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Home arrow Current Affairs arrow Top Story arrow Opening speech by Nikos Kotzias, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, at the Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Visegrad Group and the Balkan EU Member States (Sounion, 11 May 2018)

Opening speech by Nikos Kotzias, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece, at the Second Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Visegrad Group and the Balkan EU Member States (Sounion, 11 May 2018)

Friday, 11 May 2018

The Future of Europe

1.    Thank you for your presence. As we agreed in Budapest, we are holding today the second meeting of the VISEGRAD 4 and the BALKAN 4 in Sounion, together with the Westerns Balkans’ enlargement countries. The last part of our meeting will involve a session on the future of energy diplomacy, cooperation and transfer to Europe, with the participation of the Minister of Energy and Environment, Professor Stathakis.

2.    We want a Europe that is more united, more democratic and socially just. An EU more powerful in global terms, that takes care of the needs of its citizens. An EU that is powerful vis-à-vis third parties, that is based on the principle of proportionality; that takes care for the democratic participation of States, regions and especially its citizens. That goes beyond its internal contradictions, between North and South, East and West, the rich and the not so wealthy regions. An EU that fights against the lack of transparency and against corruption; that aims at the improvement of the daily life of its citizens. A Europe that gives a sense of perspective, positive expectations and a vision, particularly to the younger generations.

3.    It is essential that the EU finds the way to negotiate the difficulties it faces in dealing with the migration/refugee issue, in settling its many financial problems, in a manner that is friendly to society. All these are necessary, in order to face the emergent skepticism in all EU Member-States, regarding its usefulness and its ability to tackle its problems.

The EU should not be insisting on the need for memoranda, sanctions, and measures –such as embargoes- against third parties and, at the same time, degrade provisions stemming from the Treaties that concern the realization of fundamental values, such as Freedoms, Democracy, Human Rights, the Rule of Law, and Justice.

4.    The EU is a centre that needs to continuously claim, in a democratic fashion, a better place in the world in this era of Globalization. To ensure the security of its citizens in a world that is changing at its borders and its greater periphery. A Europe that ensures fiscal balance and job-security; that promotes Research & Development and the extended application of new technologies, so as to evolve into a democratic, safe and just Digital Europe. If all these are not achieved, it runs the risk of becoming, from the richest region in the world, a region in decline.

5.    In order to progress, the EU needs to strengthen its unity. This strength cannot result from the submission of smaller states to the will of the more powerful, or from ignoring national traditions and the desires of its citizens. Far from it!

6.    In order to accomplish these, it is necessary to engage in a more organized dialogue with the citizens. To fight the widespread disillusion and frustration concerning the European project. On the other hand, it must again be commonly accepted that the EU’s power lies not in monolithic approaches, but rather in its variety, its diversity, in the wealth of its nations and its Member States; in the protection of this diversity, as well as the protection of human rights.

7.    Without the engagement of its citizens, the EU will be discredited and will, ultimately, be unable to address the real problems. Otherwise, there will always be problems of legitimacy. Therefore, it is necessary that the EU gives again a vision and a persuasive reasoning for its very existence.

8.    During the last years, the EU has faced multiple crises: financial, refugee, Brexit etc. In a way, it found itself caught into a “complex crisis trap”. Most importantly, however, the EU has become less-and-less appealing to its citizens, compared with the past.
A cause of these crises is the fact that many in Europe generally prefer indecision to decision (or, currently, authority from the ones who have more power) especially when decisions entail an element of risk. With this attitude there will, certainly, come a moment when the entire project will be endangered.

9.    In the EU we have to learn again to think strategically and not submit our policy again and again to circumstance and short-term needs. We have to learn to speak the truth and to discuss honestly. That is, not to allow the glossing over of our state of affairs. Agreed rules must apply for everyone.
10.    Nowadays, the EU faces the risk of becoming a project of the elites, be they political or economic, of special interests and of expedient choices; To be cut off of its social fabric. Its initial raison d’être, peace in the Old Continent, does not suffice today, approximately ¾ of a century after the Second World War.

The EU has to recall in the first line of its raison d’être those very values and principles, to whose application it often demonstrates double standards and selective use. Democracy, freedom, solidarity, social rights have to reassume their position in the EU system. The goal of social cohesion has to be set again. The EU has to develop like a machine, a system of institutions, an instrument of modernization of itself and of everyone else; a beacon of application, promotion and advancement of the Rule of Law, a guarantor of this principle in the global community.
Moreover, the EU has to prove to it citizens that it is not merely a system of memoranda, embargoes and sanctions, but first and foremost, a producer of prosperity and security for its citizens and Member States, for everyone that it cooperates with; for the competitiveness of its economy.

11.    The EU has to further develop its global role in a manner that protects the interests of all its members and not only of some. It needs to contribute to the overall growth of its economy and its competitiveness vis-à-vis the other centers of power in the modern world. Additionally, the EU has to act more positively on its own initiative, in order to overcome the North-South differences and even more so the East-West differences, which exist within it.

12.    One of the causes of the EU’s problems is the shift of opinion in Germany, that has demonstrated -even if belatedly- a more “national outlook” since its unification. On the other hand, France, until Macron’s coming to power, seemed not to have the same intentions regarding the EU’s perspective, as it did in the past. What is more, Italy, which in the past used to be the most pro-EU country, has become quite introvert as of late.

13.    The EU has to evolve, adapt and build on its existing positive elements. On the basis of such a policy, allow me to remind you of certain fundamental questions, to which we could, of course come back to in our following discussion:

A.    Changes in the world and in the EU’s place therein, significance of these changes for the future of the EU, and of Europe generally.

B.    Support of the strengthening of the EU;
What does it mean? One could consider here a series of alternatives:
i)    Strengthening of community organs or not? And if yes, how and of which?
ii)    To the benefit of certain powerful States or groups of States?
iii)    Upgrading or downgrading of the national State within the EU? With this question comes another:
-    which will be the future balance between national States and the Community’s organs/institutions, and also
-    which will be the relation/balance between the Commission, the Council and the European Parliament.
iv)     To enhance democracy within the EU? and if yes, how to go about it?
-    by democratizing Community institutions?
-    by reinforcing the EU Parliament at the expense of other institutions?
-    by reinforcing the national State/national institutions and organs and the control that these exercise over the EU, particularly at the union level? and, finally
-    by the further engagement between national and European institutions.
v)     To strengthen society? And if yes
- how?
- and most importantly, which social groups and forces?

C.    Where will the balance rest between EU enlargement and EU deepening? Because, each step towards the realization of enlargement is accompanied by the (often previous) institutional reform of the Union. To this time, an initial discussion concerning these changes takes place in regard to the European Parliament, because of Brexit.

D.    Institutional changes that take place in the name of, and in combination with, each enlargement process, should be taken into consideration before making any pledge that affects the geographical architecture of the EU and of Europe as a whole. We should pay special attention to changes relating to:
•     the composition of the Commission (since it would be difficult to ensure portfolios for more than 35 countries), whether all Member-States will have Commissioners, whether the rotation principle shall be implemented, or whether -some will try- to divide the Commission into countries that will have permanent members and others who won’t. Whether the Commission will be composed of senior and junior members and how will the portfolios be assigned to Commissioners.
•    The reform of the relation between the institutions.
•    The structure and operation of the Councils, especially the composition of the Chairs. It is possible to bring back on the table the proposal, whereby the European Commission would appoint the Chairs of the Council in its various formations, or even its permanent Chairs.
•    The election of the President of the Commission and of Commissioners.
•    The role and operation of Parties, national and/or European, within the EU and its institutions.
•    The composition of the bodies of Directors and Deputy Directors of the Commission’s Directorates, of the Council and the European Parliament is very important to countries of our size. We note, on this issue, a certain shift to the benefit of large Member-States, which creates a certain imbalance.
•    Will societies be able to intervene/to participate? In what way? The role and possibilities that referenda offer.

It follows from the above that medium-sized countries should coordinate their cooperation and it is important that older member-states pass on their experience, regarding such changes and reforms to newer members, which have not taken part in similar negotiations in the past.

E. Enlargement and the European Union’s periphery:
I. The first set of questions concerns the immediate neighbourhood, the surroundings of the EU:
•    The first question is what will the EU do regarding its special relationships with wealthy European countries, such as Switzerland and Norway, but also with small state entities (Andorra, San Marino, Lichtenstein, Monaco).
•    The second and more important question regards time frames and possible groupings in view of the accession of the Western Balkans to the EU.
•    The third question concerns the final outcome of Turkey’s candidacy and whether this will be converted into a special relationship.
•    EU relations with Russia remain a special issue.

II. The second set of questions refers to countries of the outer periphery of the EU:
•    On one hand, the group of countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood: do we believe that we should maintain our relations with all of them at the same level, or do we believe they should be divided in groups of three (based either on political criteria, or geographical).
•    On the other hand, there is the group of Mediterranean countries, especially Israel and Tunisia.
•    Thirdly, what will our general stance/policy towards associated states involve?

F. Should the tempo of the EU’s development be dictated by the most developed, in terms of integration, states, or the slowest? Or maybe should it move in line with the “averages”?

G. Policy areas of the EU
The central issue that has emerged from discussions that have taken place especially in the most influential countries of the EU, such as France and Germany, is in which policy areas should the EU be advancing, and also, how should the EMU be organized in terms of institutional reforms, as well as the economic aspect of the EU.
As regards the first issue, apart from the democratization of the EU as a whole, which in a hypothetical scenario would not be able to accede itself should such hypothetical accession depend on implementation of its own acquis, we note the following areas that could be further developed:
•    The social sector. We should also consider whether development of the social sector could serve as a driver for limiting the social state at a national level or whether it would facilitate its strengthening.
•    The big issue of political immigration and the future/reform of the framework of the Dublin Regulation is another pertinent question. The EU did not manage to prove it possesses its own, qualitatively superior/effective, immigration and refugee policy. The EU did not manage to provide a solution that balances between the needs of national states and the vision of a comprehensive European policy.
•    The defense sector as well as that of security, which is defined by the relationship between the EU, NATO and the USA. That is, whether the EU will be able to operate on its own, in terms of defense, or whether it will be more of a regional partner of NATO and the US. Without a defense pillar of its own, the EU will remain an economic giant that stands on feet of clay.
•    Furthermore, whether the EU and NATO will cooperate at a state level, or autonomously at an organization to organization level -as occurs now- which is what I, myself, support.
•    Further development of the financial-economic sector, on which I shall speak later on.
•    Support of the agricultural sector, of modern services, of the new technologies industry and of their dependant industries.

H. The EU has been facing a fundamental problem: it creates institutional systems, such as the Eurozone, without adhering to the provisions of the Treaties and without ensuring a role for the European Parliament in these. Most of the times, it should be noted, this process occurs in an anti-democratic way. The Eurozone’s institutional system should be placed under parliamentary control and we should ensure the European Parliament’s participation in its bodies, as well as the participation therein of the Commission, in line with all rights and responsibilities emanating from the Treaties.
It is obvious now that the Eurozone lacks the necessary tools that would enable it to react on time according to economic changes and possible problems that could emerge. Unfortunately, we do not talk of the Eurozone’s problems within the EU in a coolheaded way, but as we have seen until now, we tend to do so on the spot and under pressure.

I. Specific issues are included in the proposals that were made on behalf of Paris and Berlin. Most of the proposals by the former have not been essentially approved by the latter. Among these proposals, the one regarding the increase of the EU’s budget stands out, which reminds us -in another context- of older proposals made by federalists. Also, the proposal to establish a special budget for the Eurozone may be a problematic one. Also, is the Eurozone entitled to institutions and bodies of its own and would this be an option or not?
Another issue is the appointment of a “Minister” of Finance, as is the case for the EU’s foreign policy, which I believe, has provided positive results. The evolution –or not- of the EMS into some sort of a European Monetary Fund (inspired by the model of the IMF, but established in a different way, with an interstate character -or otherwise), is another issue. There are also specific proposals regarding the completion of the Banking Union, as well as the issuance of a European bond.
Yet another special issue is what will happen with the EU’s budget in relation with Brexit. I believe that the budget could increase, whilst revisiting the ways of distribution and quotas between those policies that are essential for today and those that are important for ensuring our future. Between different ways of deepening the integration process, promoting economic convergence and enhancement of social cohesion. All these issues concern, of course, the discussion about the new financial prospects and framework.
The most crucial and fundamental aspect is that the EU regains the characteristics of both an economic and financial union, and not simply the latter. The EU should be democratic in all its aspects: in terms of its composition but also in terms of actions. An EU focused on the needs of its people and on caring for them: from fighting unemployment to providing a better quality of life.

J. Most of these last questions are connected to those relating to its development: development as a whole? Altogether and at the same time? Should we consider the EU a steam engine that runs faster than the average (as happened with the EMU and the Schengen system) but that is eager to connect with other wagons when they prove ready, or by breaking it down into different speeds: strictly divided into first gear, second gear and so on?
However, a policy of differentiation, while it may seem attractive for the wealthier and older member-states of the Union, in fact cements and increases the already existing divergences. It undermines and divides the European project, regardless of the fact that this might solve other problems, such as the accession of new Member-States, but in a “downgraded” round of new members, both in the context of future accessions, as well as of the special case of Turkey.

In general, we need to work on a new premise, on a new vision for the EU. We should work on reforming its institutional system in a democratic and socially just way. The European areas of interest should develop, adequately, in order to enhance the EU’s presence in the modern world as well as its economic competitiveness, in a way that will protect both the environment and the individual.

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