having contributed to and pointed up diplomacy, proving once again that diplomacy can play an international role.
Beyond the problems of the region, we talked about – and will continue to talk about during the luncheon -- Greek-German bilateral relations, and we underscored the need to get beyond stereotypes, prejudices or situations that objectively cause difficulties with the images of the two states, one for the other, and we need to develop our cooperation through specific projects, plans, and contribute in every possible way so that we can revitalize these feelings of friendship that we felt when Greeks first went to Germany seeking work, and that German tourists feel, German visitors to Greece and its museums and other cultural systems.
I would say that Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the representative of the German enlightenment of the 21st century on the world stage. And that is why it is always a great pleasure for me to meet with him. And I am very pleased that, this time, we are not in Berlin, but in Athens, which I imagine has better weather. In any case, Frank, welcome to Athens. I welcome your whole delegation, the German press. It is a pleasure to host you. We would like to keep you longer, but your international duties call you to Vienna, where there are talks on the future of the Syria crisis, which is also the source, a basic fundamental source, of the refugee problem.
Frank-Walter, welcome to Athens.
F.-W. STEINMEIER: My dear Nikos, the weather has been very good in Berlin over the past few days, unseasonably good, with sunshine almost like that in Athens. Nevertheless, I am very happy to be here following so many meetings we had in the very difficult weeks and months we spent in Brussels and Berlin. Finally, I’m glad to be here on an official visit and to meet with you. The time had come and we had much to discuss.
You set out the whole range of issues that we discussed, including with the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister earlier today. A conversation we will deepen and continue during our luncheon.
You also noted that we should have met much earlier, and, in fact, under completely different circumstances, and at that time we could have cultivated very intensive relations and debates, because it is true that, like many of your compatriots, in difficult times, you left Greece and lived for a long time in Germany. So we were together at the same university and probably attended some of the same lectures. And we have a common piece of our past, though of course this is not a solution to the problems, the current problems, but it helps because, to the extent that policy is formulated by people, things are easier if there are bridges between these people.
And I think that my colleague Nikos Kotzias is managing this at a very, very difficult time for Greece and Europe. And we maintain these contacts and I want to express my heartfelt thanks for the opportunity you gave me for us to have sincere meetings, talks, beyond the escalation that we experienced from the press, from the media and the press. So I am very happy to be here in Athens and to be meeting with a colleague who knows my own country, Germany, almost as well as I do, and for this reason he understands a lot about what is sensitive and dominant is domestic politics in Germany at this time as well.
You speak German very well. Unfortunately, I don’t speak Greek, so I must say I have difficulties with the Greek language. However, “εμπιστοσύνη” is mutual trust; it is the word I want to keep and to learn, and it is precisely what characterizes politics and diplomacy and must be the dominant element and the foundation. We don’t need anything as much as we need that in the current phase; more than trust, that is, as we confront the repercussions even of the financial crisis we are facing. And we must have the experience that the financial and fiscal crisis, which has not yet been overcome, was not even the greatest challenge for Europe, because Europe is facing an even greater challenge in the refugee issue.
So this great trust, which exists traditionally in our bilateral relations, between Germany and Greece, that is, this trust, in recent months and over the past two years, had been overshadowed by barbs, if you will, harsh phrasing, in the media and the press. And we know this is part of our jobs, but we must always know that it is our responsibility to deal with it. This is of decisive importance; that is, that the misunderstandings or misperceptions, misperceptions of the Greeks regarding the Germans and of the Germans regarding the Greeks – we are not only discussing these, but we also have to find a way to build a path that will take us up to good relations and the rebuilding of good relations and ties that existed in the past.
So that is why we are having these talks. And these talks are not abstract in nature. We are being very specific. We are talking about the sectors, the fields of policy where we have common interests, and, naturally, these are the economy, economic issues. But on a secondary level, the question is, how can we bring one closer to the other, the people? How can we effect this rapprochement?
We are pleased, for example, that some 3,000 students are studying at German universities. But we are of the view that, beyond that, there is the dynamic that we could develop mainly with regard to young people. We talked about this issue with the President of the Republic, and with you we will go into greater detail on this institution that has been tested and has borne fruit in other regions. That is, for example, in bilateral youth relations, the Youth Foundation that was created between Germany and France in similarly difficult circumstances and that led to an extremely close relationship and reconciliation. This might be an experience and basis that we could use in the case of Greece, creating a Greek-German Youth Foundation. This might be a path we could follow in the future.
What we essentially intend to do in the future cannot overshadow everything that has happened in the past. That is, discussions on financial issues, the agreement between the European Commission and Greece – the commitments, that is. And here, first of all, I must express my respect, my appreciation and respect for the fact that Greece found the strength to decide on important reforms – not just to talk about them, but to implement them, to set their implementation in motion. We are fully aware of the burdens and efforts the Greek people have made to set these reforms in motion.
Your Minister and I share the experience – and I agree with him that Greece will honor its commitments and will continue the further implementation of everything agreed upon between Europe and Greece. I say this as a someone who has personal experience of imposed implementation of reforms, and I was forced to gain this experience. So I say this as a person who shared responsibility for a very ambitious and demanding programme. This reform programme began ten years ago in Germany, and I am aware that the greatest difficulty for politicians is that they face the political cost, while the necessary reforms bear fruit much later. This is a great difficulty of politics that has to be confronted by politicians themselves, and it is something experienced by you yourselves – we see this and fully respect your actions.
So, when we talk about financial issues, we do this and we are aware of the next burden, which is not something that is right in front of us, but it is something that many Europeans sense. It is the weight being created by the waves of refugees, mainly from the Middle East region.
So before I move on to the potential for finding solutions on the European level – solutions that are necessary – I would like to express my thanks. I know that last night, specifically, there was a new incident, and I know that the Greek coast guard managed to save many lives; hundreds of people were saved. That is, the lives of refugees were saved; refugees who, via this treacherous sea route, reached Greece. So they saved these people. But there were seven deaths and there are still thirty people missing. Once again, we see that Greece not only acknowledges its humanitarian responsibility and duty, but acts on it.
We stressed at the beginning of our talks today, this morning with the Prime Minister and with the President of the Republic, that we can’t resolve problems in Europe if one places responsibility on the other and criticizes the other. There is no point, or, let’s put it this way, it won’t lead anywhere if Germany and Austria are involved in a controversy, or if we two, if you will, come down on the other countries of the Western Balkans and the countries of the Western Balkans put the blame on Greece. At least now, at this late hour, it should be clear that we need Europe as a point of contact and communication, and no single nation state will ever be able to deal with issues alone.
We will find answers only with the passage of time, only when we don’t want to see just our national interests – thinking this is a panacea – and only if we really believe that the solution will come from a European solution. So, here we need integration of procedures and, to the extent there is a point, integration of specifications. Homogenization is also an important issue. So, here we need to have a general European approach to guarding the EU’s external borders. And beyond that, I can imagine the creation of a European border control service. This comes from the experience we have with regard to the crises we see.
And here again, it will not suffice, in seeking European solutions, to address only the member states of the European Union. This isn’t enough. We should also bear in mind the neighbouring countries.
So, this is why the negotiations between the European Commission and Turkey would be a good step. But we mustn’t forget the efforts we need to make on the African side, so that we regulate migration flows more effectively. For there to be a conference like the one that is going to take place in Malta in a few weeks, between the African countries and Europe. I know that this sounds like a discussion that will soon have to do with the isolation of Europe, but this isn’t about that.
It is about something else. We have to give these people who are fleeing a reason to stay in their countries. And I am talking about the people, the young people from western Africa – we should give them reasons so that they believe they will find work in the future or live in their country. This has to be the priority at our meeting in Valetta.
In the end, however, we will not be able to avoid the observation that these current refugee flows mean a serious burden for very few countries. Greece is among those states. We will not succeed in dealing with this problem if we don’t recognize, first, that the hardest-hit countries need our support, and we will not succeed in finding a solution if a start isn’t made, if it isn’t recognized that, among the EU member states, the burden must be shared fairly.
We haven’t got to that point yet, in our view. The creation of the so-called hotspots will have to move ahead, along with first-reception countries. This is, if you will, a necessary participation and contribution, but it will not suffice if it isn’t backed by a burden-sharing system in Europe.
So, this is why the fair and just sharing of the burden is absolutely necessary. And, again, this will have no point if we don’t address the reasons why these people flee in the first place.
Unfortunately, despite the planning for my trip, I will not be able to visit Lesvos tomorrow, but I will take part in the first effort, which is taking place in Vienna, where everyone will sit at one negotiating table – all of the players, Moscow, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, some additional countries, and, for the first time, Iran. All of the key players will sit at one table and look at how to find ways to alleviate tensions in the coming time. I think that every effort in this direction is important.
N. MELETIS: Nikos Meletis, from ERT. Mr. Minister, I want to ask the following: Turkey has signed two agreements. One with the European Union, one with Greece, on readmission. Nevertheless we continue to see these boats leaving from Turkey, leading to the deaths of young children, adults, old and young. Do you think it is fair for the European Union to negotiate in the manner it is negotiating with Turkey, which is asking for things in exchange – a lowered bar on issues of human rights and freedom of the press, as well as visa liberalization for 75 million Turkish citizens -- in order to implement its obligations? Thank you.
F.-W. STEINMEIER: This is a question I have also been asked to answer in Germany, and in this sense it is no surprise that you are posing it. But if we take a look at the refugee flows at this time, we see that the Western Balkan route is the main one, and Greece is harder hit than any other country, precisely because of this development. So, bearing in mind the region from which the majority of refugees are coming, we see that Turkey really is the country that has a key role here. Because many do not come directly from Africa, but from Africa through Turkey. That is why I advise the following: Let’s remain realists. We need contact with Turkey and a way to negotiate. We are seeking this potential, and I hope that the talks that take place between the European Union and Turkey will have some result.
JOURNALIST: I would like to pose a question for each minister. To the Greek Minister, the following: Are the difficulties with Turkey, with there being joint patrols, continuing? Does the Greek side have some historical claims it is raising regarding some areas? Can you imagine there being progress – will you move in the direction of Turkey – due to the problem?
And for the German Minister: In view of the major crisis, you said yes, we have to bear in mind everything that is happening today. You can imagine the major cuts and the economic difficulties Greece is facing. Might some of these measures be relaxed somewhat?
N. KOTZIAS: Sometimes measures are requested from European players/institutions – not states – that the Turks would never ask for. This is interesting. And no one can respond to this request, which I saw mainly in the news media, because no one has asked it of us officially, and neither could we accept.
Two things are being confused. One is the need that we underscore and promote for cooperation with Turkey. In my talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Sinirlioğlu, in New York, 25 days ago, we agreed for this cooperation to be developed from the local level overall, for there to be cooperation on all the levels. That is, not just police station-to-police station in Evros, or coast guard-to-coast guard in the Aegean, but cooperation that runs through all the levels, from the top of the Greek Ministries to all of the coast guard stations or all of the police stations and so on.
Second. This reading, regarding joint patrols, assumes that the refugee problem is a problem because there aren’t joint patrols. But this is not the case. The refugee problem arises first and foremost from the war in Syria. Thus, we could all agree to carry out patrols on the Turkish border. It also arises because there are thousands – millions, I would say – of refugees who are moving from the region of Syria towards the Aegean.
I would find much more rational, and support, a request for hotspots for potential refugees. Because until they are processed, they are potential refugees. And instead of people having to cross the Aegean – at very great risk – they could be processed there, directly, and shared out to European countries.
But we have the surprising phenomenon that the European countries have agreed on 160,000 refugees, beyond those we or Germany have at our gates, and the rest of the countries have so far taken 187,000 of the 160,000. The countries not accepting refugees on the European level are perhaps those who have a problem with the distribution taking place from Turkey.
But if we did the distribution from Turkey, lives would not be at risk. The Greek coast guard has picked up 78,000 people at sea. Has anyone considered what these people go through? Mothers with their infants. Women about to give birth. The day before yesterday, in the papers, I saw that there was a 105-year-old refugee who crossed the sea. Why should they come here to be shared out to the rest of Europe? Why not distribute them from Turkey?
So the first problem is the war in Syria. The second is that we should develop our cooperation with Turkey. The third is that, in my opinion, the redistribution of refugees should be done on the Turkish side.
But there is a third problem that we mustn’t forget. I have information to the effect that, as of the day before yesterday, some 300,000 refugees – the number may not be accurate, but the information is good – are coming from the camps in Jordan and Lebanon. They are selling all of their belongings in Turkey to make the long journey.
Why are these people – of whom there are a total of 3 million in the refugee camps – suddenly picking up and leaving? That is the question we should be asking.
They are picking up and leaving because, as I have noted repeatedly and pointedly in the international press, from $150 dollars that each family was receiving every month in the camps, they are now receiving $13; that is, about 43 cents per day. A whole family is being asked to live in a camp, to eat, find potable water, milk and anything else they need – to dress, to stay warm or cool – on 43 cents a day.
The collapse of the financing of the UN organizations active in Lebanon and Jordan is precipitating a new wave of refugees. And instead of looking for the funds to provide them with what they need in Europe, we should, in my opinion, be getting money together to ensure appropriate living conditions close to their hearths.
And I want to say something else, because we don’t say this. The Syrian people are a very proud people and it was never in their minds – from my knowledge of history – to leave for Europe. If we ensure for them, at least in the surrounding areas, basic living conditions, we would have many fewer refugees. That is, together with the war, we have the problem of the financial collapse of the camps.
And I want to take this opportunity, as I saw my friend Frank refer to this in his speech yesterday, to note that we still have a problem that I often highlight to the competent European institutional systems, like the European Commission.
No one should play with fire, destabilizing other countries in the region. Some like to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I understand this. I was never a fan of military regimes. Understand this, please. My generation was in the jails of the military junta. Stability and security in the region comes first. Has anyone considered what will happen in the case of a disorderly collapse of the regime in Egypt, with 96 million people, 62 million of whom are young and without identity, outlook, jobs? And behind these tens of millions, there are 45 million who are now emerging from the civil war in Sudan, as well as the failed state of Somalia. In my opinion, we need to avert the destabilization of this region from top to bottom, because otherwise the refugee situation in the Mediterranean will be truly beyond control. Consequently, we need to take many, many measures.
Moreover, there is a narrow, I would say, developing cooperation with Turkey. We are awaiting the elections, but no one wants the refugee crisis to be used as a tool for violating the sovereignty of any EU member state.
What does joint patrols mean? It can mean two things. Either that good knowledge of the map is lacking, because many islands are at a very short distance between Greece and Turkey, with the result that certain problems arise. There are no international waters between these islands and Turkey, for one to say there can be joint patrols. There are Turkish waters and Greek waters. And I would say it would be good to deter the refugee flow before it gets to the side of the European Union, rather than letting it reach Greece, through Turkey, and then saying we should have joint patrols. Why carry them out then? The thing is to keep them from getting so far.
And if we leave the islands, the two sides of the islands in the Aegean, and you look for international waters, you fall way back; that is, to the Cyclades. But this would mean joint patrols when the refugees have already traveled 3,000 kilometers over land, because that is the distance they travel to reach the islands. And then we should let them cover 200 miles at sea so that we can carry out joint patrols? That’s where the international waters are. Please study the map carefully. Mytilene, Lesvos, Leros, Kos, Agathonisi, etc. are at a distance of a few hundred meters or one or two miles from the Turkish coast. Not a distance within which joint patrols are needed.
What is needed in the cooperation – and I’ll conclude with this – is good coordination. That is, of the time when one or the other side patrols. And in particular there needs to be good prosecution, very good prosecution of the systems promoting human trafficking. And this system is on the other side, it is not at sea, where we could confront it.
And to be clear, this is big business with the boats and the human trafficking. Do you know how the trafficking was carried out in the summer? There was trafficking of the poor, in boats with 200 or 400 persons in the holds, and there was business-class trafficking, with jet skis. One on board, for four or six thousand dollars. He went for a ride on a jet ski and was left somewhere in the sea, in Greek territorial waters.
The departure point is what we’re after – not after they reach us. When they have reached us, we take care of them. And I want to add something, I want to tell you something. As the Greek Foreign Minister, I feel very proud of a people in the midst of a very deep crisis, with people who do not have a home themselves or don’t have enough to eat in the poor neighbourhoods or on our poorer islands, and who nevertheless accommodate and take care of third parties. And I am proud that we did not have mass demonstrations of racism. I think this is historically unprecedented. Every day 10,000 refugees reach the islands, Lesvos, for example, where the villages have 500 residents. Islands like Simi, earlier, or Agathonisi, etc., where the daily refugees greatly outnumbered the residents of the islands. And yet, we did not have demonstrations of racism. That is why I talk about a European spirit and a tradition of Greek hospitality.
F.-W. STEINMEIER: Before I start my own answer, I think that you understand what it is. How important, given everything the Greek Minister said, tomorrow’s negotiations are – the talks, that is, tomorrow in Vienna, so that there can be, if you will, at least the option of return. So that we can sustain the aspirations that together we are trying to create conditions of security in Syria, to which most Syrians could return. That is what we’re after.
The other issue that has been plaguing me in recent weeks and months, and which disturbed me deeply, was the fact that on the one hand we are making great efforts to initiate a conversation, and on the other the Commissioner for Refugees doesn’t have enough money on the international level to support the refugees economically and to supply them and take care of them adequately. Moreover, food allowances were reduced by 50% precisely because there wasn’t enough money. Or the situation threatened to explode with a new wave of refugees.
So this was a second huge problem we were looking at a month ago in New York. We were able to call this meeting because we are chairing the G7. So we managed to gather together those responsible, the donors, and gather $1.7 billion, which was provided to the competent Commissioner of the World Food Program, to at least cover the refugees’ food needs.
It sounds like an impressive amount, €1.8 billion, but it is an order of magnitude that, if we consider the volume of refugees, is anything but an adequate amount. And we need to make new efforts next year to support and ensure the funding of these programs.
Now, the question that concerns me and that has to so with the relationship between the burden Greece is shouldering due to the refugee flows coming through Greece, on the one hand, and, on the other, the difficulties with implementing the reforms.
Here, my answer will have to have two parts. First, the return to growth and prosperity is not a European interest. Of course, on a European level we want Greece to be a politically and economically stable country, but that is a purely Greek interest; that is, purely in the interest of Greece. This is borne witness to by the fact that there is an agreement between the Greek government, on the one side, and the European Union, on the other, that leads to the implementation of a number of reform programmes; a process that is already under way. And as I said, I haven’t the slightest doubt it will continue.
The other issue is the question, which is equally fair, if you will, of the extent to which, for this reason, precisely due to the burden, Greece should stay on its own and deal with the huge cost of the refugee flows. On this point I am of the opinion that Europe should provide a response that also includes solutions. And this is what happened at the last meeting of the heads of state and government. They – those responsible – said that it is good that Greece is prepared to create the so-called hotspots at various geographical points in the country. This is good, because it ensures accommodation for the people, technical support, logistical support, etc. And to this end, financial support from the European Union is also needed, or from the EU member states. I hope these aren’t empty words and that there will be real, tangible funding.
An initial payment has already been made to Greece by the Commission, as far as I know. And in any case, we, the German government, that is, will support every solution that at least leads to a balancing of the economic burden Greece has to cover.
JOURNALIST: Question on the Syrian crisis.
F.-W. STEINMEIER: In Germany I hear these voices from many sides: that there should be an understanding with Assad, as if that is the solution, if you will. When I look at how things were ten years ago, when we stopped political relations with the Syrians, at that time the situation was one in which we could have communicated much more easily. Today, after five years of civil war and war and destruction, things are clearly much more difficult. And there are many in the Arab world who reject such a contact outright. A Syrian dissident explained the situation to me in the following way: The dilemma in Syria lies in the fact that you can’t have a ceasefire without Assad, but that you can’t have a future with Assad. That is the dilemma for the Syrian opposition, but the truth is that this dilemma also concerns the whole community of states. That is, nor is there a solution without Assad.
So that is why we have been trying in recent months and weeks to bridge the deep chasms – which the participants see as chasms, which are obstacles to the creation of a solution. And that is why it is impressive that we now see the U.S. and Russia wanting to sit at the same negotiating table, but bridging things between Saudi Arabia and Iran was much more difficult.
And I hope that all of this will hold until tomorrow and that we will manage – all of the participants – to sit at the same table, whether it is round or square. However it is, everyone will sit together, and this gives some hope. We won’t overcome the problem tomorrow, but if we do manage to agree on some principles, which, for example, Syria will comply with. Let’s say that Syria, as a country, adheres to some principles, the political transition could begin bearing in mind there being a government, a caretaker government. This would be a major success.
JOURNALIST: I am from Bild Zeitung, and I would like to pose a question for the Greek Foreign Minister and one for the German Minister.
Mr. Minister, you described in detail how people are getting here through Turkey and how they are suffering. However, all of Europe is suffering because of the fact that Greece is allowing these refugees to transit FYROM, etc., and that, essentially, the flow of these refugees is unchecked. How long do you want things to stay this way? When will you halt this situation?
And, Mr. Steinmeier, there has been a meeting on the Balkans and there have been decisions that have to do with 7,000 to 10,000 refugees on the Greek islands. Do you believe that these decisions from last weekend will improve things? We have deaths every day. What do you think the solution is?
N. KOTZIAS: I am often asked why our country doesn’t take measures when there are such large influxes of refugees and economic migrants.
When I am asked about these issues, I think of the United States of America. The U.S. is the most technologically advanced country in the world. It has built the best wall to keep economic migrants from getting in. Behind the wall, in many areas, there are miles of desert. At the end of all these efforts by the U.S., which has the best technology, the best wall, the best police in the world, the FBI, the best secret services in the world, the most measures, the best cooperation with Mexico, there are 40 million illegal aliens in the U.S.
This shows what happens when people are determined to risk their lives in their efforts to migrate, because the 40 million in the U.S. are economic migrants. Here we have to do with war refugees, who are fleeing under much greater pressure and with greater resolve to risk even their lives.
If anyone is trying to blame the whole problem on Greece, they are making a mistake. And if anyone thinks that Greece can hold back these hundreds of thousands of people on its own, they are also wrong.
What we can do is, first, better organize – we have agreed on and started even better organization – the processing of war refugees.
Second, we agreed to build reception areas for receiving 50,000 people. Let me remind you of something. We agreed to share out 160,000, and 1,000,000 ended up in Germany and we have 1,000,000 illegal refugees and economic migrants in Greece. Not everyone leaves Greece. Among the economic migrants, for example, we have hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans in our country. A large portion of the economic migrants stays here. But it is clear that the more we process them and the more we agree that they can go to third countries, the more they want to move to these countries.
We acknowledge Germany’s courage. When it says that it will accept all of the refugees coming from Syria – and it is right in doing so – it is reasonable to expect that the dynamic of movement will overcome a great deal of resistance. Because, let’s make the assumption that your newspaper often does: that Greece isn’t holding them back. What about all the others?
I saw the recent disagreements between Bavaria and Austria. Why doesn’t Austria, which is a more organized state, which is not in the same state of economic crisis as Greece, which hasn’t sacked thousands of people, border guards, based on the memorandums – why doesn’t Austria keep them? They pass through Hungary, which is taking all of the measures it’s taking.
We all have to take measures. Greece has agreed to take measures, but remember something I say in sincerity. What is moving these people is their strength of will, including their willingness to risk their very lives, to flee the war. It isn’t some policy or other. And that is why I want us to have done with the war.
But if I may, because the courteous and good German press is here, I would like to take this opportunity to say something. In February I gave one of my rare interviews, with a German channel, and I said that I saw a new wave of refugees coming. I said it in February, because I saw how the war in Syria was developing, from the intelligence we have, with the UN finances collapsing for the camps. Shall I remind you what was on the front page of much of the European press? They accused me of wanting to create refugee flows. I was describing a state of affairs.
I repeat, we are taking all humanly possible measures. I want you to consider that the money we have spent on the refugees comes to some €2.8 billion – five times the expense of the pensions under threat of cuts. Consider that. But we cannot do anything beyond what is humanly possible.
You have to consider that the refugees who come are aware that they are coming to an economically devastated country. They aren’t coming to stay in Greece. They are here to pass through. And we don’t have the same relationship with North Africa that Europe does. In North Africa, I remind you, by decisions of the European Union, we were prepared – or it happened – to bomb the boats that were coming, in the ports. Greece cannot do that with its neighbours, bomb boats in harbors as they are leaving to come towards Greece.
Consequently, we have another state of affairs. And I ask that this be understood: Greece is fighting to process these flows, a large portion of these flows remains in Greece, but this phenomenon of the influxes has taken on the natural dynamic of people who are fleeing war and want to go to places where they can find work, a steady supply of food, education for their children. Greece has difficulty providing this.
I will give you one final example, so that you can understand the Greek government. The recent agreements have created an issue with the red loans. Take careful note of this please. What do the red loans mean? Someone who can’t pay – because they have lost their job, their salary – the loan on the house where they live isn’t thrown out. The lenders are today asking us to throw them out.
Great, someone might say that since we agreed to it, we should throw them out. At the same time, we are making 50,000 homes to bring in refugees. Tell me what I am to say to 50,000 Greeks I am going to throw out when I am making 50,000 homes for refugees. These things are linked. The situation with the refugee flows is linked to our capacities.
Because hospitable Zeus is our god, we would like to take the refugees from all over the world; it’s one embrace, one soul. And I want you to know that the refugees understand this. These hundreds of thousands of refugees don’t have a big future here.
We are left with 1 million who are legal and 1 million at this time who are not legal. We have 2 million foreigners here; 20% of our population. Do you know what that would mean in Germany? It would mean 16 million new migrants and refugees. This is the magnitude for our country.
So please look on our country’s hospitable stance – the effort to limit refugee flows – tenderly and in a friendly manner. But we cannot stop them. Not even the Americans can.
F.-W. STEINMEIER: Regarding the second part of your question, this had to do with the fact that, last Sunday, Germany and Austria met with representatives from Greece and the Western Balkans and agreed on certain issues.
The question is, whether this is a solution. I think that we will be asking this question more frequently in the weeks and months to come, because we don’t have the solution, we don’t have the recipe, and the decision will show the decisive dimension for limiting the waves of refugees. We need a bundle of decisions that won’t be taken on the national level, the level of national governments, that is, within the nation states. They can’t be limited on that basis.
We need synergies, which are not a given everywhere. Here we will have to operate with the strength of conviction. We need understanding for the European dimension; that is, that the refugee problem is a European issue that must be confronted jointly. We also need the readiness, the desire for there to be asylum processes that will be harmonized, we need fair sharing of the burden. We also need the readiness and willingness for there to be agreements with these refugees’ states of origin in order for this dynamic of refugee flows to be limited in a decisive manner.
But one thing remains at the end of the day. There will not be a solution to this problem if we don’t succeed in de-escalating the conflicts in the right manner; the conflicts that lead these people to abandon their homes, their families and embark on this venture.
You see, Germany is not directly involved in these conflicts. And in spite of this, long before this migration and these migration flows took on their current dimensions, we made efforts to contribute so that at least some ways were tried that might lead to the limiting of these conflicts.
I see the spending, I see the spending for us, for Greece. I see the burden. A burden for municipalities, communities, states. I even see the weight falling on the shoulders of people who are willing to help and that what is happening is beyond their capacities.
Nevertheless, I believe that we should speak the truth openly. There is no single truth that will lead immediately to changes, but the agreements made last Sunday are part of a larger solution that we should see on a European level. And this solution should be accompanied by our efforts on the level of foreign policy; efforts that will lead to the end of some conflicts. Because otherwise, if these conflicts remain, the sources of these population movements will also remain.