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Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias’ statements following his meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas (MFA, 20/09/2018)
N. KOTZIAS: Good morning. I see that you are in good spirits. We are in good spirits as well.
It is a great pleasure for me to have here in Athens, with this beautiful weather, my friend Heiko, who toured the countries of Southeast Europe. He is a person who at this point is familiar with our region. And we discussed how we see it.
It is the last visit before we depart tomorrow evening for the U.N. And we are very pleased that this whole time, we have had a good visitor every day, or we were someone else’s visitor. This is a period in foreign policy which is very intense.
But, despite all these visits, the visit by Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs is special for us. We are two countries that have a long tradition of positive and productive relations.
Don’t forget that spreading of the Greek spirit in Europe also occurred thanks to the German enlightenment, thanks to the philhellenism of great German intellectuals and public figures.
Who can forget the love that Goethe and Schiller harboured for us, rekindling the love of the German people for the Greek spirit and for Greece?
Heiko Maas, too, is a person with deep knowledge, strong friendship, and a positive attitude towards Greece, in line with this tradition. And I also thank him very much for the nice words he says about our country, and for the love he shows, and for the support with which he provides us for all the problems that we must face.
Of course, as he arrived via Skopje and Tirana, it is only natural that we discussed the agreement that we have made with regard to Prespa and the negotiations that have taken place with Albania.
We support and stand by this Prespa Agreement. We consider what I always say, and I will never tire of saying it, that “history must be a school and not a prison.” The Agreement released us from the prison. There are those who dream of being imprisoned again. We shall not follow them.
In addition, we had the negotiations with Albania. And as you know, they have stalled, not with us, nor with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but because the administrative problems that they have, the disagreements between the country’s President and the Government and the fact that the validating court, the constitutional court is not in full - at least not the required - operation at the moment.
But, as I always underline, the same way Germany has a special a gravity - and a special responsibility due to this gravity - towards Europe, we too have our own gravity in Europe, as well as a special responsibility for the region. I say that our country is small, but it is large for the region, with great responsibilities. And this is how we approach agreements.
As was only natural, we discussed Kosovo and Serbia. You know that we do not wish to have border changes in the region. We do not wish to have actions that may lead to a negative domino effect. On the other hand, we hope that the two countries resolve their problems. And of course, it is also up to them, as to the manner in which they will resolve them.
We briefly discussed, and will continue discussing during luncheon, the other countries in our region. About how we will be able to reduce tensions. And I also spoke about the initiatives we are taking here in the region.
For us, in our foreign policy, there are three major areas: the European issues which coincide with a Germany that always supports pro-Europeanism, I would call it; in other words, the growth of the European Union. The Balkans, whose stability and security are a common concern of ours. And the Eastern Mediterranean, where I travelled quite a bit recently, as you know. We are also interested in the issue of immigration, and we shall continue to discuss that.
Greece and Germany, we have both taken great initiatives, we have also made this action plan, on which our continuously developing cooperation is based.
We are in the process of the final shaping of the Youth Foundation, which greatly interested Foreign Minister Heiko as well as our friend, the President of Germany. And we think it is a serious step for the future of Europe, for the South of Europe as well as its centre, to collaborate in the positive and productive manner in which the two countries collaborate.
Disagreements did exist, differing opinions, and questions during the period of our deep financial crisis, but today we have found a common path for the future of Europe. And I would like to tell you that, on this common path, the assistance and goodwill of Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Heiko Maas, is of great help to our country, which is coming out of the financial crisis and which, together with the other European countries, wishes to help the entire region of the Balkans, the Eastern Mediterranean, to develop.
Once again, Heiko, welcome to Athens. It is a pleasure for me to see you. Here we do not have the beautiful gardens where we strolled together during my visit to Berlin, but we still have good weather.
Thank you very much.
N. KOTZIAS: I would like to say something before your question, listening to my colleague. I would like to say that the negotiations we conducted with the future “North Macedonia,” and with Albania, also included a historical experience. And in historical experiences, in my mind, Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik always plays an important role. And I would like to remind everybody that Ostpolitik was fiercely contested by many circles in Europe during that time, as well as in Germany, but today it is recognized by everybody that it was necessary and helped in many ways. Thus, it was not just Schiller and Goethe who were learning from us; we were also learning from Ostpolitik, and from other things.
I am happy that we created an action plan with Germany two years ago because, though it did not do very many new things, it put our common action and abilities into order, giving us the ability of planning and controlling them. And these common actions are outside our Ministry, as well as within the Ministry. And the fact that we have strengthened our relations on all levels as Ministries - in other words, it is not just a matter of Ministers' meeting, but the Secretaries-General also meet, as was mentioned earlier, our Directorates meet, and we have fulfilled all the forecasts, except for one, which will be completed now by year's end, our Directorates exchanging experience and knowledge related to various geographical areas or issues.
Let me tell you, let me remind you that we had a Directorate at the Ministry, A1, which included all the Member States of the European Union, but through a decision on my part, we included France, Italy, and Germany in a new Directorate due to the weight these countries have for us, and with a specific weight in this Directorate on the part of Germany due to the breadth of our economic, cultural, and diplomatic relations.
As regards the work we are doing for the Youth Foundation, yesterday and the day before yesterday, when I was looking at it, it is almost completed. Some legal clarifications remain for us to make on our part as to the type of organisation - whether an interstate or international organisation. This is the issue, and I believe that we will have completed it, something that will please both our Ministries, as well as both our Presidents, who have great esteem for each other and who work together.
Let me thank the interpreters also. Without you, we would not be able to do our work. I always thank you, because you are a necessary and very productive component. And if you correct me if I get something wrong, that's wonderful.
JOURNALIST: One question for the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs When the people in the FYROM, on 30 September, will vote - what do you think? How confident are you with regard to the result of that referendum, and whether this will be approved also by the Greek Parliament? And to the German Minister, Jean Claude Junker, in Salzburg, mentioned the idea of a flexible solidarity. He spoke of flexible solidarity in Salzburg, with regard to the refugee issue. What would you say, therefore, about the manner in which it is approached by General-Anzeiger Bonn, the Berlin offices?
N. KOTZIAS: Thank you for the question. Let me tell you, our agreement is as follows. Referendum: I hope and believe that the referendum will be won, and that it will have the necessary participation. And then a series of constitutional amendments will need be made, on the part of the future “North Macedonia.” Major ones, for anything having to do with irredentism to be removed. And for the name to be changed in the Constitution. One major problem is the name of the Church, but now is not the right time for that.
When that is completed, which really should have been completed by December but, from what I can see from the timetables, it will be completed towards the end of January, ratification of the agreement will come before the Hellenic Parliament. Also, ratification of the NATO resolution will come before the Hellenic Parliament in order for that country to join NATO.
So, we will have two votes in Greek Parliament. The order in which they will be held is for the Speaker of Parliament to decide, the Presidium. A majority for approval of this agreement does exist. It has also been publicly declared by the SYRIZA party, the Potami party, and by many individual MPs.
I would hope that the classic - which it was in the past, perhaps it isn’t anymore - social democratic party of PASOK, and the party which is a member of the European People’s party, New Democracy, would support this agreement. Unfortunately, once again, they are thinking about foreign policy with an eye towards the domestic audience.
Furthermore, the main opposition party has its eye not only on domestic political life, but on the internal matters of its own party. Where extreme voices, which in the past were the far-right parties, have influenced it, to render it a policy which is not consistent with the past and what they did during the negotiations.
I would like to say to you that during our negotiations, we came away with much more than what they asked for. And we came away with everything they asked for in the past, when they held negotiations. Not what they say publicly. And despite this, they insist on not approving an agreement that looks towards the future. An agreement which gives the Balkans stability and security. An agreement that upgrades our country’s role and responsibility in the region. A good agreement.
No one will remember today’s arguments 10 or 20 years from now. Everyone will consider it a given that a country named “North Macedonia” exists, where people reside who self-determine with their democratic rights. Where they speak a language which New Democracy, in 1977, accepted to be called “Macedonian,” but today acts as if it is coming across it for the first time.
It would be good for this historic agreement to have a vast majority in Parliament. But even so, if the constitutional amendment is passed in the neighbouring country, which I hope and believe will occur, it is certain that it will be passed in Greece, also. I have already publicly stated, a year and a half ago, that for such a historic agreement to be passed, a party majority is not required, but rather an MP majority. Because decisions in Parliament are made through a majority of MPs. And this agreement exists publicly, committed to by a majority of MPs.
We believe that we are doing the right thing, ushering in a solution that looks towards the future of the region and the future of Europe.
MODERATOR: We would like to hear the next question. But because we are constrained by time I need to ask you to limit yourself to one question only. Thank you for your understanding.
JOURNALIST: Michael Fischer from the Deutsche Press. Mr Kotzias, Mr Minister of Foreign Affairs, with your permission I would like to raise a couple of issues with you. On the one hand, the issue of reparation or compensation for the crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany in Greece during World War II. This question should be put back on the agenda because there is a committee which has reached some conclusions and the latter are bound to resurface on the international stage. Do you hold the opinion that for the Greek Government this sensitive matter is henceforth closed? On the other hand, we are now confronted with a second crisis within the German Government. About half a year ago, we had a caretaker government in Germany. Given the current political instability afflicting an important country like Germany, what will be, from the point of view of your country, the repercussions for such international affairs? Do you believe the situation in Germany will have an adverse effect?
N. KOTZIAS: I am not aware of any crisis. I mean I don’t know if Germany is going through a political crisis, nor does it concern me. Suffice to say that the word ‘crisis’, whose linguistic roots go back to Ancient Greek, like the corresponding word in Ancient Chinese, since both cultures exhibit a parallel interpretation of this word going back to 4.000-5.000 years both in the medical and political domains, I believe that a crisis always entails at once potential and opportunity. I also happen to believe that Germany’s political system is sufficiently adept and stable to be able to take advantage of every potential and opportunity as it is understood by ancient Greek and Chinese philosophy. Now, as far as the war reparations are concerned, this problem needs to be distinguished from the problem of the occupation loan which Greece was forced to pay to Nazi Germany. There are two different matters here, and yet in the German debate they are taken as a single issue. In fact, they are wrongly conflated. The occupation loan is to this day an outstanding problem, since even the Nazi regime had paid back the first two installments – later it went luckily where it ought to have gone. So these are two distinct issues which should not be confused. The Hellenic Parliament is preparing a report on these issues and I think that every government ought to respect its parliament. Therefore, we will look at this report and read this text carefully after the President of the Hellenic Parliament has formally presented it and we shall state our official position accordingly. But – to say the word – if the ‘erledigt’ disappears, which has a harsher resonance or connotation in German, of course not. Whatever is just from a historical point of view, remains. And yet, whatever is just from a historical point of view needs to be handled properly at the proper time.
MODERATOR: I would like to thank you all for this interview.