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Press Conference by Alternate Foreign Minister Giorgos Katrougalos following the conclusion of the proceedings of the 4th Ministerial Meeting between Greece, Albania, Bulgaria, and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Thessaloniki 23 November 2018)
G. KATROUGALOS: I would like for you to keep in mind that Thessaloniki is developing into a centre for diplomacy throughout the Balkans. We had the Thessaloniki Summit a few days ago on the region’s economic issues with participation of the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Mr. Borisov.
Today, we had the 4th Ministerial Meeting in which Ministers participated from Bulgaria, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the past, the emphasis was mainly beyond issues of political cooperation and prospects of those countries joining the European Union, on issues that pertained to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Citizen Protection, for dealing with immigration, for regulating immigration, for dealing with organised crime and corruption, as well as issues that pertain to infrastructure, mainly in the sector of Energy and Transport.
Precisely because we wished for this initiative to have depth and to continue, we ensured on the one hand its regular six-month Summit and, on the other, its extension to issues of the economy, which I believe constitute a prime field for our country also, as the oldest member of the European Union in the region and with an economy which, despite the financial crisis, continues to be particularly dynamic and present in the neighbouring countries. But also for the common benefit, that all the countries of the Balkans have, in transforming our region as a unified European economic space open to investment, of course tackling all the problems that existed.
We had two parallel meetings after the initial Plenary, where the Alternate Minister of Economy and Development Mr. Pitsiorlas presented our country’s economic plan as well as the proposals to the other countries. We continued with a meeting that pertained to the discussion on the level of Ministers of Foreign Affairs and one other in parallel on the level of Ministers of Economy. I would like to convey to you that the will was confirmed of Bulgaria and Greece to promote what began with the EU Summit Meeting in Thessaloniki in 2003, the prospect of other countries from our region joining the European Union, with the requisite condition, of course, of respecting European achievements, the necessary terms that must be fulfilled by each country that is up for inclusion, in order to be deemed mature for their entrance in the community of our nations.
There was an analytical discussion as to the extent to which this is realistic at a time when the European Union itself seems to have lost its footing, with a lack of faith often existing on the part of its citizens in the Institutions and the level of representation. As Greece, our view is that those two things must take place at the same time. For Europe to reconfirm its commitment to the principles that determine the very soul of European law and political culture, open societies, political rights, individual freedoms and social rights for the welfare state. And that we must not consider incompatible goals, for this commitment to be confirmed in the upcoming European elections, to strengthen our Greek communities abroad, and at the same time to try to include other issues in the region as well.
This effort will continue to deepen our political and economic cooperation, with bilateral contacts that I shall have going forward.
S. PITSIORLAS: The final conclusion that arises from the decision related to issues of the economy includes the following: A discussion is under way with all the neighbouring countries on major issues of economic cooperation in the field of networks - energy, roadway, railway, computer, interconnection of ports. In all of the above, the individual Ministries have, to date, proceeded with cooperations. Today, quite a few issues were discussed that pertain to market issues, but, in the end, as a conclusion of all the discussions to date, the need resulted to create an action plan in the field of economic cooperation for the years to come, in which all will be included in some way. This will need to be discussed, as an idea first of all, with all the Ministers of Economy of the neighbouring countries, and for the related preparations to take place. These preparations will be made, on our behalf, by the Directorate General for International Economic Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We shall send a plan to our neighbours, with the hope that a Summit will take place at some point which, after proper preparations, will lead to this action plan. This was not agreed to; we simply agreed to follow the procedure in order to look into it and decide it. Provided that this proceeds positively, I believe that we will have taken a huge step for economic cooperation in the region.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Katrougalos, in your discussions, was there reference to the Prespa Agreement with the neighbouring country? And if so, what exactly took place, what is your impression and information on the progress of the Agreement in the neighbouring country?
G. KATROUGALOS: Just like everywhere in Europe, the Prespa Agreement is considered a very significant agreement that resolves an issue that for decades separated the two countries, despite that fact that it could perhaps have been resolved as early as the ’90s. In the European Union, the unique courage exhibited by the leaders of both countries, the two Prime Ministers, was recognised and they all present it as an example that differences can be overcome, especially in the region of the Balkans, which for centuries was considered Europe’s hotspot. From there, clearly in the discussions that we had, informal yesterday, they will become more formal in the framework of the bilateral meeting with Nikola Dimitrov, we shall refer also to issues that pertain to the implementation and ratification of the Prespa Agreement. As you know, we monitor the constitutional revision in the neighbouring country and we want everything that was agreed upon in the Prespa Agreement -and we have no doubt that this will happen- to be included in that also, the spirit of the Prespa Agreement.
JOURNALIST: I wanted to ask Mr Pitsiorlas: Can you provide details Minister, if you can, on the cooperation on the level of markets between the 4 countries. Do you mean that, on a business level, there will be a networking of entrepreneurs, there will be an exchange of technical know-how? What details can you provide for us? Thank you very much.
S. PITSIORLAS: The specific proposals that we submitted today pertain to numerous sectors.
The first is the cooperation of the Organisations of all those countries that are responsible for the promotion of exports and attracting investment. The main idea is for the Balkan countries not to be in competition among them, but, for the most part, to cooperate in order to jointly promote the need for investment in the region and, to the extent that they can, to work together to promote exports for the goods of the entire region. Either way, there is a broader issue which concerns the entire Mediterranean, speaking, for example, about agricultural products or tourism. But the region of the Balkans has certain qualities that we could showcase and work together. Let me give you an example. We had a very successful cooperation in previous years with other countries, with Italy and Spain, in order to attract to the Mediterranean a greater portion of international cruise market. We did this together, and not each country on its own. This logic, therefore, we believe that it must prevail in the Balkan countries.
The second subject which we discussed pertains to the commercial registers. This is a huge issue because it assists everybody with regard to economic cooperation. In other words, for a link to exist between the commercial registers, and for a Greek entrepreneur or Bulgarian entrepreneur to be able to have access to the commercial register of the neighbouring country, and to be able to see company information in order to form an impression. This is extremely important. For example, if someone wishes to collaborate with a company in a neighbouring country, they must know if this company publishes financial statement, to be familiar with the balance sheets etc. This is something that aids cooperation a great deal. And of course we, as a country, are linked with the European commercial register; the other countries are not. Through us, they will have the ability to access the European register.
The third big issue is monitoring the market. This concerns many sides, the quality of products, their certification. It pertains to that huge issue of illegal trade which concerns us a great deal as a country. We have begun bilateral talks with Bulgaria, first of all as to how we can cooperate in fighting illegal trade. We feel that this must be generalised, with the relations also in the four countries.
In addition, the cooperation of the central market of these countries. It is very important, for example, the market of Thessaloniki to have an organised cooperation with the markets in Skopje, Sofia, Tirana. This will also help a great deal with trade and the exchange of products.
Protection of the consumer is also very important because it pertains to quality standards, certifications, which if we manage to cooperate in those things, this will be of great value for Greek products, but not limited to just that In this, we can also provide technical know-how and assist the other countries to adjust to the European standards.
Furthermore, in the sectors of novel technology and innovation, this has to do with cooperation between Universities and companies where certain steps have already been taken, which must become systematic.
If we put everything I am saying now next to everything we are discussing about large investments to which I referred earlier, we shall see a big package. The idea to include all this in one action plan and to say that they will be promoted with milestones, that will be a big deal.
Finally, we explained, on our behalf, that the Prespa Agreement, because it draws international publicity, is an opportunity that we must utilise in order to showcase the qualities of the region, the change that is taking place in the relations between countries, and the possibilities for development of economic cooperation, where we had every type of competition.
JOURNALIST: Permit me to insist on the Prespa Agreement, as I see that both Ministers often refer to this. Is it true Minister -I am addressing Mr Katrougalos- that the Greek side has already raised objections with regard to the constitutional changes that the side of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is announcing its plans to make, and that certain points are not consistent with the text of the Agreement? Thank you.
G. KATROUGALOS: As I also said earlier, we are monitoring the manner in which the Agreement is being implemented, because we have a close cooperation at this point with our counterpart, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of fYROM. Both sides aspire for the spirit and the letter of the Prespa Agreement to be respected, and I have no doubt that such a thing will happen. Efforts that have begun in countries to look again at the schoolbooks, to borrow an expression of the predecessor, Nikos Kotzias, “in order for history to be a school, and not a prison” for all of us. I consider especially useful, on both those levels that I mentioned to you, the European and the bilateral one, those meetings, as well as the fact that Thessaloniki has been established, in a way, as the centre of the Balkans through the systematic organisation of those initiatives.
JOURNALIST: (off microphone)
G. KATROUGALOS: No. No, those are parallel efforts. They do not pertain solely to us. The other countries also have bilateral agreements to take another look at their books. It is an initiative that was not extensively discussed; it was simply referenced in the context of this effort to not have simply one discussion, country to country, but society to society.
JOURNALIST: (off microphone)
G. KATROUGALOS: No, because it was not the subject of this meeting.
S. PITSIORLAS: Greece and Bulgaria are members of the European Union. There are also two countries that wish to join. In addition to the rest, we can help these countries also with the technical know-how that we now have, in all fields of the European structure, and this is very important for our economy. If we ponder on our own experience, we shall see that we received the help of European countries and European Organisations and companies in many fields in our process of adjusting. In the Balkans, the countries that are now members of the European Union can play this role for those who strive to join the European Union. In other words, the French or the Germans don’t need to come to promote this adjustment. We will be able to do it too. This has to do with a very large chapter. Bringing to the forefront of relations between us the need for everyone to adjust to the European reality and the need for economic cooperation, this also helps the region. Above all, it helps the Greek economy and the Greek presence in the entire region.