Questions of the Turkish agency Anadolu Ajansı to the Prime Minister of Greece Mr. Alexis Tsipras
- Mr. President, which are the issues that you will examine at your meeting with the President of the Republic of Turkey, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, during his visit in Athens?
In the early 2000s – after the mutual support our peoples showed during the earthquakes – we built our relations around the European accession process and the gradual increase of our economic cooperation. In 2010 we upgraded our relations on the basis of the High Level Cooperation Council and in 2015-2016, on the basis of our management of the migration crisis.
Today, we are going through a period with very important challenges in our broader region, as well as in Europe, related to regional stability and security, migration and the economy. Greece and Turkey – situated in the crossroads of three continents – need to be able to both confront these challenges, as well as grasp the great opportunities that our region offers. In this context, it is more important than ever that we develop the bilateral dimension of our dialogue and relations.
Our aim is to do this in two ways:
Firstly, we must develop our positive agenda on migration cooperation, the economy and people-to-people contacts. The EU-Turkey Agreement on migration as well as our bilateral Readmission Protocol must continue to be implemented as effectively as possible. At the same time, we have important projects ahead of us in the areas of transportation networks, energy, commerce, culture and tourism. The TAP-TANAP pipeline is moving fast, and other natural gas projects are under discussion. Soon we will be able to start the ferry connection between Thessaloniki and Izmir as well as restart the Thessaloniki-Istanbul train connection and work on future transport projects.
At the same time, we need to make sure our relations develop on the basis of solid foundations of mutual respect and international law with full respect of the treaty of Lausanne. We need to make sure that the Aegean and the Mediterranean are seas of peace and dialogue and not of tension or confrontation. In terms of violations of Greek airspace and dogfights, these years have been the worst in a long time. Risking very dangerous accidents. It is high time that we revitalize our discussions on Confidence Building Measures and the Exploratory Talks.
At the same time, it is important that we send a message of support on the restarting of the talks for a just and viable solution in Cyprus, on the basis of UN Resolutions. These talks must start when the two communities are ready and must be prepared well in order to ensure success.
- What do you consider the role and the significance of Turkey to be, from the point of view of Greece, in the region, and what steps can be taken regarding the cooperation between the two countries?
Turkey’s diplomatic engagement with initiatives that aim at resolving international issues and regional challenges, on the basis of international law, is crucial for our region. I referred to the Cyprus talks. The migration crisis proved how important our bilateral cooperation, as well as EU-Turkey cooperation is. At the same time, we are looking with great interest at the Astana Initiative for peace in Syria, that Turkey is actively engaged in.
In general, I believe in the need for us to expand our regional dialogue on a rapidly increasing number of issues of common interest.
- Relations between Turkey and Greece over the past two years have been tested by several events. In your opinion, has this period been successfully over?
We have faced challenges and difficult moments in our relations. But we should be guided by the increasing support that our peoples show to each other in difficult times. In times of natural disasters, the Greek economic crisis, terrorist attacks, or the heinous military coup attempt in Turkey.
I believe that the first visit of the President of Turkey to Greece after so many decades is an opportunity to take bold steps forward.
- Following an attempted coup in Turkey, eight Turkish officers have sought asylum in Greece. Turkey’s request for extradition was rejected by Greek Justice. If a positive response to their asylum request is given, how would you judge this as the Prime Minister of a country that has suffered from coups?
I cannot comment on decisions that have to do with the justice system. It is independent from the executive and its decisions on individual cases are, of course, fully respected.
From that point on, my position has always been absolutely clear that coup-plotters are not welcome in Greece.
In this context we are continuing our security and judicial cooperation.
- In the elections held in countries of the European Union, such as Germany, the Netherlands and Austria, the far-right parties have risen. During the election period, some leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, took a stand in favor of freezing EU-Turkey relations. What is Greece’s stance on EU-Turkey relations? In your opinion, how does the EU appreciate the importance of Turkey?
The rise of extreme-right forces in Europe is very disturbing. But I believe the best response to these forces – that use racism and islamophobia – came from the people of Greece during the refugee crisis. Like the Turkish people, the Greek people proved their solidarity and hospitality, despite the difficulties they face in their everyday lives.
The challenges of migration and security make it even more important to preserve the EU-Turkey relationship as a mutually beneficial one. At the same time, I strongly believe that the accession process contributes to preserving and promoting crucial democratic reforms and good neighbourly relations. In this context, Turkey’s accession process and the EU-Turkey dialogue is today, as important as ever.
We live side by side. As Greeks, we will always support democracy in Turkey and a Turkey that looks to Europe. I believe the EU must be clear in its positions and its commitments and Turkey must find its way in this direction, after a very challenging period.
- What is the course of the EU-Turkey Refugee Agreement? Do you see a problem on the part of Greece? On the other hand, the EU has not accepted the number of refugees committed. In your opinion, is the EU’s attitude to refugee status satisfactory?
The EU-Turkey Agreement was a difficult, but necessary initiative, particularly following the unilateral closing of the Balkan route in our northern borders. Turkey has shown its commitment in fulfilling it and rapidly decreasing migration flows in the Aegean. Nevertheless, the situation in the islands of the Eastern Aegean remains difficult. I will be discussing its implementation with President Erdoğan as well as EU leaders.
Although we have seen important support in the context of the relocation process, it is clear that many in the EU insist on considering the refugee and migration challenge as a “Mediterranean” problem to be pushed to the countries of first entry. This is a wrong perspective that only serves to strengthen the extreme right and alienate countries such as Greece or Turkey that hosts over 3 million Syrians. We need a system of solidarity in managing refugee flows, that consolidates a mechanism of returns and resettlement and provides the necessary support to countries that are at the forefront of this challenge.
- Are there plans for further steps in the development of bilateral trade and tourism relations?
You, Prime Minister, addressing foreign investors invited them to invest in Greece. Is there a strategy to attract Turkish investors?
Greece is clearly leaving the crisis behind, concluding its economic program in the summer and entering a new phase of development. We have an increasing number of successful investment projects being realized and I have set up a task force under my supervision, for supporting foreign investments.
Already, several Turkish investors are looking closely at the great possibilities opening up in the fields of real estate, shipping, tourism, infrastructure and energy. We will be discussing our bilateral economic cooperation with President Erdoğan, particularly in view of holding a High Level Cooperation Council in February in Thessaloniki and possibly a joint business forum.