US Media on Greece
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PRESS & COMMUNICATIONS OFFICE
June 2006; Vol. 12 No. 6
( also available in PDF )
1. EUROPEAN SUMMIT URGES ANKARA TO MEET EU OBLIGATIONS
2. A “UNITED EUROPEAN CYPRUS’’ IS ENVISAGED
3. WORLD ENVIRONEMENT DAY IN GREECE
4. GREECE AS A LEADING TOURIST DESTINATION
5. GREECE NEARS EQUALITY WITH EU PARTNERS
6. AN ENERGY HUB IN SE EUROPE
7. PROGRESS AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
8. BRIEFLY . . .
EUROPEAN SUMMIT URGES ANKARA TO MEET EU OBLIGATIONS
Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis welcomed the conclusions reached by the European Union summit in Brussels on June 16, regarding the action required of Turkey to pursue its bid for EU membership.
The section of the summit’s conclusions regarding Turkey, endorsed by the 25 leaders of the member countries, welcomes the opening of accession negotiations and states: “Turkey is expected to share the values, objectives and the legal order set out in the treaties . . . The current negotiations are based on each country’s own merits and their pace will depend on each country’s progress in preparing for accession measured against the requirements set out in the Negotiating Framework . . . The European Council calls on Turkey to intensify the reform process and to implement it fully and effectively, so as to ensure its irreversibility and sustainability as well as to progress towards the complete fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria, including the commitment to good neighborly relations. In this context, any action which could negatively affect the process of peaceful settlement of disputes should be avoided.”
In welcoming the two elements of the conclusions—requiring good neighborly relations and the peaceful resolution of differences—Mr. Karamanlis further noted the reference in the summit’s conclusions to Ankara’s obligations regarding the customs union protocol. These commitments, he said, are clear cut and cannot be disregarded. The obligations in question require Turkey to open its ports and airports to the ships and aircraft of the ten new EU members, including those of Cyprus. This obligation was forcefully rejected by Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan who said: “If negotiations between the European Union and Turkey are to be broken off because we won’t proceed with some step regarding the issue of the protocol extension, then let them be interrupted.”
European leaders, however, are adamant in requiring Turkey’s compliance with the Ankara Protocol which provides for Turkey’s ports and airports to be open to all the new EU members, including Cyprus. At the end of the two-day EU summit, the presiding Austrian President Wolfgang Schuessel said: “We expect that by the end of the year these commitments should be fully fulfilled.” And French President Jacques Chirac said that if Turkey failed to comply with the protocol it would itself be “putting in doubt its capacity to pursue enlargement.”
Greek FM in Istanbul For Confidence-Building Measures
Arriving in Istanbul on June 9 to attend, along with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, the 4th Greek-Turkish media conference, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis affirmed Greece’s support for Turkey’s place in the European Union, but also attached as an “unquestionable condition” the recognition of religious freedoms and the functions of the Istanbul-based Ecumenical Patriarchate, and the re-opening of the Halki Theological School, closed since 1971. Those requirements, she added, are stated in all the relevant texts of the EU.
The Greek and Turkish foreign ministers met the next day and discussed confidence-building measures to further improve bilateral relations. At a joint press conference following the talks, Ms. Bakoyannis said: “We confirmed the political will for initiatives to strengthen the climate of confidence and reduce tension to the greatest possible degree.” Practical steps on which agreement was reached include the building of a second bridge across the river Evros border region; joint anti-flood measures in the region; establishment of a direct line of communication between the armed forces chiefs of the two countries; and also a direct phone line between the NATO sub-headquarters in Larissa, Greece, and in Eskisehir, Turkey.
The annual moratorium in military exercises in the Aegean was extended to mid-September, and agreement was also reached for joint exercises by the search and rescue teams, for measures to deal with natural disasters, and for the exchange of visits by the port authority chiefs of the two countries. The Chief of the Hellenic Armed Forces General Staff was also invited to visit Turkey.
It was further agreed to continue bilateral cooperation in the energy, economic and banking sectors in which, Ms. Bakoyannis said, “important steps have been taken.” Mr. Gul called the talks “extremely beneficial, with very much courage and cordiality.”
Chairman of Turkish EU Parliamentary Committee in Greece
In Athens, there was a long meeting between Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis and the former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, now the chairman of the Turkish National Assembly’s committee on harmonization with the European Union. The Greek side proposed three common projects: the Black Sea-Turkey-Greece-Italy natural gas pipeline; trade, investment and banking cooperation; and the construction of a road network — the “Path of the Argonauts” — linking Alexandroupolis in northern Greece with Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey and back to Alexandroupolis.
Visiting northern Greece, Mr. Yakis was briefed on the excellent cross-border cooperation and on the need for flood-control measures. The Greek side also requested the abolition of the charge for visas which deters visits by Turkish tourists to Greece.
Greek President on Turkey’s European Course
On the island of Symi, where he was declared an honorary citizen on June 20, President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias called on Turkey to abandon its questioning of the legal status in the Aegean. “In European logic,’’ the President said, “there is no place for expansionist designs or the disputing of the sovereign rights of a neighboring country with the threat of war. Our support for the European course of Turkey is based on our expectation that the democratization of Turkey will help the common future of our two peoples . . . Greece will watch this course without excessive optimism or pessimism, with a spirit of realism . . . We do not want more tension and we are extending a hand of friendship and cooperation to the Turkish people.”
A “UNITED EUROPEAN CYPRUS’’ IS ENVISAGED
Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in an interview published in an Athens newspaper on June 18 spoke of her vision for a “United European Cyprus.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos stressed that the foreign minister did not announce a new plan but made reference to a framework for a possible re-opening of the effort to settle the Cyprus issue. He noted that the Annan Plan had not provided a way out or a solution to the Cyprus issue. “Any reactivation of the process within the framework of the United Nations must be very well prepared, so that it may lead to a successful outcome because no one wants a new failure. The framework for success should include elements put forward by the UN Secretary-General to date; the political and institutional reality in Cyprus following its full accession to the EU in May, 2004; and the need for an agreement and its subsequent acceptance by the two communities.”
U.S. Will Recognize Only Republic of Cyprus
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried stated at a dinner of the 17th annual Cyprus Conference on June 8 that US policy on Cyprus “has been, is now, and shall remain clear and consistent in support of a settlement establishing a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation which will reunify Cyprus and its two communities into one country . . . Let me stress to you unequivocally: We do not and will not recognize any government other than the Republic of Cyprus on the island of Cyprus. We are clear about this. None of our policies is aimed at or implies ‘creeping recognition’ of any other political entity. Cyprus is one country. We have, and will have, only one embassy, one ambassador.”
WORLD ENVIRONEMENT DAY IN GREECE
World Environment Day was observed in Greece during a three-day public awareness campaign. The environment, town planning and public works ministry launched its campaign with the slogan “You depend on the environment more than you think,” and Minister George Souflias visited the country’s first sea park on the island of Zakynthos where the Caretta-turtle is protected.
President of the Hellenic Republic Karolos Papoulias attacked unrestricted and unplanned development for the destruction of the environment, calling it “development with no tomorrow,” and urged the need for a radical change of behavior—“a correct attitude to nature, a new environmental ethos.” He toured the National Park which is home to 700 species of animals and birds.
Transport Minister Michalis Liapis noted that urban transport consumes four times less energy per passenger than the private car, creating less pollution and consuming less fuel. He toured a related exhibit in Athens’ Constitution Square metro station and inaugurated the first Greek four-seat hydrogen-powered car.
Agricultural Development Minister Evangelos Basiakos stressed that Greece has signed all the international treaties for environmental protection, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Biosecurity Protocol signed in Cartagena, as well as agreements for biodiversity and the international treaty on phytogenetic resources. He referred also to the government’s support of sustainable development by measures such as increased reforestation and soil-conserving agriculture, reduction of sea pollution, and increased funding of forest and other protected areas.
World Environment Day was also observed in Thessaloniki where schoolchildren gathered around the city’s landmark White Tower to hear the mayor’s call for environmental protection. The children were given potted plants to tend and, in another venue, where children from 12 kindergarten and elementary schools presented art work inspired by the environment, they were taken on a visit to the Botanical Gardens containing 1,000 plant species.
GREECE AS A LEADING TOURIST DESTINATION
Addressing a meeting of the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis observed that by providing quality services, Greece can have a tourist trade 12 months of the year and become one of the leading countries in Europe in the leisure travel sector.
Mr. Karamanlis related the steps taken by his two-year-old government to devise a tourist policy with a strategy and specific targets, including the creation of a Tourist Development Ministry. Some 480 investment proposals for the tourist sector have been submitted and more than half of them have been approved, with budgets totaling some !560 million.
Visiting Beijing Tourist Development Minister Fani Palli-Petralia signed on June 24 a tourism cooperation agreement between Greece and China. She met also with Air China’s general director to discuss the possibility of direct flights between China and Greece.
GREECE NEARS EQUALITY WITH EU PARTNERS
In its annual report on EU public finances, issued on June 13, the European Commission said that the Greek economy, experiencing robust growth, has largely achieved alignment with other EU economies.
Greek interest rates, the report notes, have declined steadily since 1999 and, now standing at about 2 percent, are among the lowest in recent years, with a favorable impact on private investment and consumption. Reaffirming its earlier forecast, the Commission expects Greece’s fiscal deficit to fall below 3 percent of GDP in 2006, and will stay at that level if certain structural reforms are implemented. These reforms, the report says, are also necessary for strengthening growth and job creation. In an indirect reference to the needed restructuring of Greece’s social security system, the report urges extra emphasis on spending curbs linked to an ageing population.
The generally favorable EU review was anticipated by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis who noted that the per capita GDP is expected to increase to 80 percent of the EU average by the end of next year. Mr. Karamanlis further noted a 6.9 percent increase in investments in the first quarter of this year; an improvement from 50th to 42nd place in the ranking of global competitiveness; unemployment also, now below 10 percent, is on the way down; tourism revenues marked a 7 percent increase; and exports in the first two months of 2006 increased by 21 percent.
The prime minister was speaking in the provincial town of Lamia, north of Athens, and noted that the main thrust of government policies was now directed to the development of rural areas and small towns by supporting local government initiatives for agriculture and tourism.
AN ENERGY HUB IN SE EUROPE
The secretary-general of the Development Ministry, Nikos Stephanou, spoke on June 22 at the 8th Athens Forum of the Energy Community in Southeastern Europe, predicting that the energy sector in Greece will change radically by 2010. By that time, he said, one million Greek households will be using natural gas. With three new electricity production units in operation, there will be an addition of 3,000 MW of energy from renewable sources. He also spoke of the completion, expected next year, of the Greek-Turkish natural gas pipeline, the future gas pipeline between Greece and Italy, and a new electricity connection between Greece and Turkey, also expected next year.
Mr. Stephanou addressed earlier an event organized in Athens by the Greek-French Chamber of Commerce on “Prospects of Turning Greece into an Energy Hub for Natural Gas.” Among the countries potentially interested in taking natural gas to European destinations through Greece, he referred in particular to Azerbaijan, with a capacity of 400 billion cubic meters of undersea gas deposits. The prospects of channeling natural gas through Greece has also been under discussion with the authorities in Egypt and Qatar.
PROGRESS AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Ambassador John Miller, director of the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, after a meeting with Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias, congratulated the Greek government on June 14 for its “continuous and coordinated effort to combat this modern form of slavery.” The statement was made after the release of the State Department’s annual report on human trafficking worldwide. It upgraded Greece to “Tier 2” from its previous position on the “Tier 2 Watch List.”
The section of the report on Greece notes that the Greek government is making significant efforts to eradicate human trafficking, while it has “increased its capacity to protect and assist victims . . . and has also improved its cooperation with non-governmental organizations.” The report also said that “after several years of negotiations, the government signed a child repatriation agreement with Albania” which assists the victims of child exploitation (by forced begging or stealing). Greece is also commended for continuing to investigate cases of trafficking and securing convictions for increased numbers of traffickers. “The government,” the report notes, “established 12 additional anti-trafficking task forces throughout the country and funded specialized training for over one thousand police officers throughout Greece.”
Further, the government “demonstrated leadership in promoting regional law enforcement cooperation” and continued to provide significant funding to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations that provide programs, shelters and legal aid to trafficking victims.
Welcoming the report’s assessment of Greece’s progress, Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said it was a recognition of the “systematic and energetic effort made in recent years by the foreign ministry and Hellenic Aid to confront the problem, and of the actions of the Greek government which have strengthened the ability to protect the victims of trafficking.” These initiatives include the signing of cooperation memoranda with NGOs, the signing with Albania of an agreement for the repatriation of children, and a public information campaign.
Mr. Stylianidis also referred to the new legislation which provides for a one-month (or two month for minors) “period of reflection” for victims of trafficking. This avoids the mistaken repatriation of victims and their prosecution for crimes which result from their exploitation (e.g. forged travel documents). Efforts will also be intensified to cultivate a climate of confidence and cooperation between the authorities and the victims—a highly important factor in acquiring information leading to the apprehension of traffickers.
The Greek Embassy in Washington in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies is organizing on July 10 a conference on European action against human trafficking. Ambassador Miller will address the conference.
BRIEFLY . . .
*In a message recognizing the Republic of Montenegro as an independent state, following its decision backed by a referendum to separate from Serbia, Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said: “l would like to congratulate the people of Montenegro for realizing their national vision and to confirm that Greece is ready to further our traditionally friendly ties and stand by the effort of the neighboring country for its incorporation into European institutions and for strengthening regional cooperation and stability.”
*A draft bill introduced to Parliament on June 21 by Education Minister Marietta Giannakou makes important reforms to Greece’s university education system. The changes proposed in the new legislation, drafted after a year of public debate, include measures to encourage the academic and financial independence of universities. Other provisions relate to the support of students by innovations such as study advisors and interest-free loans. University asylum under the provisions of the bill will be strengthened by the requirement that it can be lifted by the Rectors’ Council only in the presence of a judicial official. A maximum number of terms is provided to ensure that the average four-year degree can be completed in six years. An additional year may be granted by the university; and students who suspend their studies will have the option, after an indefinite period, to resume them later.
*The tenth anniversary of the death of Andreas Papandreou, father of the current leader of the PASOK main opposition party, George Papandreou, was marked by a series of events in Greece. The opening on June 17 of an exhibition in central Athens of photographs and documents concerning the career of the three-time prime minister and founder of PASOK was attended by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. He noted that while his party had disagreed often with Mr. Papandreou’s choices, divisions and fanaticism belong to the past. “The new culture,” he said, “requires that we respect our opponents.” George Papandreou spoke eloquently of his father’s achievements.
*Greece once again was rated very high in the EU’s annual report on bathing water quality. Issued on June 9, the report found that 100 percent of the coastal areas sampled in Greece last year were suitable for swimming, complying with mandatory standards.
*The Holocaust of the Greek Jewry: Monuments and Memories is the title of a 333-page book presented at the US Capitol at a ceremony organized by the Greek Embassy in Washington on June 21. The book, published by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece with the support of Greece’s education ministry, details the history of the Greek Jews, 86 percent of whom were exterminated in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias read messages from Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and Education Minister Marietta Giannakou in which they referred to the value of the book in keeping undimmed the memory and historical course of “an inseparable part of Greek society.”
*An official ceremony was held at Atlanta’s international airport on May 31 on the occasion of the resumption of direct flights by Delta Airlines from Atlanta to Athens. Present at the ceremony was Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias who spoke of the “great importance which this direct airline link of the two Olympic cities has for the support of tourism, trade and investment, uniting the largest airline hub in the world with the most modern airport of southeast Europe.”
*Food service, supermarket and hospitality professionals were treated to samples of Greek olive oil from the Peloponnese, Crete and Lesbos along with Greek wines and delicacies in an event held on June 15 at the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC. Last January, a wine tasting evening was also held at the Greek Embassy. Guests heard experts praise the quality of olive oil produced in Greece and the value of the so-called “Mediterranean Diet.” Greece has designated 2006 as the year of olive oil.
Source: Press Office of the Embassy of Greece