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Statements of Foreign Minister Avramopoulos and Croatian Foreign Minister V. Pusić
V. PUSIC: First of all, let me tell you a few words about the topics that the two of us discussed, along with our delegations and along with a warm welcome to the Minister. I would like to say, first of all, that we are part of the same region, that of south-eastern Europe. We share interests and also responsibilities, and this was a very friendly and a very operational meeting on the eve of the intensification of our relations.
So, I shall first of all mention three groups of topics that we tackled together: the first one was the region, relations within the region, and also the importance of the improvement of these relations, and we both think that Croatia and Greece have a potential for contributing to stabilization and enhanced progress in the region; a region with a European perspective.
Apart from that, we discussed our bilateral relations and also some specific issues, such as the Adriatic-Ionian motorway. Also, the possibility of cooperation regarding the gas pipeline from Azerbaijan through Greece to Italy and then to Croatia, and we discussed our common interests with emphasis on cultural cooperation and cooperation in education and some specific areas, such as shipbuilding, in which Greece is a major world force and Croatia has its potential.
Greece will also assume presidency of the European Union at the beginning of 2014, and with that, the issues pertaining to south-eastern Europe will come a head, will come high on the agenda of the European Union.
D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Thank you, thank you, Vesna. I will start by expressing my thanks to my colleague and friend, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Croatia, Mrs. Vesna Pusic, first of all for receiving us all in a very warm and cordial way today, and, of course, for the very interesting and useful talks we had here in this beautiful city of Zagreb.
Before I talk about our meeting, I would like to tell you how happy, and I mean it, we are in Greece that Croatia is becoming a full member of our great European family. Croatia is being rewarded for all the very hard work it has done to meet Europe’s prerequisites for accession, and it was really a hard job. Europe is breaking out of its so-called enlargement fatigue and moving closer to realizing the vision of a united and unified Europe, and Greece is gaining another partner and friend in its neighbourhood, Southeast Europe. A neighbourhood that we want to see become a European neighbourhood of stability, development, friendly relations and cooperation; a neighbourhood of peace.
We really look forward to working with our Croatian partners towards the full integration of the Western Balkans into our European family, and, Vesna – thanks for your invitation – I will be here with you on the 30th of June to celebrate this great moment for your country with you.
Greece will be holding the rotating European Union Presidency in the first half of 2014, and one of the topics and the things we have talked about in our meeting today was the preparations we are making and what our priorities are. One of these priorities, of course, will be to promote the European perspectives of our neighbours – Greece’s and Croatia’s neighbours – in the Western Balkans. You know from history that the Balkans have suffered a lot in the past. Even recently we have experienced dramatic and tragic events in our neighbourhood, but we must leave the past behind. What guides us now is our common European future.
I also had the pleasure of reaffirming the high level of our excellent bilateral relations, and we looked at the numerous opportunities for further enhancing our cooperation in the political, economic, and cultural sectors.
We also talked about the economic crisis in Europe and how the European Union is responding to this crisis. Our country, Greece, is determined to push ahead with its own implementation of structural reforms and fiscal adaptation.
It is true to say that the measures we are taking are painful. The Greek people are making great sacrifices. But these efforts are bringing results, and this is now acknowledged by everyone.
We must maintain solidarity with each other, because, as I often say, you never know when the moment might come and the economic crisis knocks on your door. So, we must enhance our solidarity, and this is the moment when this solidarity – which is one of the basic principles upon which the European structure is based – is under question.
The European path is the only path to recovery and growth for all the peoples of Europe. The solution is not only a Greek solution, a Cypriot solution, a Spanish solution, an Italian solution. It is the European solution.
We also had the opportunity to exchange views on a number of important international issues, such as the situation in Syria. Syria is not far away from our neighborhood. The term neighborhood is not limited only to the borders of Southeast Europe. It goes beyond: it is the Caucasus region, the Black Sea, the East Mediterranean, North Africa. And we have decided to work in order to contribute to all efforts being made right now to bring peace, stability back to the area, and democracy in these states.
We also talked about the prospects of the Middle East peace process and developments in the wider Middle East region.
Mrs. Minister, earlier you mentioned our cooperation, and on one of the most important issues of our region, the TAP agreement. As you know, Greece, Italy, and Albania have already worked together, and we are in contact with our Azerbaijan colleagues, in order to make this project a reality.
This will be to the benefit of everybody, and I was more than happy today to hear Vesna tell me that Croatia would like to be a part of all that, and, Vesna, I can assure you that we are going to support this request, because we believe that this will contribute to what we are all trying to do for our region.
Again, I would like to express my thanks to my colleague Vesna for her very warm hospitality and, as I said before, the excellent talks we had.
Also I would like to express our thanks to the President of the Republic for our excellent meeting yesterday. And, of course, I remind you that you have an open invitation, and I look forward to receiving you in Athens, where I am sure you will feel the same cordiality, warmth and hospitality as we experienced here in beautiful Zagreb.
Q & A Highlights
Question: What advice would you give from Greece to Croatia, and what are the errors that Greece perhaps committed and that Croatia should look to avoid upon its accession and in general? And also, a question for both Ministers: With regard to the introduction of the visa regime, will it harm tourism in countries like Greece and Croatia?
D. AVRAMOPOULOS: You have a very responsible leadership, a very responsible political class, who have unanimously made a historic decision for Croatia: that Croatia become a member of the European family.
Of course, the road towards full integration is not always very easy. Where we can really prove ourselves useful is not only to ratify the integration of your country into the European family, but also to share with you our experiences, the good ones and the negative ones.
Right now, as Greece is going through a difficult time because of the economic crisis, we see that if we’d done the things we are doing now earlier, we, the Greek people, would not be facing such problems today.
So you can learn from our mistakes, but you can also learn from our successes. From the day we entered the European family, Greece has changed. We have enjoyed progress and prosperity, political stability, and growth.
With regard to the visa question, Greece is in the Schengen agreement zone. This has its positive and its negative impact on tourism. But at the end of the day, we can say that it is something positive.
But the Schengen agreement must change in some respects. It has to become more flexible, because some of its terms are generalized and they close doors that might be very important for tourism. And, as you know, Greece is a tourism-oriented economy and a tourism-oriented country. We have found some ways around this, without violating the rules and the terms of the Schengen Agreement, and we are, in view of the Greek Presidency, going to raise this issue again, in the spirit I mentioned before.
So we do not hide our intention to start talking again, given our experience. Europe is not an isolated part of the world. The more people visit Europe, the more people there are who become friends of our big country. And other countries in our neighbourhood, in our region, must find the doors open. I believe that within our family we are also going to have the support of Croatia, because on this issue we have common interests.
V. PUSIC: This is a good snapshot of the difference between being a member of the EU and not being a member. Of course, on 1 July Croatia will not be joining Schengen, but the EU. We hope to join the Schengen area within two and a half to three year, but two and a half years from our accession to the EU would be ideal.
We will continue our adaptation to the Schengen terms, but in contrast to what was in effect up until now, we will be in a position to participate in determining these terms. That is, everything we have done so far during the accession process has concerned compliance with conditions predetermined by the existing member states. As of our full accession, we too will participate in determining what these terms are to be, including the visa regime and the Schengen terms.
And from that perspective we have a opportunity to express our interests on this matter and to find the countries that see these terms in a similar light, and then to create the potential for certain changes in the current EU and Schengen regulations.
JOURNALIST: A question for both Ministers about the TAP, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline. Could you just give us some more specifics on when you see this pipeline coming together, the financing and so on. The question for Minister Avramopoulos is, do you think that the latest measures of the Troika have effectively contained the banking crisis in Cyprus?
D. AVRAMOPOULOS: As far as Cyprus is concerned, there is only one word I would like to use as an answer to your question. It is the moment to show solidarity. What is happening in Cyprus – and I mentioned this before – concerns not only Cyprus: it has to do with the future of Eurozone, the future of Europe.
It is true to say that the problem is very complicated and the crisis is very deep in Cyprus. But Cyprus is not alone. Cyprus has Greece at its side, and it also has Europe. And although the recent measures are tough, they are designed to overcome the crisis and leave this dramatic event behind. The banking system of Cyprus is at stake right now, but our European partners have decided to provide their support in order to resolve the crisis.
As I said before, there is no solution just for Cyprus or just for any other country. There must be a solution for Europe and its future. Now it is up to all of us to work together in the spirit of solidarity and get out of this crisis, but first of all we must stand by the people of Cyprus.
But Cyprus also has another big issue. It is a very well known problem that must be solved according to the principles the United Nations, the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and the principles and values of the EU, so that the island can be reunited.
As far as TAP is concerned, it is to the benefit of all of us in the region. As you know, there are two projects. The decisions have not been made yet. The final decision will be made in June. But I personally believe that the TAP will come out the winner in this procedure, and I am sure that when the moment comes we shall all enjoy the benefits and the positive results of this agreement.
This project can be very important to Croatia in terms of natural gas supply. It can offer major progress and economic development. The same goes for Greece, and during all these months we have worked very hard, as I said, with our Italian and Albanian colleagues. We have signed the agreement. Next week we will ratify it in the Greek Parliament. And, as I said, in the talks we have from now until June with our Azeri friends and our partners in the project, we are going to support Croatia’s joining us in this very important project.
V. PUSIC: Naturally, we are moving in the direction of joining the TAP, and that is why we discussed this issue. Because Croatia should certainly be a member of the team of countries supporting the creation of the TAP. Implementation of the project depends to a great extent on the finalization of the criteria and the decision to be taken in June, as well as confirmation of interest in the pipeline on the part of Italy, which is in the process of forming a government, whose support for this plan is very, very important.
Croatia is certainly very interested in this plan, and we are talking to all the countries involved. And I am very grateful for and please at Greece’s support for Croatia’s participation in the TAP, as Greece is one of the key countries in this pipeline. Without Greece, of course, there is no Adriatic pipeline.