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Greek Foreign Policy: A factor of stability in a triangle of instability Speech by the honorary Dean of Geneva School of Diplomacy, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Uations in Geneva, Ambassador Alexis Alexandris
Greek Foreign Policy: A factor of stability in a triangle of instability
Speech by the honorary Dean of Geneva School of Diplomacy,
Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Uations in Geneva, Ambassador Alexis Alexandris
Dear Mr. President , members of the faculty, students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to be addressing such a distinguished audience today. Allow me, in this respect, to wholeheartedly thank Mr.Colum Murphy, the president of the Geneva School of Diplomacy, for providing me with this unique opportunity.
I realize that these past few weeks have garnered particular interest in the developments in my country. There is such a plethora of articles pertaining to Greece on a daily basis, that one is occasionally at pains to follow them. The focus is of course on the financial situation and the ongoing discussions in the relevant bodies of the Eurozone. I will not even purport to present myself as a specialist in economics; I am a historian and a diplomat by profession. However, I think that even a rudimentary analysis of the situation leads to the conclusion that a nation which has lost 1/4 of its GDP in four years- the deepest spike ever recorded in peacetime- with almost 25% unemployment and more than 50% youth unemployment- is in dire need of positive prospects for its future. A return to growth, which has actually started to glimmer since the end of last year, should be the priority of all those involved, both in Greece and in the rest of the European Union.
This should be a major concern, since the immense social cost of the austerity has put seriously in question the political and social objectives of an "ever closer union" proclaimed in the EU founding documents. In the final analysis, one has to bear in mind that the ultimate goal of EU integration was to bring about the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of the European people.
I will now turn to the subject matter of today' speech, which actually ties in well with my introductory remarks, in the sense that the present financial situation is temporary. On the contrary, the fundamental parameters of my country's foreign policy are long-lasting; indeed continuity and consistence, rather than rupture, has been the norm, notwithstanding certain qualitative differences which each government adds to its foreign policy narrative. As a word of caution, I am not implying that foreign policy is static and that it does not respond to new challenges. However, it is influenced and to a certain extent defined by several factors at play, such as a nation's history, culture and geographical position, as well as by its socio-economic and political evolution over time.
First of all, before I delve into specific issues of Greek foreign policy, I shall make a general observation and set the framework of our discussion. In the post-Cold War era, Greece has invested significant foreign policy capital in contributing to the creation of a climate of peaceful neighbourliness with the countries in its immediate vicinity, in full conformity with international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. In this respect, as the oldest member of the North-Atlantic and European institutions in the Balkan Peninsula, Greece played a catalytic role in pulling its neighbours towards NATO and the EU in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Iron Curtain. This parameter is still relevant today, given that the process of integration of the Western Balkans in the aforementioned institutions is far from complete. Greece continues to support the countries concerned, provided, of course, on the explicit understanding that they fulfil all the relevant criteria and preconditions, while simultaneously respecting good neighbourliness. The same rationale applies to our neighbour in the East, namely Turkey, the European perspective of which we have supported since the late 1990s.
Turning now to more specific issues, I will schematically make a distinction between, what I will refer to as 'core issues' of Greek foreign policy and 'other issues' which go beyond the scope of purely national issues but which have a broader framework. It is needless to say that the overarching principle in all of the issues of foreign policy amounts to defending the interests of the Greek people and our homeland’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and sovereign rights, as well as of the European Union, both at a
bilateral level as well as in all the international organizations in which the country participates.
As far as the core issues are concerned, the Greek Government's priorities are the following:
(a) Supporting the Government of the Republic of Cyprus in the intercommunal talks on the resolution of the Cyprus problem, which should be based on the resolutions of the United Nations and the Republic's capacity as a member state of the European Union, so that Cyprus is reunified as a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with a single sovereignty, a single citizenship and a single international personality. After all, the Cyprus issue is an international problem of invasion and occupation of a sovereign country, in violation of the UN Charter. Without its resolution, unfortunately there can be no prospect for the full normalization of Greek-Turkish relations.
(b) As regards relations with Turkey, Greece has made systematic efforts to improve relations between the two countries. Such an improvement, however, has to be based on the mutual respect of the principle of inviolability of sovereignty and therefore Greece cannot be threatened on issues that concern sovereign rights, the enjoyment of which is safeguarded for every country by international treaties and conventions. Greece is seeking steadily paths leading to an honest and sincere cooperation, while at the same time it is methodically, effectively and resolutely defending its interests, which are guaranteed by international law, with respect for good neighbourly relations. In a nutshell, Greece is consistently and sincerely pursuing the improvement of Greek-Turkish bilateral relations and supports – on clear conditions – Turkey’s accession course to the EU. However, it is up to our neighbouring country itself to implement its declarations regarding its “zero-problem” policy and to meet its European obligations.
(c) Within the framework of the UN talks, we should reach a mutually acceptable diplomatic solution to the name issue with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, which is based on a compound name with a geographical qualifier, for use in relation to everyone (erga omnes). This is the only realistic solution that reflects the reality of the situation, given that Macedonia is a geographical area, the largest portion of which is in Greece, with a smaller part in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and a small portion in Bulgaria. An erga omnes formula is required to render a solution viable, thus avoiding to perpetuate the current undesirable situation. Given the manifold benefits, to all parties concerned, that may accrue from a normalization of relations with its northern neighbour, Greece possesses the will and has every interest in finding a definitive solution at the soonest possible time. But the other side must also take the necessary steps to meet us half way.
Turning now to the 'other issues', Greece's foreign policy aims at highlighting our country's regional role as a factor of stability in a triangle of instability, from Ukraine in the north to the Syrian crisis and Iraqi situation in the southeast and to the crisis of recent years in North Africa, especially in Libya, in the southwest.
As a country with close historical ties with all the parties involved in the Middle East, we have systematically played a constructive role, as a natural bridge builder between the Arab world and Europe. Our strategic decision to deepen our relations with Israel does not run counter to our traditional good relations and mutual understanding which we enjoy with the Arab world; on the contrary it complements them. Consequently, Greece firmly supports the establishment of an independent, unified, viable and democratic Palestinian state that will coexist in peace and constructive harmony with Israel, within internationally recognized borders. Greece supports the reaching of a comprehensive solution based on a two states formula, as the only choice that can respond satisfactorily to the longstanding demand of Israel for security, and of the Palestinians for a state.
In Syria, after four years of war which has resulted in at least 210,000 deaths and in the displacement of more than 9 million people, coupled with the threat posed by ISIS, it is now more evident than ever that international and regional efforts must aim at creating renewed pressure for the promotion of a process of political transition under Syrian direction, while ensuring Syria’s unity, sovereignty, territorial integrity and its multiethnic and multi-faith nature. In particular, Greece is concerned about the fate of the Christian population of the Middle East and North Africa. The Greek government is ready to promote initiatives, together with other interested partners, that further focus the international community’s attention on the issue of their plight; actions aimed at stopping the exodus of Christians from their ancestral homes.
Concerning the crisis in Ukraine, the Greek government is monitoring developments with great concern, given the escalation of the past few weeks. According to recent reports in the international press, the overall death toll since the beginning of the crisis has already reached 50,000 lives. Greece has called for the respect of Ukraine's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity and like the rest of the EU member states, it praised Germany and France for brokering a ceasefire and peace plan for Ukraine last week. It is the deeply held belief of the Greek government that the solution of the crisis in Ukraine lies in diplomacy. In this vein and together with the international community at large, we try to play a part towards the consolidation of a sustainable ceasefire and the subsequent implementation of an eventual comprehensive agreement, which could contribute decisively to the efforts to resolve the crisis through political and diplomatic means.
At the same time, we believe that we must avoid at all costs the creation of a Cold-War type situation with dividing lines in Europe, and hence it is crucial to maintain open channels of communication with Russia, which must be part of the solution. Having major and firm historical, cultural and religious ties with both Russia and Ukraine, Greece can play and has the will to contribute to mediation on problems that exist in the region. At the same time, the protection of the Greek community of Ukraine, especially in Mariupol and the surrounding villages, constitutes a top priority for the Greek Government. This sizable minority has been feeling, with a sense of great discomfort, the repercussions of the crisis, both directly and indirectly, having already mourned victims from among its numbers.
In conclusion, I would like to once again stress that Greek foreign policy has been predicated upon certain fundamental and timeless principles, playing a role of stability and peace in a region which has been at times marred by instability. Responsible for securing the volatile external borders of the European Union, Greece constitutes the crucial south-eastern gateway of Europe at large. Paying due attention to the strategic and geo-economical importance of the country, the current new government of Greece has already started promoting a proactive foreign policy based on democratic values, bridge-building efforts and an all-inclusive narrative.
These principles are also defining factors in our work here in Geneva. In line with the motto of our recent Presidency of the European Union "United We sail Further", we contribute as much as possible to the shaping of common EU positions in the Human Rights Council, engaging in common outreach efforts, including towards countries with which we do not necessarily share the same views and in areas of the wider human rights agenda. The same 'bridge building' approach characterises our presence in the other fora in which we participate here, be it those related to humanitarian and migration issues, such as UNHCR and the IOM or the more 'technical' organizations such as the WTO, ITU and WIPO, just to name a few.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I assure you that despite the economic difficulties which my country currently faces, we will continue to play a stabilizing role in our wider region and contribute, commensurate with our potential, to initiatives that aim at strengthening international peace and security.
Thank you for your attention.