14 October, 2006
The foreign ministers of the eight Mediterranean countries in the European Union concluded an informal meeting here in Athens on Friday with a decision to join forces over Mediterranean and other issues of mutual interest, including preparation of a working text on the Middle East.
Outlining the results of the meeting during a press conference, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said that it had been very useful and had covered a broad range of issues, leading to progress, while noting that the EU's Mediterranean countries "face common challenges, share common concerns and seek solutions that are generally accepted".
Specifically, the meeting ended with a resolution to hold regular informal meetings at least once or twice per EU presidency, with the next such conference provisionally scheduled to take place in Malta in February.
They also decided to set up a working group made up of deputy European affairs ministers that will specify the views of the eight on issues of mutual interest and another working group of high-level foreign ministry officials to prepare a working text on the Middle East in view of a Mediterranean Forum meeting taking place in Alicante, Spain on October 27-28.
"These are steps forward, in the direction of better communication, closer cooperation and greater coordination of EU Mediterranean countries," Bakoyannis stressed.
She said the meetings would retain their informal nature and aimed at a "more powerful and effective EU that achieves its targets through consensus and solidarity".
In response to other questions, the minister said that the EU was taking steps toward implementing a proposal for a European coast guard to police its southern seas, in a bid to stem the tide of illegal immigration, originally made by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in 2004.
According to Bakoyannis, the present cooperation between the coast guards of the various countries was developing into a European coast guard. She also emphasized the economic aspects, stressing that money would have to come from the common European fund to help Greece cover the cost of policing its extensive sea borders and thousands of islands.
The minister highlighted the meeting's emphasis on the Middle East, pointing out that this was the first time that the EU had such a strong and substantial presence in the region, with what was essentially a European army stationed in Lebanon.
She said that Euro-Mediterranean countries, in particular, could make a significant contribution to the proposals for the Middle East put forward by the EU because of their greater proximity and understanding for the countries in the region.
Apart from Bakoyannis in the chair, the meeting in Lagonissi was also attended by Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Malta's Foreign Minister Michael Frendo and Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis. Italy was represented by State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Famiano Crucianelli, France by its ambassador to Athens Bruno Delaye and Cyprus by a senior foreign ministry official.
Source: Athens News Agency