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Statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, following his meeting with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Malta, Evarist Bartolo (Athens, 7 September 2020)
Today, I have the pleasure of welcoming my dear friend, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Malta, Evarist Bartolo, to Athens. It is his first visit to Athens since taking up his duties.
First of all, we considered the level of our bilateral relations. And we agreed on the need for coordination to deepen our relations even further.
In fact, I had the pleasure of noting to my colleague that the Greek-owned fleet includes about 700 vessels – about 1/5 of the total – under the Maltese flag. And of course, we believe that Greek shipping will continue to be a bridge between our two countries.
We also had the pleasure, a short while ago, of signing a memorandum of cooperation in the field of diplomatic training.
But naturally, as you can understand, we also talked about – and will continue discussing during our luncheon – everything that is happening in the Eastern Mediterranean. And this is ahead of the critical decisions that will be taken in the framework of the European Union.
We talked about the situation taking shape due to Turkey’s provocative and illegal actions in the region. From Libya and Cyprus to Iraq and Syria, Turkey is the only country that is opening military fronts everywhere. It is the only country threatening its neighbours with war if they should choose to exercise their legal rights.
And this, as you know, is a flagrant violation of the UN Charter.
At the same time, Turkey is carrying out illegal and provocative actions, such as issuing and renewal of NAVTEXs for survey activities on the Greek continental shelf. It makes incendiary statements and direct threats that are unprecedented. It carries out exercises with live ammunition. It violates Greek airspace. It alters religious monuments of global cultural heritage. It exploits the human suffering of migrants.
These actions are not directed only against a member state of the European Union. They are directed against the Union itself, as we saw in Evros in February, as we see in the Aegean, as we see in the Eastern Mediterranean.
They violate the substance of the Union’s principles. The substance of the common European acquis. And this is why these provocations, which are common, demand common responses.
The European Union is not a coalition of states. It is a family founded on common values, salient among which are solidarity and the rule of law.
We understand very clearly that many members of the family often have different concerns. We understand very clearly the existential problems of many countries, especially the smaller countries. I myself was born on an island. I understand completely. I have experienced the concerns and special nature of islands.
But we must not make concessions where our values are concerned. We must not make concessions regarding the foundation of the Union’s existence. These concessions cancel out the European endeavour and send the wrong messages to third countries that taint these messages and the image of our Union, first of all in the eyes of our public opinion, and also in the eyes of humanity.
We must not allow our self-evident European solidarity to be shaken.
And I want to say that I am certain that Malta, an island state, cannot help but share the basic concerns and views of another island state of our Union, Cyprus.
So, Europe needs to rise to the occasion. Europe needs to respond firmly, without hesitation, to Turkey’s provocations. On security issues and on the migration issue.
Europe can do this very effectively. The choice is simple, and it is up to Turkey itself to choose: dialogue without threats and blackmail, or sanctions.
Greece has said repeatedly –the Prime Minister has said this, as have I– that it is always ready for dialogue with Turkey. But this dialogue must be within the framework of international law. Dialogue based on resolving our only actual dispute with Turkey. Our one and only dispute: the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones.
And of course, dialogue under blackmail or threat is out of the question.
And of course, dialogue with the presence of Turkish survey and naval vessels over the Greek continental shelf is out of the question.
Greece is a modern European state governed by the rule of law. Greece respects international law. It acts in line with international law. It does not threaten or blackmail, and nor will it be threatened or blackmailed.
My colleague and I also had the opportunity to talk about the situation in Libya, of which Malta has a full picture. We had the opportunity to talk about operation Irini and the potential for implementing the arms embargo on Libya. We were able to discuss how we can help towards creating a sustainable peace.
However, I would like to make it clear again that Greece’s firm pursuit is to play a positive role in Libya, through our participation in the Berlin Process and in any way that proves possible.
And of course, Greece is fully aware that the situation in Libya is an enormous issue for Malta. That the situation in Libya impacts control of migration flows that can put the island society of Malta in a very difficult position.
In any event, I stressed to my colleague that, in general, the developments in the migration issue and the experience we have of Turkey’s exploitation of the migration crisis make it imperative that our states collaborate closely ahead of the revision of the common European asylum system. Just as there is a need for strict implementation by Turkey of the provisions of the Joint Declaration of 2016.
Finally, we had the opportunity to exchange views on the MED 7 cooperation platform –which is convening in a few days in Corsica– and on the Union for the Mediterranean. Platforms that are useful tools for the promotion of our cooperation and our shared outlook, so that our common sea can become a space of peace and stability, for the benefit of our peoples.
My dear Evarist, thank you very much for coming to Athens. It is a great pleasure to have you here with us today.