Joint statements of Foreign Minister Kotzias and the Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Péter Szijjártó, following their meeting (Athens, 30 October 2015)
N. KOTZIAS: It is a great pleasure to have my friend Péter Szijjártó,
the Foreign Minister of Hungary, here with us. He is a colleague with
whom I work closely on energy issues, and in fact we thought together,
in Budapest, of the first long-term projects in our energy cooperation,
in a very creative meeting.
As always, I had a very constructive discussion with my colleague on the issues of energy and the migrant and refugee crisis.
It was a conversation that gave us the potential for more understanding between us. We agreed that the migration and refugee problem is a complex issue that must be resolved through the political resolution of the crisis and the war in Syria, with EU support and funding for Jordan and Lebanon, from where the new refugees are coming due to lack of funds. Be aware that, for a week now, the refugees have been getting half food rations in their camps.
We agreed on the need to support the stability of the states of North Africa, and Egypt in particular, bearing in mind the civil war in Sudan and the situation in Somalia. We also agreed on the need for the whole of the EU to be included in this problem, the refugee problem, and that it isn’t possible for certain member states to see the matter as not being pan-European or global, but an issue of five or six states.
And of course neither of us wants this issue to remain among those states, and for one state to try to create or promote problems for the other. We need joint, pan-European solutions.
And in the framework of these joint pan-European solutions, I briefed my colleague on the hotspots being created in Greece. On Mytilene, where it is ready, and the other four being prepared in November.
We discussed and agreed on the need to strengthen Frontex and all of the means and potential the European states possess as a whole, always with the responsibility of Greece and every sovereign state.
We also discussed the need for burden-sharing in the European Union, as well as solidarity. Small states, small states like Greece, cannot carry the weight of this refugee crisis. We believe that such issues require composure and farsightedness. It needs to be realized that, not only does the war need to end in Syria, but a new Syria needs to be built so that the war refugees can return to their homeland.
And once again we underscored our will to develop our economic relations. I want to thank my colleague very much for finding the time for us to have this intensive conversation and talk about the prospects for our energy cooperation, our cooperation in the Balkans.
Péter, you are always welcome in Athens. I hope we find the time for even longer meetings. And we have agreed to talk next Thursday in Brussels, in greater depth, with the other Balkan member states of the European Union. Welcome.
P. SZIJJARTO: First of all, I would like to appreciate this possibility that I could come and talk to you briefly about the most serious challenge that the European Union has ever had to face since her foundation.
This mass migration crisis we have been facing is the most serious challenge the European Union has ever had to face. That’s why we need an effective and common solution. And of course, instead of bashing and criticizing each other, it is very important to find common solutions.
We totally agreed with Nikos that what we have been facing is a very, very complex challenge. And as a complex challenge, it requires a complex solution. And here I think that European institutions should reach a situation when there are not only words, rather than actions as well.
We have so many proposals on the table. We have spoken about the possible solutions so much, but a real effective solution has not been put in place at all.
Greece and Hungary share the same challenge in the meaning that we are located on the same migratory route. This is the Western Balkan migration route, which is now the most intensive migration route.
And I remember Nikos, and I remember myself, raising this issue a hundred times, in different formats of European meetings and institutions, saying that, please, do not concentrate only on the Mediterranean route, because if we concentrate only there, then there will be no effective solutions and no effective responses, at the necessary, proper time to the challenges which we will be facing, which we would be facing, through the Western Balkan migration route.
No one listened to us – no one. No one listened to us and no one concentrated at the proper time on the challenge that we are now facing on the Western Balkan route. Had we had European institutions concentrated on this migration route as well, earlier, maybe we would have a solution now. But this is not the case.
So, complex problem, complex solution.
We agreed that we have to handle the root causes. We need peace and stability in Syria. We need stable structures in Libya, and I could continue the line in this respect.
We agreed that we have to give financial assistance – and when I say we, it is the European Union – need to give financial assistance to those countries in the southern neighbourhood which have been taking care of millions of refugees and migrants, because if Jordan, Lebanon, Iraqi Kurdistan or Turkey give up taking care of the refugees and migrants, we will be facing an enormous pressure of five or six million migrants in a very short time, which will be totally unbearable. And they would come through the Western Balkan route, you can be sure.
So, financial assistance from the European Union to those countries that have been taking care millions of refugees and migrants. This is very vital, and we have to be as quick as possible.
The European Union should be strong enough to ensure that the readmission agreements will be implemented totally, because without that we will be defenseless.
We have agreed that we need to fight the networks of smugglers, traffickers. These are international criminals, and we have to address this problem on an international level, effectively, with a harmonized and strong approach against them.
And my last point is that, and I think that here we have some necessities for further dialogue, is that I think Europe has to get back the ability to control the borders of the European Union. Because if we are not able to control the borders of the European Union, then we are going to be defenseless in the future as well.
And I have to make one thing here very clear: that when we say that the southern border of the European Union is now defenseless, this is not bashing Greece and this is not criticizing Greece, because we, Hungary, are defending 520 kilometers of the external border of the EU and Schengen zone land border, and we do know what kind of enormous efforts it requires from us to defend 520 kilometers of land border. Now you have 4,000 kilometers of sea border, plus the islands – together, 11,000 kilometers or even more. It’s impossible to do it on your own. We totally understand.
So that’s why when we argue in favor of more efforts to protect the borders of the European Union, this is not a criticism of Greece. This is an argument in order that European Commission or European institutions have some actions in order to put together a joint European forces to be able to protect the southern borders of the European Union.
Nikos, thank you very much.
JOURNALIST: Nikolas Zirganos, from the Editors’ Newspaper. Mr. Minister, in 1989 your country opened its border and hundreds of thousands of East German political refugees passed through Hungary and Austria, into West Germany. Today, your country is putting up fences to keep the refugees out; refugees that are not political, but refugees from war. I wanted to ask you whether you believe what you did in 1989 was wrong, or whether you believe that the same criteria should be implemented today. Thank you.
P. SZIJJARTO: Thank you for your question. You know, there are common Europe regulations which we all have to stick to. You know Hungary is a member of the Schengen zone. Being a member of the Schengen zone means that you have requirements and obligations you have to comply with. And the Schengen code makes it very clear that, if you are a country located at the external border of the Schengen zone, you two obligations: You have to ensure that your border is only crossed through official border-crossing points. Second, that this can happen only during opening hours.
In order to comply with the Schengen regulations, you cannot find any other solution than build a physical obstacle on the land border. We have sealed off only the green border. It is absolutely possible to come through the border-crossing stations into Hungary. But the European Council made it very clear to all of us that the European regulations must be kept by all European Union member states.
We, as Hungary, as a member of EU, a member of Schengen zone, we have to comply with the Schengen regulations. It’s not a choice, it’s an obligation. And if we don’t protect our southern border, then we are not complying with the Schengen regulation, and then we would be criticized because of that.
That’s why I say that there is a piece of hypocrisy in the current behavior of Europe, because on the one hand you are forced to comply with your regulations. If you don’t do it, then you’re going to be criticized because of that. On the other hand, if you comply, then you’re going to be criticized by the method. But I always ask my fellow foreign ministers who criticize the fence: Look, you say we have to comply with Schengen regulations. They said, yes, you do have to. Then I ask, Can you tell me another method how we could do it? And they said, No, unfortunately we can’t.
And, regarding the issue of refugee or economic migrant, because here we have to make a very clear distinction. You know, no one’s life is in danger in Greece. No one has to escape from Greece because of life danger. No one has to escape from Serbia to Hungary because of life danger. No one has to escape from Croatia to Slovenia because of life danger. No one has to escape from Austria to Germany because of life danger.
When these people move along this Western Balkan route, they are not doing it because of their life being in danger in one country, and that’s why they have to move to another. They have type of ambition, motivation, which is a better way of life in economic terms, which is a legitimate motivation. But if this is this is the motivation, we have to call it like that, and address it like that. Because there are totally different international regulations which refer to the treatment of a refugee and the treatment towards an economic migrant. Because a refugee, you have to give a shelter. But you can decide whether you want to take care of an economic migrant or not.
These people we are talking about are refugees when they leave Syria and when they escape to Turkey, to Jordan, to Lebanon, or Iraqi Kurdistan – to the neighbouring countries. But when they leave Turkey to Greece, in Greece they are not in danger. Greece is a safe country, a member of the European Union. You don’t have to leave Greece because your life is in danger. We can go through the whole Western Balkan route, saying the same thing about all the countries there.
JOURNALIST: Question on energy cooperation.
Mr. SZIJJARTO: Thank you very much for that question as well.
We have addressed this challenge with Nikos in our meeting, that in Central Europe, energy security is a hot issue, because we cannot say that there is energy security in Central Europe, unfortunately. Russia announced that, by 2019, transit for Ukraine might be cut off. We had a plan to build South Stream, which would have delivered gas from Russia, through Bulgaria, Serbia, to Hungary and Austria. But because pressure of the European Commission that has been cancelled.
And now, as Russian, German, Dutch and Austrian companies, and French, agree about extension of North Stream, there is not a heavy pressure from the European Commission. Isn’t that double standards?
The argument about South Stream was that it is bypassing Ukraine. May I ask, North Stream is going through Ukraine? No. It’s bypassing Ukraine. So, here we are in a situation that we have to look for a source. And Greece might have, is likely to have a key role in this. Because Greece has a very, very effective cooperation here, with Cyprus, Israel, Egypt, about exploration of offshore gas fields. And if this is the case, then we have to calculate that Greece as one of the key players in the future, in order to ensure energy security in Central Europe.
And that’s why we have agreed with Nikos that further we will evaluate these necessary steps of ours, but now I see for sure that, in order to be prepared for this future role of Greece, and to take out a profit of it for ourselves, we need to execute, or at least prepare, infrastructural developments in the Western Balkans and in Central Europe, so to be able to deliver gas from Greece, through Western Balkan countries, to Hungary. We don’t have the infrastructure for that yet, but we are working on it very hard.
N. KOTZIAS: We are in favor of European cooperation – I am referring to the first question. And the European cooperation must be based and dictated by Greece’s sovereign rights. That is, European cooperation submits to the country’s sovereign rights, and not the other way round.
Second, we are very happy to be cooperating with Hungary on energy issues. And I will undertake an initiative on other projects that Hungary can be included in, with the consent of my friend the Foreign Minister of Hungary. The countries of the Balkans and above the Balkans, the member states of the EU, need to intensify their cooperation. I have made a number of proposals to the Foreign Ministers of Bulgaria and Romania, and in this direction my Hungarian colleague and I also agreed.
Greece is exercising a proactive foreign policy. It is taking initiatives and is happy to see a response and an increasing number of friends and good relations with EU member states and with other neighbours.
Thank you once again, Peter.