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Statements of Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Kotzias, during the press conference with his German counterpart, H. Maas (Berlin, 29 May 2018)
Thank you very much for the invitation, and particularly because our meeting is taking place in this building. I see the weather outside and I think: Did I perhaps invite the German Minister of Foreign Affairs to Athens? But I’m not sure we will have such nice weather in Athens when you come to visit us. It really is beautiful here.
We are pleased that our relationship with Germany has evolved so positively; that our old, shared values continue to develop our mutual relations. We believe that, together with Germany, we can shape a future for Europe – we as a much smaller country, naturally, with a very long history. We feel that, now more than ever, Europe needs to have a vision, that one must take a longer, more strategic view, not just doing one’s job every day, but placing this day-to-day work within a framework for the future of the EU. That is why I am very pleased to be with a colleague who has a vision for and thoughts on the future of Europe. We have much in common, and I am really pleased to see your Diplomatic Academy, which our young diplomats visited. They gained very positive experiences, and as you admitted they were excellent, which pleased me very much as a university professor.
We and Germany, or Germany and we, ascertained how much the EU collaborated on the nuclear agreement. We believe it is an endeavour that ensures peace and security in the world, and especially in our region, Southeast Europe. Yesterday, too, during the meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, we underscored that we fully support all of these initiatives, and especially this initiative. We are concerned at the developments with regard to the future of transatlantic relations. We favour remaining firm in our principles, our values, and our ideas regarding the future cooperation with the emerging countries of the Near and Middle East. At the same time, we do not want there to be a rift in our relations with the U.S. We want these relations to be as they were, regardless of who is governing the country and regardless of what differences there will be with Europe.
We also discussed the developments in Southeast Europe. We briefed the German Minister of Foreign Affairs on our negotiations with our friends in Skopje. Germany has always been helpful to the creation of a good atmosphere in our region. I know that Germany has a great interest in the stability of this region. Our policy on Southeast Europe is to guide it to a secure future, to safeguard its transatlantic orientation. And as I said yesterday in Brussels, following our talks in New York and, on Sunday, in Brussels, both Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Nikola Dimitrov and I, did our jobs. Yesterday, today and perhaps tomorrow, the work of the teams elaborating the technical details and legal issues is continuing, and then this work will be forwarded to the two Prime Ministers so that, as is our hope, they can reach a comprehensive agreement. We also discussed how we can step up our cooperation as Ministries of Foreign Affairs.
Thank you very much for the invitation and hospitality.
JOURNALIST: A question for the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs: You just said the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Greece and fYROM have completed their work and that now it is the Prime Ministers’ turn. What do you think are the prospects of a solution being found by the June EU Council or the NATO meeting in July? A second question: Did you brief your counterpart on the situation of the two Greek officers who are being held under arrest in Turkey?
N. KOTZIAS: I have to repeat myself in order to be absolutely clear. The Ministers of Foreign Affairs have completed their work. As of yesterday, a team of experts from Skopje, Athens and the UN is meeting at our Ministry in Athens. This team is considering the legal and technical side of the preparatory text and making final corrections. When we, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, have checked this work, our work, it will then be sent to the Prime Ministers.
Second, I want to make something clear: this agreement with our good friends and neighbours to the north did not come about because they want to join NATO and the EU. Naturally, they do want to join, and we support them. It came about mainly because it is in our and their national interest for there to be security and stability in our region, just as it is in the interest of the Europeans and the European Union. It is not just a matter of their joining NATO, etc. It is not a solution that serves a specific purpose. Naturally, it will also serve this purpose, but it is an agreement that should have been reached decades ago. And further back – and I am speaking as a Minister of Foreign Affairs in the fourth year of his term – before our leftist government, there was a lot of potential to reach a solution, and it would have been much easier, because difficulties accrue over time. And I state – and I will state this clearly before the Hellenic Parliament: if we resolve the problem after so many years of difficulties, I don’t understand why it was not resolved earlier by both sides. Both sides bear responsibility. I don’t want to make accusations. I just want to underscore that the resolution of this problem is in our interest, in their interest, in everyone’s interest, including Germany’s.
We didn’t talk about the matter of the officers today. We have discussed it frequently with the German side, and I think we will discuss the issue again during the luncheon. The case of the two officers shows that Turkey has a different political culture from Greece. As you know, we recently arrested Turkish citizens who crossed the border illegally. They were tried immediately, taken to court the next day, found guilty of breaking the law, and sent back to Turkey the same day. For three months now, our officers have been imprisoned, without a trial and without being returned to us. It is a tradition on our borders: soldiers and officers often get disoriented and wander ten meters over the other side. Turkey and Greece are both members of NATO. This means that we are allies, partners, and not enemies, and that is why this authoritarianism and this violation of international customs and the traditional relations we have on our borders is not something we can accept or something we can show understanding for. I believe it is a characteristic problem of political culture.
JOURNALIST: I just have one question for both Ministers. You talked in depth about the crisis in forming a government in Italy. Do you believe that this crisis will have repercussions throughout Europe? What will these repercussions be for the upcoming EU reforms or for the euro? Do you think there will be negative repercussions?
N. KOTZIAS: As you know, we share a common political history with Italy that goes back some 2,300 years, and that is why it is said that Greeks and Italians are “una faccia, una razza.” We have a lot in common, and one of the things we have in common is a large debt. It is not something we are proud of, but it exists. And theirs is much larger; eight times larger than ours. In any case, we want a stable, democratic, pro-European Italy. We are concerned about the risk of instability and possible repercussions for their fiscal situation and the extent to which this might cause additional problems for us. And I must say that, decades ago, Italy was the most pro-European country in Europe, in the European Community, in the European Union, and a lot of momentum and ideas came from Italy. And unfortunately, in recent years – in spite of an exceptional Prime Minister who is a person friend of mine, Paolo Gentiloni – it has no longer been the country that produced great pro-European ideas. I remind you – and you are aware of this – that from the most conservative forces in Italy to the communists, everyone was pro-European. Regarding the future of Europe, Italy was – and I hope it remains – a great pro-European force and pioneer of further European integration. Otherwise, we will miss that Italy very much.