Ladies and gentlemen,
It is with great joy that I welcome today to Athens, the seven heads of state and government of the European South, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs who represents my friend, the Prime Minister of Portugal.
In fact, this is the first time that the Prime Ministers of Slovenia and Croatia have participated in one of our Summits.
So, the 8th MED 9 Summit, as it will be called henceforth, is now reality!
Its conclusions are mirrored in the venue that is hosting us today: an emblematic landmark of modern Athens, a city ready to face the future.
Always, however, under the aegis of our perennial compass, the Acropolis. And next to the waves of the sea that unites us all, the Mediterranean.
These are not mere symbols. They are crucial counterpoints to the actual imperatives of the current circumstance. Because in the city where it was born, Democracy now has to be baptized once more in order to deal with the challenges posed by authoritarianism and populism.
Meanwhile, the Mediterranean of culture, of open horizons and prosperity urges us to protect peace and security in its environs. But it also urges us to protect the balance of the ecosystem that exists in its waters.
This is exactly the reason why Greece added the crucial issue of the climate crisis to our agenda. And the participation of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in the pertinent session highlights the precedence that this issue has, and that it concerns all EU member states.
The devastating fires that hit particularly Greece, Italy and Cyprus over the summer did not leave a single Mediterranean country untouched, while at the same time northern Europe had to face deadly floods.
This is the best, most robust proof that the environmental crisis concerns us all. It is also an alarming sign that the threat has already reached our shores.
As this is a threat that affects all, we should all stand together to defend against it. The directions stipulated by the Declaration of Athens on the Environment, which we adopted today, are clear: we, the nine countries of the European South, take coordinated action to protect our forests and our seas.
We seek -and we have agreed on that- a stronger EU Civil Protection Mechanism. We shall exchange technology and means of preventive protection in order to deal with the incidents where nature strikes.
We are obviously promoting our green European targets: the rapid break from our dependence on fossil fuels; investments in small-footprint energy sources; protecting our seas from pollution and -as we discussed with my friend Emmanuel Macron in Marseille- from overfishing.
And of course we seek to jointly tackle, at the European level, the challenge of the increased prices of natural gas, as they affect electricity prices in all our economies.
Nevertheless, these new aims do not overshadow the previous challenges. Let me briefly point out some of them.
Security and stability throughout the Mediterranean Sea remains the fundamental priority of us all.
Always on the basis of international law and the Convention on the Law of the Sea that our countries have signed and honour. They not only demand the implementation of this Convention, they also guarantee it.
This concerns all countries, including neighboring Turkey. It is time for Turkey to abandon its aggressive behaviour towards Cyprus, Greece and the region as a whole. EU – Turkey relations feature in great detail in the conclusions of all recent EU Council meetings. The Mediterranean states are now sending their own message.
This is yet another dimension that underscores the need for Europe to develop strategic autonomy. It needs to forge its own path in the fields of defence, security, energy, the economy, and healthcare.
Events and recent rearrangements on the “global chessboard” pressingly place these issues on the agenda.
This is a choice that obviously requires new configurations in our alliance network. But this now emerges as an imperative objective and Greece will be on the front line in the quest to reach it.
Our political declaration is also clear in regard to hybrid threats, such as the exploitation of migration flows and their instrumentalization in order to fulfill other objectives, an obvious violation of human rights. In light of recent developments in Afghanistan, this issue takes on new characteristics.
Therefore, today more than ever it is imperative to dismantle illegal people-smuggling networks. Europe’s external borders need to be protected.
We need to intensify our cooperation with countries that are closer to Afghanistan, like Turkey, so that refugees can stay closer to their homes.
One thing is certain however: we will not allow a repeat of the uncontrolled migration flows that we experienced in 2015.
The European Pillar of Social Rights was also part of our agenda. We acknowledge that there is no growth without social cohesion. There is no personal prosperity without safe and thriving citizens either. Hence, the post-Covid era demands solid steps both in regards to public health and the economy.
On the former, we saluted the European vaccination strategy. There is no doubt that in all our countries the danger has now been confined to, first and foremost, the segment that remains unvaccinated.
And we will insist on that strategy. We will insist on winning the “battle of persuasion”, because the challenge of protecting public health remains paneuropean.
As far as the economy is concerned, it is our common position that economic and social activity cannot be suspended again in our countries. All the more when all countries of the Mediterranean South -with Greece being at the forefront- have returned to growth.
The first goal, therefore, is to pursue economic growth along with expanding the vaccination coverage.
The next issue that will occupy us soon is the new Stability Pact. We will have to make positive use of the experiences from the previous pact, while avoiding its shortcomings.
Besides, especially the European South has proven that it does not need austerity. It needs prospects. And we are ready to serve in that direction.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me end with this remark.
The European South bears the tradition of the past, the power of the present, and the dynamism of the future. It can transfer the breeze of the Mediterranean to the central, the eastern and the northern part of our common home, thus giving a new breath to its identity.
The historian Fernand Braudel pointed out that “in its physical, as well as its human landscape, the versatile Mediterranean emerges in our memories as a coherent image, as a system where everything gets interwoven and recomposed in an original unity”.
While the Greek poet Giorgos Seferis, when in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1963, pointed out that “in our gradually shrinking world, everyone is in need of all the others”.
Following the words of these great men of the arts, the need for creative fusion that derives from common action, I think that we will find the path that our countries, the Mediterranean and Europe deserve in the third decade of the 21st century.