The Greek Press Today
© Copyright Embassy of Greece 1996-2005. All Rights Reserved.
25 January, 2007
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis on Wednesday reiterated Athens' standing positions on major issues affecting the entire SE Europe region, during his address here to the Council of Europe's (CoE) parliamentary assembly (PACE).
Karamanlis evoked the CoE's "crucial role" in south-eastern Europe, including Kosovo, where there "still remains a great deal to be achieved", as he said.
It is "essential for peace in the area that the solution be mutually acceptable to both sides as well," the Greek premier said, noting that the contentious issue of a final status for the province ranks as a significant "political problem" that affects regional "stability and security".
"Both sides must continue negotiations in a productive manner. However, what is of great importance and truly necessary for peace in the region, is for a solution to be mutually acceptable to both sides," he added.
Karamanlis said Greece has systematically stressed that such a solution can be achieved only through negotiations; respect of International Law; respect for the multi-ethnic and multicultural character of Kosovo; support of Serbia's European and Euro-Atlantic prospects as well as respect and the safeguarding of Kosovo's Orthodox Christian cultural heritage.
Turning to another issue of particular importance to Athens, the Greek prime minister expressed conditional support for EU candidate status towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), with the conditions including a resolution to the nagging "name issue".
Moreover, Karamanlis underlined that a mutually acceptable solution must be found to this issue, which continues to plague full ties between Athens and Skopje.
He noted that in such a negotiation process "provocative unilateral actions have no place," whereas a mutually acceptable name issue falls within the conditions set out by the EU for FYROM, namely, good-neighbourly relations and regional cooperation.
Addressing questions during a subsequent press conference, Karamanlis reminded that both Greece and FYROM have assumed specific responsibilities over the issue, including the so-called "interim agreement" of 1995.
"I myself am Macedonian, along with 2.5 million other Greeks," he characteristically said in reference to his family's descent from the largest Greek province, Macedonia.
"Greece and, in particular, my government, have made significant efforts to find a compromise for a mutually acceptable solution," he said, calling on FYROM's leadership to respond to this policy, something he said has not materialised so far.
Although Athens and Skopje have achieved remarkable progress in bilateral relations, especially in trade and investments, since signing an UN-mediated "interim agreement" in 1995, the "name issue" remains the only "thorn" blocking full normalisation.
Greece and ethnic Greek communities around the world strenuously oppose FYROM's use of the name "Macedonia", as in "Republic of Macedonia", citing historical and political reasons. Moreover, Greece's largest province, which shares borders with southern FYROM, is called Macedonia, the same geographical region that more-or-less corresponds with the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
In detailing Athens' involvement in its own "back yard", Karamanlis said Greece enjoys an active, multi-faceted and productive presence throughout the SE Europe region, with the goal being to safeguard peace and stability.
As a result, he said support of neighbouring states' Euro-Atlantic prospects and boosting bilateral cooperation on all levels is Greece's standing policy.
Conversely, he said countries in the region are obliged to implement all criteria for membership in Euro-Atlantic structures, emphasising the area of human rights, democratic institutions, the rule of law, tolerance and rapprochement, as well as good-neighbourly relations and the peaceful resolution of differences.
Along these lines, he said Greek investment and economic activity in SE Europe stands at 14 billion euros over the past 15 years, with 3,000 Greece-based firms having created 200,000 jobs in the wider region. In the banking sector alone, the Greek premier said more than 1,000 branches of Greek-owned banks operate in SE Europe, whereas the growing volume of bilateral trade, including with Turkey, surpasses the six-billion-dollar mark.
Alluding to the 'strained' workload of the Human Rights Court, he said that ratification of Protocol 14 is crucial and regretted that negotiations have stalled on the accession of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights.
Karamanlis also noted that a complete implementation by member-states of the Court's rulings is necessary if the tribunal is to operate effectively.
He also expressed support for the institution of a commissioner of human rights at the CoE, and relevant proposals included in a report by Luxembourg Premier Jean-Claude Juncker.
The Greek premier told CoE delegates that fighting and stamping out terrorism is a priority, with Athens aligning itself with efforts by the United Nations to combat international terrorism.
"It is important to deal with this issue with coordinated action, and especially in a manner that safeguards human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is crucial to our success," he emphasized.
Along those lines, he said promotion of cross-cultural dialogue and inter-faith dialogue is absolutely imperative, given that many objectionable actions are due to ignorance and a lack of knowledge of other civilisations and religions.
In touching on a long-standing problem and a priority in Greek foreign policy, the Cyprus problem, Karamanlis said a "trans-formation of our continent will remain incomplete as long as the last wall that divides Europe is left standing on Cyprus."
Karamanlis emphasised that the Cyprus issue is primarily one of human rights, thus it falls squarely under the domain of the CoE.
"Properties were confiscated. Refugees cannot return to their homes; basic human rights have been violated on European soil. Greece remains solidly committed to the achievement of a fair and viable solution aimed at reuniting Cyprus based on relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the European Union's principles," he added.
In greeting Karamanlis to the podium, PACE President René van der Linden noted that Greece has been a very active member of the Council of Europe since it joined the 10 founding states in August 1949.
"Greece has established itself as a stable, democratic state in Europe, with an ever increasing voice in international affairs … This holds very much true for our Assembly, where the Greek delegation, presided by our colleague and my good friend Elsa Papadimitriou continue to provide an invaluable contribution to our work to achieve our common objective - a democratic, prosperous and peaceful Europe," he added.
"Greece is more than just a valuable member of the Council of Europe. Whether it is about future enlargement of the EU, accession of Turkey to the EU, the importance of streamlining cooperation between the EU and the Council of Europe in order to avoid duplication and double standards, or international efforts to find a sustainable solution to the Cyprus issue, Greece is the strategic partner of the Council of Europe in the region," he added.
Source: Athens News Agency