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Ministry of Foreign Affairs Handover Ceremony - Statements of departing Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias and Prime Minister and new Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexis Tsipras (Athens, 20 October 2018)
N. KOTZIAS: I have spent half of my professional life here, a total of 1/3 of my life. We have been at the Ministry for 23 years. You remember, when I came I said, “I’ve returned home, I left for the University, I will go and teach again. I have many things to do, both here and abroad.
So good morning to you.
First of all, I would like to thank the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic for the honour they bestowed upon me and the opportunity he gave me, to measure myself against the problems of foreign policy. As I always told you, people should not measure themselves against other people, they must have the ambition to measure themselves against the problems they must face. We are always smaller than the problems but, in our effort to solve them, we grow. And in terms of age, at this Ministry, and weight - literally - and thinking, and thanks also to the discussions, the guidance and the urging I had from the Prime Minister, I dealt with these problems for as long as I could.
Mr. Prime Minister, under your leadership, our Government, our Ministry, was able to lead the country out of the mire it found itself stuck in, to overcome the disrepute and a situation where they would not listen to us.
Today, not only do they listen to us, they also seek our opinion. And I am happy about the congratulations I received from all my colleagues for the work I have done - and the expression of sadness for “freeing” myself from the weight of these problems; about the fact that everyone wants to maintain this relationship with which they honoured me by seeking my advice.
The country, with this Government, conducted a democratic active foreign policy, with sobriety, seriousness, with a goal of potential, looking far into the future, possessing an organised strategy and maintaining alliances.
It was able to create and develop - something unprecedented in international relations - 16 international and regional forms of cooperation. The most recent - and I am certain that under your guidance it is bound to grow - is the cooperation of the Central and Eastern Mediterranean which includes Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Malta, Greece, and Cyprus, within the European Union, on issues relating to convergence policies, the old Common Agricultural Policy, as we used to say.
In the almost 4 years that have passed, we were able to place on the negotiating table a package of issues that have been pending with Albania for 70 or perhaps 100 years: the mutual recognition that took place -it’s a small thing but shows the willingness- of professional driving licenses and, most importantly, the burial our men, the heroes in the 1940 epic, who had not been buried in the manner worthy of the glory and the honour that Greek society must bestow upon them.
We were able to take a step forward with regard to the Skopje problem, the issue of Macedonia. And I must thank Zaev, Dimitrov and the 80 MPs who voted in favour of the Agreement because, lest I hide it from you, the same thing will happen with you too; we are experiencing, both you and I, the same paradox, to have resigned and to be happy. Happy because I am leaving having made a serious step, a step of hope for the implementation of this agreement towards which we worked so hard, you and I, my Diplomatic Cabinet. Let me thank Mr. Passas together with whom we negotiated, let me especially thank the A3 Directorate, Ms. Grammata and our Expert on FYROM, Mr. Psilos. It was an extraordinary team, 15 of us worked together, openly, all of us service diplomats, and we proved that what is said about “secret diplomacy” does not hold true.
During the same period, we changed the agenda for the Cyprus issue. For decades, the Cyprus issue strayed from its true international basis which was the occupation and the presence of occupation forces.
We were able, under your guidance Mr. Prime Minister, to put on the table the issue of guarantees and security. An issue which, as the UN Secretary General himself stated, cannot continue to exist. For the first time, we came out of negotiations without the blame game against us, having ensured that the next round will begin from much more correct and pragmatic stances for our country.
We have made serious steps with regard to the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). We are in a stage of final negotiations with Italy, with Albania. The 10th round will take place -as you agreed with President Sisi of Egypt- the 10th round of the Technical Committee to decide on partially setting the boundaries of the EEZ with Egypt. We also promoted other forms of diplomacy, from diplomacy of stability and security as occurred in Rhodes where we met, 24 European and Arab States, and the global initiative with China which we took on ancient civilisations that resonate even today, civilisations which today have their headquarters, the ACForum, in Bolivia.
We upgraded our relations in general, and we also have two draft laws ready, Mr. President. You and your colleagues will see them together with the other Ministers. They pertain to the draft law on the Organization of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which is ready. For the new Organisation draft, we have taken the observations for the various sides. Some we have adopted and some not, as is only logical. And the draft law that is in its final form for the National Security Council, which was also a major concern for you with regard also to the discussions you had with third parties.
We created new Consulates or renovated old ones. Let me thank the Technical Service, Ms. Damigou. We inaugurated the consulate in Izmir, we are ready, in Korçë, to have Seferis’ house as our Consulate, in that beautiful city which will be a joy for you to visit. We established a new Consulate in Erbil which you, or someone representing you, must inaugurate, as well as our Embassy in Singapore.
I am especially pleased that we obtained the plot of land in Cyprus, because everyone back then said I was crazy. A plot of land which the previous memoranda governments had sold. A plot of land valued at 10 million which, with judicial proceedings and thanks to the Church of Cyprus and the abbot at Kykkos Monastery, was returned to Greece, and we have also located the backers who will financially support it.
After 94 years -if I am not mistaken- we are also ready to lay the cornerstone of the new Embassy in Ankara, for which we have also located backers from the Foundations. This is a plot of land of which, unfortunately, only 4.5 out of 7 hectares remain, because these were lost along the way, since 1932 when it was first donated - we officially got it in 1938 - but there too we shall build a new Embassy, and I hope that the one in Berlin is also completed.
I am very proud, Mr. President - perhaps I am tiring you a bit, but it’s been 4 years, I have to say it somehow - that with your line of policy we sent a total of 93 cases of corruption to the Prosecutor. And some, who today pretend to be incorruptible, hurling mud with their dirty hands, never wished to record these things which pertain to cases ranging from abuse of funds all the way to selling visas. We even have cases of unaccompanied babies, 14 months old. Anyone can figure out what this was about. And we cracked down on all of this.
I believe that referring all these cases to the Prosecutors and the Courts was not a strict measure, it is a measure that we owe to the hundreds - the vast majority - of our employees, of our colleagues at this Ministry who are faultless, who work, who are charged with serving the country, and who benefit the country.
We also established a special law, as you are aware Mr. President, on secret funds. We are the sole ministry that has a clear-cut procedure, the secret funds are monitored, they pass before and are authorised by the Service Council, under the Secretary General, along with high-ranking diplomats and not myself. From there the confidential funds go directly to Parliament and Parliament grants authorisation. Some in Parliament were under the impressions that they can go publicise them. They provided skewed information in any case. And from Parliament, for any confidential amount to be drawn, it must have confirmation from Parliament that it has been approved. And they go to the competent Services, Departments of the Ministry that advance them. They do not come to the office of any Minister.
Everything that has been going on in recent days, the deplorable allegations on secret funds, prove that many aspects of Greek society still lack seriousness and democratic sensitivity. That is our big problem. If what they are saying were true, and they do it consciously, it’s as if they are betraying people, as if they are saying to third countries, “Don’t cooperate with the Greeks because in the end they will out you, they will expose you, they will put you in danger.” Those doing this are deplorable.
Who is going to trust us if we don’t exhibit seriousness on the whole, as we here at the Ministry have exhibited, and I am happy about that. Because this issue, seriousness, sobriety, a sense of responsibility, is an element of democracy. Democracy cannot function without seriousness and responsibility. Democracy cannot function with the sense on the part of some people that we can give everything away and scorn everything just because this is what is convenient for us.
I would like to say that coming here, I was happy with the developments on the Skopje issue. My friends from Skopje sent me SMSs, but when I called them at 5:30 in the morning, they had gone to bed. But, Mr. President, I would like to say one last thing which you gave me permission to announce in advance, and I thank you.
This has to do with the fact that our foreign policy is wrapping up, as a first step, a major issue that is 120 years old, which has been a State issue for 28 years, but it is also opening and implementing a very significant policy for me, the expansion of the sovereignty of the country, for the first time in 70 years, since we got the Dodecanese back.
The Presidential Decrees are ready, Mr. President and, in accordance to the instructions that I received, the country is expanding its territorial waters, as a first step from Othonoi, the Diapontian islands, all the way to Antikythera. The expansion of territorial waters comes in three steps, which have all been completed. The first step is for the bays to be closed off, the second step is for the baselines to be created everywhere, together with the bays, and the third is, based on these things, for an expansion to be carried out from 6 to 12 nautical miles. This will assist us with the EEZ, with Italy and Albania. This extends our area of sovereignty.
These are not sovereign rights, as is the EEZ, but normal “territorial” sovereignty -in quotation marks as it pertains to the sea. The country is expanding. The country is expanding to 12 nautical miles, except for where straights exist, where we go with the median line principle.
The expansion of the territorial waters means that the country’s area of national sovereignty is expanding, as well that under the responsibility of the Prime Minister and the entire Government. This means that we are a littoral State that exercises all its right based in law. The extension from the Diapontian islands to Antikythera, in accordance with the instructions of the Government, is the first Presidential Decree. Mr President, it is ready. It simply needs to be checked again by the people who help us with mapping. These things need to be checked over and over again, because the closing off of the bays and the baselines needs to be submitted to the UN. I have already agreed and given instructions when I visited New York to attend the UNGA, as Minister.
The second, which is almost complete, concerns Crete. It has been completed by us; we simply need it to be checked by the international cartographers. And it is ready but it needs to be measured again from Antikythera and Crete up to the Saronic Gulf and, as a rough draft, it is more from the Saronic on top up to the Pagasetic Gulf, up to Magnesia, including Euboea etc. As you are aware, we are planning to incrementally complete this plan as a Government.
These Presidential Decrees prove that the proper policy, in our opinion, is not to say that we will not expand because we have negotiations about the continental shelf with Turkey, nor to not expand if the negotiations have not been concluded, because this way we essentially do not take what is rightfully ours.
Expansion of the territorial waters also means, for all our friends and allies, that for any economic activity or other activity within this zone, they must now seek our permission, though they did not have to seek until now, and to pay the price provided for by each agreement, whatever might be provided for, be it formal or essential.
Mr. President, everyone when departing from somewhere takes with him memories, love, disappointment, but I am happy today because I am leaving having made the big step with regard to the Macedonian issue, with your support, and I am leaving having handed over the Presidential Decrees that extend the sovereignty of our country, our common country which we both love.
I believe that, despite my many faults, my weak sides, my errors which I have clearly made since we had over-activity, I am leaving pleased.
I believe that we are handing over a country that is stronger than it was when we took it over. And I am certain that whenever you hand it over - and I imagine it will be in a long time, to the dismay of the opposition - it will be a country that is even stronger.
Mr. President, I thank you for appointing me Minister of Foreign Affairs. Colleagues and friends, thank you for all the daily assistance, the critical opinions, the critical observations, the assistance to make this project even more essential.
I especially thank all those who were part of the negotiations with Cyprus, Turkey, Albania, FYROM with whom, thanks to this collective effort, we were able to make this project a reality.
are no smart Ministers. There are no great talents beyond those of
normal people. There are only entities and collective efforts. This
Ministry that you are taking over, Mr. Minister, is a source of pride
for our country, a gem of a Ministry.
I thank all the people who are here, who truly are gems.
A. TSIPRAS I would like to warmly thank Nikos Kotzias for all he has done for our country’s foreign policy, for almost 4 years that he led the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. For me, he was a valuable and close partner.
A short while ago, Nikos Kotzias tried, as concisely as he could, to convey the main idea , a summary of a career that was never without clouds, of a path which was never straight and easy, of a path that was difficult for the country as well as its foreign policy.
And I say this because today we can say with certainty that we took over, during a difficult 2015, a country which had not only suffered great damage to everything that pertained to economic policy; not only was it on the verge of bankruptcy and being scorned by the international market, by our partners and our lenders, an outcast of the global economy, but it was also a country that had suffered great damage, had lost a large part- of the value if you will - of its geopolitical power. And this was perhaps the most difficult thing.
Because financial crises come and go. When a country suffers damage to the role it can play on the international scene, this is perhaps something that can be dealt with great difficulty.
And today, after 3.5 years, it is common knowledge, I am faced with it and I run into it at all the international Fora where I find myself, not only in the European Union but also in my meetings with international leaders, and these occur frequently, until recently it was not that frequent those meeting for the country’s Prime Ministers with great powers of our planet: the United States of America, China, Russia. I run into it and I ran into it last month at the United Nations Summit in New York, the country’s standing and geopolitical power have now been upgraded.
The country plays a leading role in the Balkans and represents an undoubted pillar of stability in the greater destabilised region in the Southeastern Mediterranean. And, at the same time, the country is expanding, given everything that Nikos Kotzias announced a short while ago, and this constitutes part of the strategies that were his inspiration, which we designed together and which we implement, and shall implement going forward, the gradual expansion of the territorial waters is a very significant event for our country.
Of course, Nikos Kotzias - as was only logical - did not wish to say more about the significant achievements in foreign policy. He spoke with emotion. He always said, and continues to say, that politics requires emotion. Therefore, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank him for all that he gave to Greece from that key position, to the Greek people, for defending our sovereign rights and our national interest, for the creation of a new doctrine for our foreign policy, which is the doctrine of active patriotic multidimensional foreign policy.
Permit me to outline some of the achievements of our foreign policy recently.
First of all, Greece managed, through a very serious effort in the negotiations for seeking a just and sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue, to remove from itself the stigma of responsibility for the non-resolution of the Cyprus issue, which certain people wanted to attribute to Greece following the Annan Plan and the Referendum in Cyprus.
We were able to come closer than ever to a just and sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue, establishing our stance internationally, according to which a just and sustainable solution must first and foremost mean abolition of the guarantees, of the rights of intervention by third countries, and of course departure on the part of the occupation forces, proving that the Cyprus issue is above all an issue of illegal invasion and occupation of the island of Cyprus.
We were also able, through a very difficult period in the Balkans, to upgrade the international position and the role of the country, decisively contributing to the regeneration of the region’s European perspective, and to promote numerous bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral initiatives with the Balkan countries, with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Balkans recognising Greece’s drive and, of course, that of its foreign policy.
In this context, the Minister of Foreign Affairs participated in a series of multilateral cooperation schemes, as did I as Prime Minister in a new quadrilateral cooperation scheme between Greece, Bulgaria, Romania - three countries that are part of the European Union - as well as Serbia.
Mainly, though, we were able to proceed, after 27 years, with resolving an issue which of course has not existed for only 27 years, it existed a century ago, which pertains to the difference with our neighbouring country, our neighbours to the North, related to their name and related to the use and their constitutional name, which we must not forget is “the Republic of Macedonia”, their constitutional name which is recognised by more than or almost 140 countries as well as the most important countries in the international arena, the United States of America, Russia, China among them, and which today we understand, all of us, how difficult it is for a country in a time of peace to change its name, its constitution, and what a significant achievement this is for our foreign policy.
Never did Greece manage -it did not attempt it neither did it manage this from 1990 until today- where this issue represents a problem in our foreign policy. And, at the same time, I would say that it is proven today that this national line that has been designed a long time ago, since 2008, since Bucharest I mean, is today implemented decisively, as the path is opening for the change in the constitutional name of our neighbouring country and, of course, the path is opening, after this, which was always a condition for Greece, but which was not so discernible, that in practice it also represents a condition for the international community - now it is clear, the path is opening - because the path will indeed open - for their inclusion in international Organisations, the European Union and NATO, should they desire it. But, then and only then.
And in this sense, I would like to say that today is truly a symbolic and historic day for our foreign policy, after yesterday’s decision in the Skopjan Parliament which paves the way for a historic agreement to be implemented.
Fourth, in the Balkans, it’s not just about our relationship with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but it has to do, on the whole, with our relationship with other countries, including Albania. We were able to provide the perspective for the accession course of Albania, laying the foundation for the implementation of the Maritime Zone agreement and of the law on minorities, promoting changes in rulebooks, for the first time burying our dead, the heroes of World War II.
Fifth, we were able, as I said earlier, to upgrade our regional role in the Eastern Mediterranean and to become, together with the Republic of Cyprus, a catalyst of stability and cooperation in the region, promoting and expanding the trilateral schemes with Israel and Egypt, and of course with other countries in the region, establishing new partnerships with Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine as well as expanding trilateral schemes with other significant countries such as France, Italy, the United States of America, with Nikos Kotzias working steadily, along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of course, and his entire diplomatic service, also, for defining our Exclusive Economic Zone as well as for initiatives that reiterate energy safety while bolstering our sovereign rights against threats in the region of the Southeastern Mediterranean.
The sixth point is that we are able, with Nikos Kotzias, to maintain, over this entire difficult period, valuable and open channels with Turkey, as well as cooperation in crucial sectors such as security and immigration, during a very difficult period for the region as well as for the neighbouring country.
At the same time making it completely clear that we are not going to accept any violation of our sovereign rights, and that the only path towards the development of stable relations between us is the path of respecting International Law.
The seventh point, in as brief a summary as I can make of these 3.5 years, is that we were able to upgrade our cooperation with the United States of America, with our European partners, as well as with many significant powers on the planet, such as Russia and China, on the basis of mutual respect, and not in the search of protectors.
We were able to open the path towards the establishment of a strategic dialogue with the United States of America and, with regard to Germany, we began the reparation...we managed, to put it otherwise, to begin an essential dialogue, and the steps are maturing in order to proceed with the next actions, which pertains to the reparation of the blows from the traumatic years of the past, on the basis of the action plan which Nikos Kotzias signed with his German counterpart at the time and the current President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Steinmeier.
Additionally, we were able to develop initiatives that highlight our country’s international and regional influence and its role in culture, as well as dialogue and regional stability such as the Rhodes Conference for Security, the Conference on the Protection of Religious and Cultural Pluralism in the Middle East as well as that extraordinary initiative, the Ancient Civilizations Forum, where I of course have the pleasure, every time I meet important leaders, such as those of China, India, Bolivia, of hearing them refer to this very important initiative.
We were able, finally, at the initiative of Nikos Kotzias, to pass for the first time - and I would like to insist on this for a bit - a law which pertains to the special funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and to put an order to the generalised chaos of the previous years.
And please give me the opportunity to say a few words about that. I was the one who, from the ranks of the opposition party in 2011, was the first to highlight this issue. I had stressed that the process which pertains to the special funds of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is carried out completely outside the framework of control and institutional transparency.
Since then, water has flowed under the bridge, but I believe that indeed one of our Government’s achievements is not only the fact that we reduced the total number, it is five or six times smaller, but mainly that we created a framework of transparency and institutional fortification.
No longer does this imprudent use of special funds exist where, without the signature of a principal - this is what I had denounced in 2011 - money was taking off in black bags, left and right.
Every country that respects itself ought to have a foreign policy which it supports. Therefore, the special funds are necessary, unless somebody disagrees with this. Not the number and size which we experienced in the past, and not without an institutional framework for control. This is what we managed to do.
And the discussion taking place recently, in a deplorable manner by a sector of the opposition Press aims precisely at damaging this process of transparency. When you see deplorable headlines hanging from kiosks with obviously false information, which clearly seek to politically damage the Government and our foreign policy but end up hurting the country.
And I would like to repeat once again that we shall not permit anybody to attack the standing of our foreign policy, nor that of Greece, in a period when it is being upgraded internationally.
And once again, I invite all the political powers, and mainly the Head of the Main Opposition Party, to come so that I can give him a report at either of my two offices - because I now have two offices, at Maximos Mansion and here - euro for euro. We have nothing to hide from the country’s political powers with regard to how we manage - with transparency and fairness - the money of the Greek taxpayer in order to strengthen our foreign policy, something which had not happened for many years in this country.
Dear friends, I would like to say, finally, that, as Nikos Kotzias said earlier, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not limited to the political leadership, there is its diplomatic leadership as well, the diplomats, the people who work graciously so that the country can go forward. And they work, and they will have to work independent of the political leaderships, independent of which political power is in power in the country.
We shall continue on this
path in the near future, with the invaluable contribution of Giorgos
Katrougalos, Terens Quick, and Markos Bolaris and, of course, with the
diplomatic leadership, and I would like to assure you that we have much
to do. And let me repeat that you are our most significant support, the
officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with your advanced
training and your professionalism.
I would like for you to know that, for as long as I am responsible for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I look forward to your collaboration, I look forward to your proposals, your thoughts as to how we will be able to go even further and, of course, I look forward to a substantial cooperation between us.
know that your work here is complex, but I believe that with good and
honest communication, everything can be resolved and we can have even
I conclude by addressing Nikos Kotzias, thanking him warmly once again for his contribution to foreign policy. But I would like to add two things that are a bit more personal.
I believe that what has stuck in my mind from our collaboration are not the undoubted abilities of Nikos Kotzias as Minister of Foreign Affairs, but the deep sense of patriotic duty that set him apart, which continues to set him apart. And I say this because at very difficult times, and very trying times for him, he never abandoned his duty, and indeed, a Minister of Foreign Affairs who wishes to be proactive and to put into practice that dogma of multidimensional foreign policy, must continuously go from one airplane to another, from trip to trip, and I would like to say that for me, placing this much priority on patriotic duty, setting aside even personal difficulties, is something that will stay with me.
Finally, I would like to say, because he referred to the oxymoron of the moment. I don’t know if you recall Nikos, I don’t remember if it was in 2011 or 2012, at some point when you were giving me advice as the head of the main opposition party then, on the issue of foreign policy, you had told me the following wise thing: That whoever deals with politics, in a leading role, must know that politics has more troubles than joys and that mainly, the usual thing is that when someone departs, he is not happy to leave.
In your case, in your departure from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs - not from politics - life brought things in such a way for that not to occur. So today you have every reason to be happy and content. Because you are departing from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at a happy moment, on a happy day for our foreign policy.
And I would say on a happy and optimistic day for the country since yesterday we had two successes: not only the fact that the path is being paved for the implementation of an historic agreement with our neighbours which paves the way for the prospect of prosperity and peace in our region, but also because the European Commission approved the Greek budget without cuts to pensions, after 8 years of austerity, something which paves the way for more optimistic times for the Greek people.
So, with these thoughts, I would like to say that this is a good sign, that it is not a sad day but a happy one, the day on which you depart from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but I would like to repeat that you are not leaving, you are switching corners, and I shall always look forward to your invaluable advice and to continuing our collaboration so that I can face, in the best possible way, the new duties that will be assigned to me in the near future.
I thank you warmly and I thank all of you.