We had a very productive meeting today with my friend, the Prime Minister of Slovenia. As his country takes over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021, we had a broad agenda of topics for discussion.
We also examined our bilateral relations that now have a new impetus, as evidenced by the recent visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic to Ljubljana.
We share common values in Europe and in NATO, as both our countries are interested in stability and growth in the Mediterranean. Slovenia’s coastline may be small, but it plays a major role. This is why we support Slovenia’s accession to the MED7 group, whose leaders’ summit will be hosted by Greece this year.
As we are moving towards leaving the pandemic behind, both sides consider the free movement of citizens as a key point for the day after. This is why we strongly defend the European decision on the Digital Green Certificate, which will allow vaccinated citizens and those with a negative COVID-19 test to travel unimpeded, with rules for safe journeys for everyone.
This is a measure that can be implemented with flexibility by all EU member states. At the same time, the new reality brought about by vaccinations allows us to update the guidelines regarding travel to the EU by third-country nationals. This would really boost tourism and concerns both Greece and Slovenia; as vaccinations proceed, restrictions are lifted.
As I said, our bilateral economic cooperation is growing strongly and stands to benefit from EU enlargement in the Western Balkans.
As early as the Summit of Thessaloniki, in 2003, Greece -being the oldest member of the EU in the wider region- has played a leading role in this effort. I am certain that Slovenia’s Presidency will grant greater speed to this dynamic. And I am particularly happy that the Summit on the Western Balkans, which will be held in Slovenia in October, has been confirmed.
With my friend Janez we discussed issues related to security and migration, which unfortunately intersect in our region, given that both are associated with the behavior of our neighbour, Turkey.
During our meeting I reiterated Greece’s clear position, which is also the position of the European Union. Greece does not threaten anyone but neither does she allow anyone to threaten her. It dismisses provocations as it has confidence in deliberations. It considers international law, good neighbourly relations and -obviously- the european acquis as the only framework through which any difference that may come up can be examined. Besides, these are not bilateral matters, but issues of European security and compliance with international rules.
Given this opportunity, I would like to thank again the Prime Minister of Slovenia, who has been standing by Greece’s side systematically and consistently, in every European Council meeting.
As for the Cyprus issue, there was common disappointment over developments -or should I say non-developments- at the five-party informal conference in Geneva. I think that the stalwarts of this dead end are well known.
Also well known is that the only way to resume substantial talks: within the framework of the United Nations, whose decisions and resolutions stipulate a bizonal, bicommunal federation as the only framework for a just and viable solution to the Cyprus issue.
As far as the proposal for the new European Pact on Migration and Asylum is concerned, I think that both sides agree that it needs to serve a cohesive European policy, with a fair distribution of responsibilities.
Especially Greece, which is a first reception country, located in the eastern borders of Europe, cannot deal on its own with the burden of a problem that concerns the entire continent. Common challenges call for common solutions.
On the other hand, the European Union needs to insist on Turkey’s compliance with its clear commitment to deter illegal flows of immigrants, as agreed in the 2016 EU-Turkey Statement. And of course it needs to take back those who departed from its shores yet it has been definitely proven that they are not entitled to asylum in Greece. Human rights cannot be employed as levers to apply pressure for the sake of other purposes.
Finally, we discussed the major challenge of climate change. Both Greece and Slovenia support the EU’s ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; our country has already taken the lead in the effort to remove lignite from our energy mix and move towards growth-inducing green policies. The transition to a low carbon economy is a main feature in our Recovery Plan, “Greece 2.0”.
Let me end my speech, dear Janez, by thanking you for the participation in the Delphi Economic Forum, as well as your participation in the celebrations for the 40-year anniversary since our country joined the EEC (present-day EU).
It is worth pointing out that as Greeks are celebrating, this year, two centuries of freedom, Slovenia completes 30 years as an independent state. These are coincidences in the present that have strong roots in the past. Mythological tales relate that the Argonauts traveled to Ljubljana and Jason fought the fierce dragon, which now serves as the symbol of the city, adorning its coat of arms and flag. Further, it is recorded in history that in March of 1821 Ioannis Kapodistrias attended the famous conference that was held in Ljubljana’s central square, in support of the peoples of the region who had revolted.
The relations between our two countries, dear Prime Minister, go back a long way and urge us to further them even more. Thank you, once again, for our exceptional bilateral cooperation. I wish you have a creative visit to our welcoming city.