ΓΡΑΦΕΙΟ ΤΥΠΟΥ ΠΡΩΘΥΠΟΥΡΓΟΥ
Μάλτα, 21 Οκτωβρίου 2013
Joseph Muscat: Prime Minister, thank you very much for the very cordial but the very hard-working session which we just had. We look forward to continue during lunch in a couple of minutes time. I believe that this meeting together with your delegation show that between Malta and Greece there can be a common front on the issue of illegal migration and that we share most if not all the ideas. We also do share your vision that there should be a more European approach and as a first step we should look forward to next Thursday and Fridays’ European Council to have not only a Southern European block- let’s put it that way- or grouping of like-minded countries but we do also believe there might be also other countries that share our concerns. So, we will- and I do share again the point that you will continue- our humanitarian duty, but over here we are not guarding just our borders, we are guarding European borders. And we cannot be left alone.
There is a humanitarian element, but there is also a security element, which can not be overlooked and I am very glad that we’ve managed to discuss a number of concrete measures which we believe must be addressed together through a European dimension be it with regards to security, be it with regards to burden responsibility, be it with regards to returns policy. We will also as a country, and I convey this message to you, we will quite clearly say that we are satisfied and are also ready to say and we’ll not mess with our words and we say that we think that next Council meeting might fail. So honest will be our policy: we are not willing to take people for a ride, we are not willing to take the migrants for a ride, we are not willing to take the people of the Europe for a ride. So, we will be pleased if there is progress but we hope that is not an exercise and waiting for the winter to come and for the problem to go off the agenda for a couple of months until next spring or summer. We need definitely a vision from Europe, and we as a country, both our countries, and hopefully other countries, I know that later today you will be visiting our Italian neighbors, there will be a group of like-minded countries, that want to find a more durable solution to this problem. So thank you very much for coming here.
Antonis Samaras: Again let me express that there was a great pleasure meeting with you. I want to make sure that everybody realizes that this challenge for Malta and for Greece, we have been by nature and by geography the gate-keepers, if you want, not just for our countries but for the whole of Europe, and our coast lines, those borders are not simply our problem, the threats of the actual waves of illegal migration is common to all Europeans. And we are basically talking about an ‘appalling’ human trafficking procedure, knocking everyday on our door, which destabilizes our societies and becomes a threat to be spread up further in the North. And this is why I think it’s about time to do something about it and we can not stay indifferent watching those human tragedies. And we cannot allow direct threats to our societies. It is our duty, as you correctly said, to warn our partners that this is a solid reason for cooperation, and a solid ground for European solidarity. It is actual a matter of responsibility. And I think that all together we can face those challenges. Greece and Malta are obviously bound together by a long history, by common maritime tradition and the Mediterranean Sea has always been a strong link between us, and we are going to talk about all these things, about the Mediterranean and about the seabed, and common projects and infrastructures and tourism and commerce and agriculture in the first semester when Greece will be taking over the European Presidency. So, we are not starting from scratch today. They are many things we can do together to accommodate our needs, but I would like to say that the geopolitical significance of the problem we are dealing with for member states like Malta or Greece or Cyprus or Spain and obviously Italy, are problems that I believe everyone in the European Union should appreciate and we should turn these challenges to opportunities. And this is what we will be discussing on Thursday and Friday, and I am sure that together, as neighbors, as historic friends, we will in fact take this common position that we discussed about, so as to make sure this problem is correctly solved. So I would like once again to tell you how much we appreciated the fact that we are here today in this beautiful country of yours.
Question: A question to both Prime Ministers. What you will be considering an achievement after this week’s European Council? What is the victory that both of you are expecting from this meeting? Which do you believe are the member states that are not so sympathetic to Malta’s and Greece’s pleas for European solution to migration?
Joseph Muscat: Well, from my part I don’t think that it has anything to do with victories. Within European Councils it’s about conclusions and wordings. I, for one, am not too happy with changing a word here and a word there that might mean everything or nothing. What we, at least from my side, from the Maltese side, would look at is gaging whether there is a real and actual willingness, a political willingness to change the status quo. That is the message that we are putting forward. I, for one, will put forward that message in not about a quick fix solution. We are quite impressed by the ideas that the Greek government has for the Greek Presidency and the way we put also our suggestions to the Greek Presidency, which will be followed by the Italian Presidency. So, what we will be gaging- what I will be gaging- for one, during the meeting is whether there is some true political willingness behind the words of solidarity we have been hearing over the past, especially couple of weeks with the tragedy of Lampedusa and the tragedy in our waters. And if I sense that it’s just words, I would say so. That’s my position.
Antonis Samaras: I fully agree with you. And I’d like to say that when we talk about coordination, of common policies and common positions, for a problem that is basically Southern European that does not mean that responsibility does not lie with the rest of our European allies. So I think this coordination, is a coordination for the whole of Europe and I will come back at the initial word you used, honesty. In a very honest matter we have to put this forward. And let me give you an example. There is obviously human tragedy when events of this sort take place, everyday actually, in our seas, but there is also a tragedy when these people get on shore in some part of Europe and they are faced with unemployment and a tragic way of life. So, being trapped there, in such a terrible condition, is equally important to us to face. As those people who have had those initial problems back in their own places. Therefore, I think it’s from a human instinct way of looking at this problem. We also have to consider that this is a problem for everyone who cares about human beings, who abhors the concept of human trafficking. So, it cannot be simply a problem for us in the South. It’s a problem for every European. And this is something that together with Joseph we are going to discuss with our colleagues on Thursday and Friday.
Question: Prime Minister Mr. J. Muscat was very clear in his words and said that Malta is not going to mince its word and wants a change in status quo. The question is for you Mr. Samaras. Is Greece willing to pull the same rope with Malta both in this Summit and also in the European Presidency of Greece next year?
Antonis Samaras: Yes, we are going to be very determinative. If that’ s your question. We are going to be very determined. I am not using big words like implacable or inelastic. I am just saying we are going to be very, very determined in making sure that this thing changes. We can no longer allow this situation to be as it is today. As I ‘ve said before, Greece is a country that is been going through thick and thin, in terms of solidifying its economy. In terms of making sure we get the right fiscal measures, in terms of making sure we get the right structural measures, we’ve had more than 25% of our GDP lost since 2009, if you add to this inflation and if you add to this taxes, the average Greek has lost something like 40% of his disposable income. So, we are country that is now receiving more than a million people who are basically illegal immigrants, who do not tell us where they come from once they are there. Only about 10% of them come from war zones or are people who are correctly asking for an asylum. What do you do with the rest 90% of them in the country, which is full of unemployment? More than 60% among them are youth. We have to resist this. We have to find a solution. And I want this solution not to be a Greek solution or a Maltese solution or an Italian solution. It has to be a European solution. This is what Europe is all about.
Joseph Muscat: If I may add, the issue is from the other side of the coin and we are on the same front. That’s Malta gave its solidarity in an active manner whenever there was the need. So, Europe write this and we did our bid, came together when this was the financial and should come together with crisis. This should be an old-brainer. But rather than that we are faced with a situation where there is. We’ve faced the situation, where there is reluctance, where there is a procrastination.
Question: We have already spoken with Mr. Muscat about Italian and Malta collaboration. So the question is to Mr. Samaras. You are going to meet our Prime Minister Mr. Letta this afternoon. How are the two countries collaborating and then considering next year, Italy and Greece will have the Presidency of the European Union, how much you will give a priority to the problem of migration?
Antonis Samaras: We are in a very close relationship with the Prime Minister Letta. I am very happy to be his friend. We have already talked about this with him and we have decided, when he was in Athens, that the Greek presidency together with the Italian presidency will allow for not one semester but for one year of synergies in the area of maritime policies and in the area of problems like illegal migration. So, this is something that allows for very positive and fruitful future results and this is what we are about to talk about with him in Rome today.
Question: Last question for Both Prime Ministers: The draft agenda for Thursday’s meeting has come out and there is no mention or reference to any discussion on migration. Both of you send a message to Brussels before the actual meeting, but what is it exactly what you are asking for, if the issue of migration is not formally on the agenda. What do you want concrete from this meeting in Brussels?
Joseph Muscat: We are informed that the issue will be on the agenda, we’ll be discussed on Friday morning. That’s the indication we have. We definitely will put our ideas together. There are a number of conceptual issues, which will continue to push on such as the issue until now it’s called burden sharing. It’s even about responsibility. This is not about just sharing something, about sharing the burden, but about sharing the responsibility. But there are other concrete measures that we will put to the consideration of the Council, such as a coherent returns policy. So one of the things which obviously can be done and there it needs to be European cooperation which until now it’s just on paper, is in the case of people who have applied for asylum and whose application has been refused. In our case, but also in the Greek case, nothing happens. As from the next MFF, the financial framework, it is up to FRONTEX to coordinate flights for repatriation of these people. Until now, both our countries and other countries have problem that the countries of origin of those people don’t come up with documentation for these people. There are tools, legal instruments, by means of which we can issue. Europe can issue travel documents, and we want Europe to give a clear message to these countries of origin that these people will be repatriated, because they have failed the test, because they have not been granted asylum, they have gone through the system as required by international rules and we need European help there to coordinate this operation. This is just one of the points we will be putting forward. There are other ideas on European or third countries, of countries of transit We made a particular reference in the case of the situation in Libya. For example what can be done with our Libyan colleagues. These are all ideas, we have gone through a very exhausting list. So, It’s not a case where we just sit down and complain, we are offering solutions, we are offering a clear plan and I am glad that this will not be a Maltese or a Greek plan, but I hope that by the end of this week this can be a plan that we’ll group together a number of like-minded countries.
Antonis Samaras: The Prime Minister has put down, a series of items to be discussed in our agenda. I fully agree with him. Let me tell you politically also that whereas in the international news Lampedusa’s events made the whole issue more noticeable, May I say that this is something that there’s been going on for years in Greece, and for years in our region. And we have assembled as I told you before more than a million of these people in our country. So, this is something that politically I think should be solved since we can afford no more of this. Not simply politically but also socially. In terms of being close to the problem and being sensitive to the problem. And being humane to the problem. Which is very important. At the same time there are other issues. The PM did not obviously go through the whole list. I will just add one to you. There’s the financing issue. Who finances what. Right now in Greece we are trying to change our economy and obviously we are not the richest country in the eurozone. But I tell you that the average Greek boat that participates in those events and in this patrolling in the region gets 8 times the fatigue of the average boat since it has to work on a 24 hour basis a day. So how much more can we afford going this way? I am just giving an example to show you that everything is not easy but everyone should make things easier. Both for the European countries and also for those poor people, who had the problems and want to leave their countries. So, it’s a very important issue, it’s a political problem and Europe should defend this concept of being able to solve the problem and be near the problems. And express the solidarity to all the people in the world and especially to the Europeans.