11 November, 2005
The Greek foreign ministry on Thursday welcomed the European Commission's progress report on Turkey and its green light to the accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), saying these made important steps forward. Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis underlined that Athens sought a gradual and step-by-step transition of the Balkans to a "European corner of peace and prosperity". "We seek cooperation with our neighbours, on the basis of international law and European values, and we support their European perspective as the 'safe path' toward normalising bilateral relations," Valinakis stressed.
He underlined that the texts released on Wednesday by the European Commission for the first time noted the Turkish threat of war (casus belli) against Greece in the event that it extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles - the distance that is standard internationally - and call on Turkey to deal with points of friction and avoid any actions that impede a peaceful resolution of differences.
The report also contains references to religious freedoms and issues concerning the ethnic Greek minorities in Turkey, such as the terrorist attacks on the Ecumenical Patriarchate, re-opening the Theological School on Chalki, laws on real estate owned by institutions governed by the Patriarchate or the auctioning of property belonging to the ethnic Greek community.
Finally, it asks Ankara to sign and fully implement the additional customs-union protocol with the new member-states of the EU and criticises Turkey's veto to the entry of the Cyprus Republic into international organisations, asking it to adapt its policies.
According to Valinakis, the Commission has also created a "particularly favourable framework" for monitoring Turkey's progress in complying to the criteria set by the EU.
Asked why Turkey's 'gradual' compliance had not resulted in any appreciable improvement in its behaviour toward Greece over the past six years, the deputy minister said that the frame-work that existed after Helsinki and Copenhagen regarding Turkey had changed, since it now contained specific references and time schedules.
"What has changed is what is being asked of Turkey, and this is the point where there has been progress in relation to the past," he added.
Concerning the time schedule for implementing these positions, Valinakis said that Turkey had "entered a progressive course" and that as long as it participated in the implementation of these positions it would then be entitled to move on to the next stage each time.
Earlier, foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos had stressed that Greece seeks to improve relations with Turkey in the framework of a broader strategic view, with mutual respect of international law and supporting Turkey's accession course on the basis of "full compliance - full accession".
He described relations between Greece and Turkey as "good" and "functional".
Concerning the "exploratory talks" currently underway between the Greek and Turkish foreign ministries and their content, both Valinakis and Koumoutsakos stressed that these were not negotiations, that they were fully in line with the Constitution and that the present government had "inherited" a promise to keep them confidential from the previous PASOK governments.
Koumoutsakos also noted that there had already been an attempt to improve the formula for the talks accepted by Greece in 1999 by removing the term "related issues" from a reference to differences between Greece and Turkey because it was vague.
He reiterated that Athens considers the delineation of the Aegean continental shelf to be the only dispute between the two countries.
Concerning the Commission's opinion that FYROM should be accorded candidate status for EU accession, Valinakis underlined that this called for accession negotiations to begin only when FYROM had reached sufficient degree of compliance with membership criteria, including Brussels recommendation that Skopje make a special efforts to resolve the dispute with Greece over the republic's name.
The Commission urges the Skopje government to seek a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue that takes into account the decisions of the United Nations and the 1995 Interim Agreement between Greece and FYROM.
Asked if Greece would accept a composite name for FYROM that contained the term 'Macedonia', the deputy minister replied that Greece had accepted the first proposal made by special UN mediator Matthew Nimetz as a "good basis for negotiations".
Regarding the so-called 'Macedonian' language spoken by FYROM's Slav community, Valinakis said the Greek government is 'monitoring' the issue and that Athens' positions were known. According to Koumoutsakos, meanwhile, references to a 'Macedonian language' were also included in EU documents in 2002 and later years.
Earlier on, the foreign ministry spokesman had underlined Greece's support for FYROM's European perspective but stressed that this could only progress if there was a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue or under the present name of FYROM.
Greece objects to the use of the name 'Republic of Macedonia' adopted by FYROM after it broke away from the former Yugoslavia, regarding it as historically unsound and paving the way for future expansionist demands on a northern Greek province also called Macedonia. Athens' position is that 'Macedonia' is a strictly geographical term describing a swathe of territory in the region and should not form part of the republic's name.
Source: Athens News Agency