The Greek Press Today
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04 May, 2006
"Impressive progress was made within the South East European Co-operation Process (SEECP) framework while the ongoing summit constitutes a qualitative and quantitative leap," Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told a press conference after member-states' foreign ministers met in Thessaloniki on Wednesday.
Athens' SEECP chairmanship was characterized as very positive, and in passing the chairmanship to Croatia, Bakoyannis said that during its six-month presidency the Greek government moved along two interdependent axes: the strengthening of good-neighborly relations and regional cooperation as well as the European prospect of the southeast European countries.
Bakoyannis said a decision on the signing of a free trade agreement concerning the non-EU members was reached in the foreign ministers' meeting to replace a complex network of 31 bilateral free trade agreements.
The foreign ministers also concluded that implementation of the "Thessaloniki Agenda", adopted in the EU Summit in Halkidiki in June 2003 on the European prospect of Western Balkans, should become more productive.
Bakoyannis stressed that the institutional upgrading of the SEECP is necessary and underlined that the European Union and the European Commission should offer this opportunity to the SEECP, given the imminent changes in the Stability Pact for Southeast Europe. The establishment of a SEECP Secretariat is placed within this framework.
According to the Declaration signed by the foreign ministers, a formal liaison is established between the SEECP and the EU, while the Croatian presidency will undertake to define its responsibilities.
The foreign ministers also discussed the development of energy and road networks in southeast Europe, as member-states' transport ministers will sign an agreement on Thursday to upgrade rail networks.
Bakoyannis also stated that terrorism, violence and extremism were condemned regardless of their motives, adding that democratic principles should prevail, civil rights should be respected and corruption and organized crime should have no place whatsoever in the region.
On the Kosovo issue, Bakoyannis said that the SEECP troika (Greece, Romania, and Croatia) visited Belgrade and Pristina, whereas Greece was the host of a Contact Group meeting at an Athens seaside resort. The foreign minister stated that efforts will continue during the Croatian presidency so that the SEECP positions and views will be taken under serious consideration by the international community when decision time arrives. Bakoyannis added that this a necessary condition in the effort for a viable and functional solution in Kosovo adding that the desirable solution should be one that will promote regional stability and security.
Asked about the "name issue" with FYROM and a statement by the Albanian foreign minister over a possible "re-examination of borders" with Kosovo and FYROM in case of independence of the former, Bakoyannis said:
"These problems are well known, not all of the problems in SE Europe have been solved, we have a great deal of road to travel down, and there needs to be a greater effort and good cooperation," she said, adding that both Athens' and Skopje's positions are crystal clear, while Albanian FM Besnik Mustafaj's comments during an earlier meeting of foreign ministers were solidly in favor of stability and regional development based on the rules of international law.
In a related development, Athens' positive contribution was praised in a joint press conference by the other two SEECP troika members, Croatian Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Romania's Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.
The foreign minister of Croatia pledged that her country will continue the efforts of the Greek presidency and focus on the strengthening of good neighborly relations, offer political support to the region's countries wishing to become part of the Euro-Atlantic structures, boost economic cooperation, establish action groups and the strengthen inter-parliamentary cooperation.
The two-day sessions of the South East Europe Cooperation Process (SEECP) annual assembly, marking the end of Greece's chairmanship of the group, formally opened in Thessaloniki on Wednesday morning, with a private meeting between Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and her FYROM counterpart Ilinka Mitreva, ahead of the meeting of the SEECP foreign ministers, while the heads of state and government of the group's member countries will hold their summit meeting on Thursday.
Also, SEECP transport ministers are expected to sign an agreement envisioning improvements in the region's rail networks.
The guest speaker at Wednesday's meeting was Japanese vice-minister for foreign affairs Akiko Yamanaka.
The SEECP assembly's agenda contains such issues as: The role of regional cooperation in the SE European countries' course to full membership in the EU and the strengthening of the political dialogue; Cooperation for the development of regional infrastructure; The prospects of the Thessaloniki Agenda on the Western Balkans; The role of the Inter-Balkan cooperation in view of the future modification of the Stability Pact for SE Europe and the need for its institutional reinforcement, as well as current affairs of particular importance to the region.
Greece's prime minister Costas Karamanlis will chair the closed-door summit of SEECP leaders on Thursday. He is also due to have sideline meetings with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The meeting between Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis and her FYROM counterpart Ilinka Mitreva on Wednesday morning -- the first meeting between the two women since Bakoyannis' assumption of the Greek foreign ministry -- took place in a "very good climate", according to Greek foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos.
The two foreign ministers made no statements to the press after their meeting, but Koumoutsakos told reporters later that the two ministers had discussed further development of bilateral relations between their countries, and more particularly in the economic sector.
He said the presence of Greek business concerns in FYRM was acknowledged, while the need was stressed for strengthening bilateral relations.
Bakoyannis reiterated Greece's backing of FYROM's European prospect, while
Mitreva noted that FYROM has assumed the commitment to proceed towards Europe, adding that it would institute the necessary reforms, Koumoutsakos said.
He said the issue of Kosovo was not discussed, while the FYROM name issue was "briefly touched on", adding that the positions of the two sides were well-known, while UN-sponsored deliberations on the issue were ongoing.
Koumoutsakos also said that Mitreva raised the issue of a special duty levied by the prefecture of Kilkis on cars entering Greece from FYROM, adding that the two ministers had agreed that the duty should be rescinded.
Apart from Greece's prime minister Costas Karamanlis, who arrived in Thessaloniki on Wednesday afternoon, Chairman of the tripartite Presidency of the national (central) government of Bosnia and Herzegovina Sulejman Tihic, State Union of Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic, Bulgarian Prime Minister Sergei Stanishev, FYROM President Branko Crvenkovski, Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan were due to arrive Wednesday on special flights from their countries, while Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha was due to arrive Wednesday afternoon by road. Moldova Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Croatia Prime Minister Ivo Sanader will also take part in the summit.
The SEECP summit is due to discuss boosting regional cooperation and dialogue as an element of European integration, cooperation in the development of regional infrastructure, the prospects of the Western Balkan countries and the role of the SEECP in view of the future modification of the Stability Pact.
Source: Athens News Agency