23 November, 2007
Journalist: It is almost one year since Romania joined the EU. How would you evaluate, from the Greek perspective, Romania’s input?
Ms. Bakoyannis: First of all, allow me to reiterate the Greek people’s heartfelt enthusiasm about Romania’s accession to the EU. We were particularly pleased with your decision to go down the difficult, yet worthwhile path of European integration. We share your satisfaction for successfully becoming part of our European family. It was a strategic choice.
Moreover, you serve as a prime example of political courage and will for the rest of Southeastern European countries. It goes without saying that their European perspective remains the cornerstone of our political initiatives, our institutional vision for the region.
Likewise, I am confident that the excellent bilateral relations we enjoy will continue to flourish within the enlarged European agenda. Indeed, my Romanian colleague, Mr. Cioroianu, and I, enjoy a substantial and constructive cooperation in many fields of our policies, both on a regional and European level.
As for your country’s input from the Greek perspective, there is much to be said: Romania’s accession has come to illustrate that South East Europe cannot be excluded from the European “architecture”. The European project for a prosperous, democratic and secure continent must not be fragmented. In addition, as EU members, Greece and Romania can work side-by-side to promote our regional agenda. I am certain that our thorough knowledge and hands-on experience of the Balkan reality is beneficial for our colleagues in the EU.
Journalist: EU members aim to a common foreign policy, but they are divided on key issues such as the approach in the relation with Russia, the main reason being the dependence of Russian oil and gas. A recent study of the European Council on Foreign Relations labeled Romania as being “pragmatic friendly” with Russia, and Greece and Cyprus as supporters of Russia’s interests. Which are your comments on these labels?
Ms. Bakoyannis: I strongly believe that putting tired labels on politics is a hazardous enterprise. They oversimplify domestic policies while portraying locked positions and lack of flexibility. Just think of past stereotypes referring to the Balkans.
It is true that foreign policy is the flagship of a national vessel. It is a national pride industry - if I may use a term borrowed from Economics. It cannot be shut down; it cannot be left to other nationals. This is a reality and it is only natural.
Ultimately, within our European family there will always be several voices and this is, after all, what true democracy is all about. From immigration and trade policies to enlargement and our humanitarian priorities, we will oftentimes find ourselves concurring or disagreeing. But, at the end of the day, Europe has always moved forward through consensus.
Thus, our aim in the EU is the articulation of a common voice. The rationale behind this decision is that even the most powerful EU nation state gains a great deal when working together. Of course, speaking in unison is the optimal solution; our greatest challenge. We strive to this end, but we still have a long way to go.
When it comes to energy, it is of course, vital to secure sufficient energy supply. For that reason, cooperation with Russia is important. It is equally desirable, to move towards the diversification of its energy suppliers as a part of an overall strategic plan, which would preclude the EU from being captive of its own uninspired choices.
Journalist: Romania and Greece share a common position on the status of Kosovo, warning on the downsides of a unilateral proclamation of independence. There has not been much progress in negotiation between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, as the December 10 deadline approaches. How do you see the future? How should the problem be approached?
Ms. Bakoyannis: This is a European problem that demands a European answer. I think Mr. Cioroianu and I share similar views on this issue.
Allow to me to examine two phrases in your question, which captured my interest: “Unilateral proclamation of independence” and “December 10 deadline”. Both of them may potentially impede the development of Kosovo.
The scenario of a unilateral proclamation of independence puts the chances of a viable and functional settlement at risk. It weakens international legitimization as it stands against open-minded negotiations in good faith. In the midst of Troika’s efforts to reach a solution both sides can live with, multilateralism should be placed at the epicenter of the political discourse. Unilateral actions detract from the spirit of honest negotiation.
December 10 is a pre-set deadline which reflects our agony to settle Kosovo’s dispute as soon as possible. However, what matters most is the achievement of a final, viable and functional settlement, and not the disposition of the issue per se in the agreed time schedules. The time factor is less important than the effectiveness and viability of the initiatives taken.
Journalist: Two international and European issues are now of a great interest for Greece: the problem of the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Turkey’s accession to the European Union. What are the latest in the negotiations with Skopje? And with the Turkey issue?
Ms. Bakoyannis: Indeed, both are of top priority for us. However, they are two distinct issues and, as such, must be dealt with independently.
Regarding the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), we have reiterated that its European and Euro-Atlantic perspective would add much to the security agenda in the area. To this end, Greece has made significant efforts to respond to the country’s quest for economic growth and stability. Let me point out, that Greece is the prime investor in FYROM, and Greek companies drive growth.
I am sure that most of you know Greece’s expressed concerns over our neighbors’ name. Skopje attempts to build their national identity around a pan-Macedonian theory, ignoring the fact that 2.5 million Greeks, residing in Greek Macedonia, more than the 50 percent of the geographical Macedonian region, consider themselves Macedonians. Skopje’s anachronistic positions, alongside its provocative actions, run against the letter and spirit of the UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions and of the 1995 Interim Agreement between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece. W propose the negotiation of a mutually acceptable solution; a composite name that will clearly state the nature of FYROM.
There is one thing that I want to make clear: The issue is not merely of psychological or emotional importance to us; it is of paramount political substance as it is strongly linked to an overall demand for good neighborly relations and regional stability. Both requirements lie at the core of European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, which FYROM wishes to be part of.
We have repeatedly expressed our goodwill but this cannot be done at the expense of our time-tested European and Euro-Atlantic values. For this reason, we have invited Skopje to negotiate a mutually acceptable – composite solution, a composite name, that makes the mark. Greece has walked the negotiation bridges, and naturally expects Skopje to walk its part.
Journalist: And Turkey?
With regard to Turkey’s European perspective, our steadfast support is widely known. We deem Turkey’s accession to the EU to be beneficial to regional peace, stability and prosperity. Our message is aptly summarized in the proposition that full compliance must lead to full membership.
Our bilateral relations have entered a new era from which both countries have reaped great benefits. Furthermore, our economic and political cooperation is progressing significantly, be it within the framework of the BSEC or in the field of trade and energy supply.
However, we still have some important unresolved issues on our agenda. Turkey’s activity in the Aegean and its denial to accredit the Ecumenical Patriarch and to reopen the Halki Seminary, pose serious threats to our further rapprochement.
Neither of these problems is of a bilateral nature. Both have a clear and strong European dimension and are cause for concern in the EU. And they are mentioned in the recent European Commission Progress Report on Turkey.
Last but not least, the Cyprus issue. Greece is working towards reaching a just and viable solution for the reunification of the island in accordance with international law - the work done by the UN and the relevant Security Council Resolutions. Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots must live together and prosper within the European framework, as Cyprus is now a full member of the EU.
Journalist: Not long after accession to the EU, Romania is undergoing a crisis with one of her main European partners, Italy, and faces limitations of the freedom of movement of her citizens. In some parts of Europe, Romanians seem to have a negative image and are not welcomed. What is the situation in Greece, in this respect?
Ms. Bakoyannis: Undeniably, the question calls for our attention. As a preliminary comment, I believe the European experiment is inspired by the assumption that all peoples of this continent gain more when living together in harmony and with respect. Our cultural heritage, current political and economic assets and, above all, the common vision of our future require the utilization of all the human capital we have at our disposal.
In addition, discriminative policies against minorities or certain groups of our citizens reflect an era we have left behind once and for all. Our wealth stems from our diversity; our uniqueness from the conviction that we all learn from each other. Greeks and Romanians, for instance, have been living alongside each other for years. We base our friendship on strong ties and value our common trajectory. Many Romanians work in Greece. They support their families in Romania while they contribute in many ways to the economic development of both our countries.
Journalist: Have the recent events in Italy had any impact on the evaluation in Greece of the possibility to shorten the transition period imposed on Romanian and Bulgarian workers?
Ms. Bakoyannis: The labor market is a sensitive issue requiring delicate handling. In the light of recent events, we have not taken any decisions yet regarding the transition period for Romanian workers. I am delighted that Mr. Cioroianu and I agree on most of our bilateral aspects of this issue. Working in accordance with the updated European standards and procedures, we are opting for better coordination of our relevant policies to the benefit of our respective countries.