© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
10 June, 1997
Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos yesterday invited his southeast European counterparts to work towards the establishment of a broad cooperation aimed at consolidating political stability and economic development in the region.
Speaking at the opening session of a two-day conference of southeast European foreign ministers in Thessaloniki, Mr. Pangalos said the progress achieved since a similar meeting in Sofia last year was "significant", but "below our true capabilities." The opportunities lost must be made up for at the Thessaloniki meeting, he added.
Taking part in the conference are foreign ministers from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Romania, as well as the foreign undersecretary of Albania and the assistant foreign undersecretary of Turkey.
The Greek side is being represented by Mr. Pangalos, Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Foreign Undersecretary Yiannos Kranidiotis.
Many governments have expressed interest in the conference, with the United States, Germany, France and Britain sending representatives.
In all, 17 countries have sent observers, among them Russia's Foreign Undersecretary Nikolai Avanasievski.
During the conference, the ministers will examine issues concerning broader political cooperation in sectors such as the protection of the environment, the promotion of humanitarian, social and cultural cooperation and common action to fight organized crime.
They will also be discussing the development of economic cooperation between the Balkan countries and initiatives aimed at regional cooperation in southeast Europe.
Noting that the countries represented by ministers at the conference shared the same ideals on which the European Union was founded, Mr. Pangalos intimated that they should work towards the construction of a similar union of their own.
Mr. Pangalos also underlined the region's importance for peace and development in Europe as a whole, expressing the view that European integration could never be complete without the participation of the countries of southeast Europe.
Referring to the axes around which cooperation should be developed, he said they could be none other than the principles of international conduct, namely, equality between states, the non-use of violence or threat of violence, the inviolability of borders, respect for the territorial integrity of states, the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for human rights.
"That is, all the elements which govern our own national foreign policy," Mr. Pangalos said.
The Greek foreign minister also stressed the need for strengthening economic ties between the countries of the region at a bilateral, multilateral and regional level, as well as the implementation of specific programs for the development of the region's infrastructure.
At this point, he reminded the conference of the opportunities for cross-border cooperation afforded by EU programs.
Lastly, Mr. Pangalos recalled the proposal submitted by Greece in February at the Council of Ministers, calling for the long-term solution of problems arising for countries in the region in the present phase of their transition to a market economy.
Analysts, meanwhile, attached particular importance to the meeting of 130 businessmen from Balkan countries which is being held parallel to the ministers' conference. One of the main issues on the businessmen's agenda is the course of privatization in the Balkan states. Conclusions and decisions of the southeast European foreign ministers will be announced in a joint statement today, which is expected to be referred to as the "Thessaloniki Statement".
Prime Minister Costas Simitis described the conference as "a decisive step towards further progress in cooperation between the countries of the region".
In a message to participating ministers, Mr. Simitis said "the conference illustrates our intention to inaugurate a new era in our cooperation and to work together for a better future for our peoples and for the region as a whole".
"Following the changes which have taken place in the region, our countries must seek new challenges and take advantage of new opportunities, within the framework of a new European space," the premier said.
He assured that Greece would continue to actively cooperate in joint efforts and, as an EU member, promote initiatives for the benefit of the region.
"I am convinced that the successful outcome of your meeting will be a milestone in the development of the conference for stability, security and cooperation in southeast Europe," Mr. Simitis said.
Meanwhile, Richard Shifter, an adviser to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, later expressed Washington's ''strong interest'' in the development of relations of cooperation between the countries of southeast Europe.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Shifter, who heads the US delegation observing the sessions of the Thessaloniki conference, expressed Washington's satisfaction at the fact cooperation was being promoted between the countries of the region. He added that the US government ''warmly supports this cooperation'', noting that ''it is very positive that the committees of the Initiative for Cooperation in Southeast Europe are convening twice a month in the various capitals."
Source: Athens News Agency