2018 can be a year of positive developments for both Greece and the Balkans

Statements by Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, at the joint press conference of the leaders at the 2nd Quadrilateral Summit of Greece - Bulgaria - Serbia - Romania

Alexis Tsipras: It is a great pleasure to be once again here in Belgrade. This time in the framework of the Quadrilateral Summit of the Balkan countries, Greece, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria. A Summit that started as an idea last summer at the Trilateral Summit of Greece-Bulgaria-Serbia, in Thessaloniki, and actually it started with the invitation of Romania, about two months ago in Varna.

Today is the second meeting and I can say with certainty that we have a new institution that is constructive, creative, essential to the common course of our countries, but also to the common perspective of the Balkans. This quadrilateral composition has a special symbolism. Three countries of the European Union, Greece since 1980, Romania and Bulgaria since 2004 and with the substantial effort of Greece and the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003 to join the EU, three key partners within the EU , in addition to Serbia. A country that, in our view, plays a key role in the developments in the region. And you know, this symbolism bears very important and meaningful messages, about the past, about today and tomorrow, our common future. Because, we think that the EU should very soon correct a big mistake. A big mistake that has its roots in the way the Balkan region was treated. We know that the Balkans have always been a sensitive area. Europe’s powder-keg, some said.

Errors and injustices have been made and must be corrected. Serbia cannot be outside the European family to the extent that the majority of its citizens want to join the European family. This is the strong symbolism of this joint effort. And we want to highlight this and at the same time, highlighting the need for cooperation with all the Balkan countries.

Developments in our wider area are difficult. Developments that lead to destabilization. The challenges we face are intensifying, especially in the areas of security, refugee management and migration flows. At the same time, I would say that the western world as a whole is in a transitional phase.

There are some forces, some countries that believe that these developments impose the need for national entrenchment, return to nationalism, and raise walls, and these lead to Cold War logic. I think this is disastrous. It is disastrous for our future, for the future of Europe. I believe only through cooperation, solidarity, respect for international law, international conventions, international treaties, such as the Treaty of Lausanne, which is the cornerstone of the relations of the countries in the wider region. Only in this context we can move to a prospect of prosperity, to the peaceful coexistence and co-development of our states.

A moment ago, reading some documents of historical significance concerning the relations of our countries which are relations, of course, which have their roots in the previous century, our eyes fell, the look of all of us on a text of a British Foreign Minister, 133 years ago, who said that Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia must have a very close relationship of cooperation.

Do you know what the difference is today? Today we cannot expect a minister of “great” power to indicate this to us. First of all, because there are no great powers in the sense that we knew before, which will take us by the hand and guide us, which will show us the right way for our region. But, we need to realize on our own the need for this cooperation, meaningful and constructive cooperation to promote peace, stability in our region.

I want, friends, to say that in this context I think that not only the cooperation of the four countries, but also the Balkan Presidency, because we want to believe that the Bulgarian Presidency will, give us a very important opportunity: To highlight these common beliefs, common ideas, and common perceptions. Therefore, we are given the opportunity to revive in Sofia in May 2018 the agenda of Thessaloniki 2003. The agenda, which must today be based on conditionality, but also on a vision for the future of our region.

So, I would like to welcome once again this decision by the dear Prime Minister of Bulgaria, Boyko, to organize this Summit so that it can become the EU-Western Balkans Summit and mark that the Presidency of Bulgaria will be a Balkan Presidency.

I, also, want to mention particularly the need in the next period all four of us to be at the same table, but also each one separately with its neighbors. Let’s talk constructively about the future, no matter how difficult it is. I had the experience, a few days ago, to find that with some countries it is difficult, but necessary. Yesterday and today, I had the experience, a pleasant one, to find that at other times it is easier and more enjoyable. Whether difficult or easy, it is necessary. We are neighbors and we must take the future of our countries in our hands, of our peoples and shape good-neighborly conditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, I was given the task to speak about the financial projects that we discussed yesterday and today and which we believe can provide another dynamic in the wider region. And of course, I would like to mention in particular three major projects, which we have discussed and for which we will move in the future to find funding, because we really believe that Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia can play a very important role which will concern not only the relations between us, which will concern the whole of the Balkans and will give a different perspective for the EU.

We have, therefore, discussed about the energy sector. In the energy sector, the construction of the TAP pipeline, which brings gas from Azerbaijan via Turkey to Greece, has already gone a long way. And, of course, there are thoughts in the future about other pipelines that will transfer gas – all these ideas are welcome – from Turkey to Greece.

We are moving very fast to the creation of a floating LNG re-liquefaction platform in Alexandroupolis. And so Alexandroupolis may be an energy hub because we have decided and will proceed to construct the vertical axis of the IGB that will interconnect TAP and of course the natural gas LNG re-liquefying pipeline and will allow this vertical axis to transfer gas to go to Bulgaria. So the so-called IGB, insofar as it interconnects with those pipelines linking Bulgaria to Romania and Serbia, can be a very substantial project that will give the prospect of diversifying energy sources and the prospect the very close cooperation between Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia to meet the energy needs of our countries and our region as a whole.

Two, also, important projects are those that concern our countries’ rail links. One that we have already had the pleasure of discussing and signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Kavala with the Bulgarian Prime Minister, which we can now extend to Romania and it concerns the railway interconnection of the ports of Northern Greece, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Alexandroupolis, with Burgas, Varna and Ruse and from there to Bucharest. That is, essentially the rail link between the Aegean and the Danube.

And another very important project for which we will work together to find funding is the modernization of the Thessaloniki-Belgrade rail link. And of course there is the connection between Belgrade and Sofia.

These jointly, if you wish, projects that can promote economic, trade cooperation can also be pilot projects on how, within the EU, member states, but also states that expect their accession perspective in EU, they can decide on how to build their future on solid foundation of economic, commercial, but certainly cultural cooperation. We will draw the future on our own and we will take advantage of the opportunities that we have before us, and take the lives of our citizens in our hands, because history has taught us that tensions and confrontations do not lead anywhere. Let’s learn from the rich history of the Balkans to shape our future on a different path. In a way of cooperation, mutual understanding, mutual respect and co-development. That is the message that we all want to convey, and I believe that this message will be very appealing to our partners in Europe as well as to our other neighbors.

Journalist (ERT): Prime Minister, you have recently stated that 2018 will be a historic year, due to the exit of Greece from the memorandum. Do you think it will be a historic one for the Balkans as well, as we have the Bulgarian Presidency in a few days, that is from January, but also the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia in May?


Alexis Tsipras: We have to work hard so that it can be a historic year for the region. For Greece, it is a crucial year, a turning point, because after almost eight years, in August 2018 Greece will exit the bailout programs. That is, it will have the financial autonomy to support its own needs with its own power. It has returned to high positive growth rates. They are projected to be even higher in 2018. And that is something very important. But for the wider Balkan region, 2018 may be a milestone. We have the Bulgarian Presidency. A Presidency that my friend Boyko does not want to stay in the trivial. It wants the presidency to be the Presidency of the Balkans, and Greece will play a decisive role in it. We will also have the opportunity in Bucharest in March, but a few days before at the EU-Western Balkans Summit which is to be held in Sofia, to meet again in Thessaloniki a few days in advance to prepare the agenda of this Summit, updating the agenda of the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit. Essentially, it was the Summit that opened the way for the accession of Bulgaria, Romania and other countries, including Cyprus, to the EU.

And I would say that 2018 can be a year of positive developments in Europe. Europe, in any case, is discussing how to upgrade its institutional framework, how to correct its imperfections and weaknesses now that it is at a time when there is no crisis, in order to be even stronger if we face economic crises in the future to be able to cope. At the same time, however, I believe it can also be a milestone, a positive milestone for the European perspective of the Western Balkans and, of course, for Serbia.

At the same time, I believe it can also be an important year for other crucial issues in the region. And I want, as Boyko mentioned, to talk about a chronic problem that we face with our neighbors with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Skopje.

Perhaps 2018 is a year where we could have a positive development in a chronic problem if the new Skopje government decides to take substantial steps forward. If, in my opinion, stops an unnecessary rhetoric, that they are the only descendants of the Macedonians and Alexander the Great, if it stops an irrational rhetoric and at the same time accepts a solution regarding the name, a solution mutually acceptable to his neighbors. In this perspective, of course, I will be the first to go forward so that Greece can guarantee the growth prospects and security of this neighboring country.

You know, we want to create a future of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Because we know that what divides us is far less than what unites us. This, however, requires steps from all sides and, in particular, requires us to be clear and agreements on substantive issues.

However, we are here at least the four of us, convinced that we must move forward with steady and bold steps in the prospect of cooperation so that 2018 will be a positive milestone for our countries, for the Balkans, for Europe as a whole and of course for our peoples. Because that is why we are working for the welfare of our peoples.