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Statements of Foreign Minister S. Lambrinidis and Foreign Minister of Denmark, L. Epsersen (Copenhagen, 10.08.2011)
L. ESPERSEN: Welcome everybody and, first and foremost, welcome to you again, Stavros. It’s been a real pleasure for me to welcome the Greek Foreign Minister to Denmark. I think it’s almost 10 years since the last bilateral visit by Greece. So, it was about time that you came and I was very happy when we talked together in Brussels and you said you would come in August. We have had an excellent opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues, of course both the European debt crisis and all the tough measures that Greece is going through right now, in order to get into good financial shape.
We have also been able to speak with each other on some of the international issues that we are both very much involved with, both Libya, where we both have agreed of course to continue support, the Transitional Council, support of course all the ways that the UN special envoy, Abdel Al-Khatib has been trying to help find that political solution to the crisis in Libya, supporting very much that there will be a political solution and hopefully a cease fire. But also that it’s very important for the international community to continue to stand united. Greece is also part of the Libya contact group. So we have been very much in agreement with the position that we have there. We have also, of course, spoken in detail about the serious situation in Syria, and we both agree that it is very important that the European Union and the international community send a strong signal, both to Bashar al-Assad and to the Syrian Regime that they have to stop the violence, they have to release the political prisoners and they have to start the reform process.
We have also had the opportunity to discuss many other European issues, including the upcoming Danish Presidency and the threat that both our countries are facing with regard to piracy, off the coast of East Africa.
S. LAMBRINIDIS: Thank you Lene, thank you very much. I am very pleased to be here. Thank you for your excellent hospitality and for the chance to discuss all these issues, as you said, in an extremely friendly and wonderful manner. I made a point of coming to Denmark because I wanted to express my support to the Danish Presidency of the EU coming up. You will be handling a number of extremely difficult issues and I want to assure you that in Greece you will find someone who will be on your side trying to help you find the compromises that any presidency has to find. But if you think of what is coming up, whether it is the financial crisis and how we continue dealing with it effectively, the new financial perspectives of Europe, enlargement potentially, the future of Turkey and its international obligations, the Balkans which are also, from a foreign policy perspective, a very interesting and sensitive region. I am pleased to say that we saw eye-to-eye on many of these issues and we will work together.
Now, immigration as well, is a major issue for Greece and a major discussion as well in Denmark, and we had a good chance to discuss ways to cooperate, to strengthen our borders, to show the necessary solidarity. And, as you would imagine, we spoke about the financial crisis in Greece and the debt crisis. I had the opportunity to tell Lene, to give her information about the remarkable and extremely difficult changes that the Greek government has been making. The fact that the Greek people have been suffering extensively because of these changes, necessary changes, fiscal consolidation changes, the importance that we emphasize growth at the same time in Greece and in Europe in order to be able to invest in our competitive advantages and get out of this crisis, stronger, together. It has always been my belief that Europe, the Europe of 500 million people, is the strongest, biggest political and economic force in the world, if it is bound together. If, in the midst of crisis, it gets afraid, it shuts itself in different 27 shells, then we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
Greece has committed to make the necessary changes, to show the responsibility it owes to its European allies and to Denmark in particular. We are deeply grateful for the support that has been given to us in the forms of loans. These are not handouts, we are already repaying every single Euro of those loans back and we will do this up to the last Euro. We are changing our country and we are safeguarding its future, the Euro’s future and Europe’s future through this process. And we also emphasize the great importance of looking at this problem in its true prospective which is a European one. None of us is happy with the attacks we see in different economies, in Europe recently and we want to make sure that we safeguard the whole of our continent. And this is what we plan to do, and this is what will support the Danish presidency.
Libya, Syria, and the Middle East, I think Lene said everything that had to be said. We firmly support the right of peoples in those countries to hope, and to fight and to build a democracy that they deserve. And we have, from the first moment, urged and pushed everyone to respect those rights, to stop the violence and to proceed to a political discussion and talk for transitions, democratic transitions. We will continue doing the same with the rest of our European partners. And I think that, in the end, democracy always perseveres, it will in this case as well.
So, thank you very much for the hospitality.
L. ESPERSEN: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you. And now we open up the floor for any questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr. Foreign Minister, how would you assess the current state of the international policy making response to the financial crisis and debt crisis, from your own country’s perspective?
S. LAMBRINIDIS: Well, I think that at a European level, on the 21st of July, some extremely important decisions were made, that safeguarded in a decisive way, not just Greece and its debt but also the Euro as a whole, and by this I mean that these decisions now give enough breathing space for Greece to apply with conviction and unwaveringly the very-very tough changes that it has to keep applying to change the country. Before the 21st of July, there was a sense that there was no bottom to this debt barrel. Both the Greek people felt that they were making sacrifices but without any real effect, and our European allies felt they were giving loans, giving help but without any real effect. We put the bottom to the barrel, and now we can begin filling this barrel, so we are not even close to having ended this process, but we are there. More broadly one sees and one saw, after the 21st, something we have been saying for a long time, scapegoating Greece was not the answer to a problem that was much bigger than Greece. The doubts expressed about the debts of other countries indicated there is a bigger debate out there that has to be answered. I am convinced that Europe, at least Europe, has begun giving that answer in a decisive and persuasive way. I have absolute confidence that if there are people who assume that Europe will waver, that the Eurozone will waver, they will be surely disappointed, and in the end of the day, a strong Eurozone means a strong Europe whether or not one is in the Eurozone, and a strong Europe means a strong world economy. I cannot imagine many people who would not desire the world economy to be strong. Everyone benefits from that.
L. ESPERSEN: I agree very much and I think that actually what we are seeing now is actually European leadership, because what we need to do is, of course, to make sure that even though Denmark is not part of the Euro, we have a huge domestic interest in making sure that there is a high credibility surrounding the Euro and the Euro area, and I think what is very important to know is that, just as Stavros just said, there are many different reasons for the problems facing both Greece, Portugal, Ireland and many other countries. It is different reasons. The Euro has been a shield for these countries, for many years. I think if we did not have the Euro, things would be even worse in many cases, but what has now been proposed is, of course, a way forward for these different countries go through different programs in order to show international investors that they are ready to make the sacrifices, to reach new credibility, and this is exactly what Greece is doing, this is also what the Danish Government has been doing for the last year, and I think the main message is, it is not enough to promise to make changes two or three years from now, you have to make political decisions now just as Greece has done both last year and this year. Decisions now that are taking effect, this is what I think, what the investors want from us, politicians, in order for us to show leadership. Thank you. Yes, one more.
JOURNALIST: If I can just follow up. Do you think it is time for the European Central Bank to start buying Greek bonds?
S. LAMBRINIDIS: I think it is time to stop talking a lot about what the right recipe is and start applying effectively and quickly what we have already decided. We have made some decisions on the 21st of July. They are extremely important, they have to be applied immediately and effectively, and this is exactly what the European Union is engaged into doing now. Everyone says that the speed with which we are applying these decisions is faster, because they also require approvals by Parliaments, than any other decision in the past. I believe that there are many-many instruments that need to be used in order to ensure that the debt crisis in Europe is over soon and that the development, economic development, hope, and inspiration of Europe is kick-started immediately, and these instruments can be and should be discussed at a technocratic level, but they are always based on politics and a political understanding and decision, and the political understanding and decision that so effectively was communicated in the 21st of July, is that Europe is together in responsibility towards each country’s obligation to its partners and in solidarity of all partners to each one of its members, and that kind of message will find the right solutions, I am sure.
JOURNALIST: Suddenly these measures, sorry to come back to finance, but there are coming investors fears, but what does this mean for the actual people of Greece, because suddenly there are outcomes for investors, but you are concerned about what impacts they actually have on peoples’ livelihoods.
S. LAMBRINIDIS: Of course I am concerned, I am deeply concerned, and the effect on people in Greece is very-very painful. Some people in Europe said at the beginning, well, let’s punish those Greeks. And my answer to that is, let’s move on now from the rhetoric of punishment to the rhetoric of solidarity. The effect on the Greek people is very-very harsh, but the Greek people have shown in the past year and a half, as has the Greek Government, that they are absolutely committed to applying the changes necessary to change the country, many of which changes had been demanded by the Greek people way before the crisis and the loans, and this is why the Greek Government in fact changed in 2009; to make these structural reforms. At the same time, we have made clear in all ways, shapes and forms, and this is why July 21st was so important, that it is extremely important in the midst of otherwise necessary and extremely painful cuts to also promote growth, because otherwise the markets, as they did in the past year, will sit back and will always bet against you. They will assume that you will never be able to grow out of the problem. And what Europe decided in the case of Greece and more broadly on the 21st is that there has to be a renewed emphasis on concurrent growth measures in addition to cuts. This, I believe, is a very powerful message to any market; that Greece means business, Europe means business, we are back to the path of credibility and we will stay there.