Strengthening dialogue and broadening the prospects for further cross-border cooperation on coordination and handling of common challenges, such as the refugee and migration crisis
“The Ministers felt the need to help towards the institutional development of their countries and ensure financing, the need to promote good governance in all countries of the region and strong democratic institutions.
“They have all agreed that they found themselves in a process of reconstruction for tackling the major problems of our times, especially the refugee issue. How to better organise cooperation and coordination in an active way, in an effective way, in solidarity, based on common democratic values.”
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias
“We have certain type of responsibilities towards refugees. Our social and education systems are not going to withstand, or absorb even, a large influx of people. So that is why we need to be very much in control of the process. The agreements between the EU and Turkey gives a lot of hope, thus we have taken a first and very important step towards the control and the management of our borders, of our external borders. We need to look at the EU as one whole, as a union. The Union has external borders and we need to concentrate our efforts on exactly this dimension.”
Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov
Upon the initiative of Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, a two day Meeting was held in Thessaloniki at the end of April between the Foreign and Interior Ministers of Greece, Albania, Bulgaria and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Also participating were officials from the European Commission and the Foreign Ministry of the Netherlands, as the country currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. The Thessaloniki Meeting was aimed at strengthening dialogue and broadening the prospects for further cross-border cooperation on coordination and handling of common challenges, such as the refugee and migration crisis.
More specifically, on the first day, a meeting took place between the Foreign Ministers of the four participating states, whilst the second day saw talks between the Ministers of Interior and a joint meeting of the Foreign and Interior Ministers. The quadrilateral Meeting was followed by a press conference.
“Our discussion was about the cooperation among the four countries, the need to combat criminal networks, negative networks, in order to develop and promote the positive, creative networks in the future”, Minister Kotzias said.
The Ministers felt the need to help towards the institutional development of their countries and ensure financing, the need to promote good governance in all countries of the region and strong democratic institutions. They have all agreed that they found themselves in a process of reconstruction for tackling the major problems of our times, especially the refugee issue. How to better organise cooperation and coordination in an active way, in an effective way, in solidarity, based on common democratic values.
They agreed to cooperate in order to record and control the routes for the movement of populations, in the struggle against trafficking and networks of trafficking, to work together in order to find the correct mechanism for legal migration and how to tackle long-term problems. They further agreed that this meeting was beneficial and to turn it into a permanent institutional mechanism of cooperation, which will convene at least every six months and, if necessary, on an extraordinary basis.
They also agreed that this mechanism, besides the level of Ministers, and in order to optimise collaboration at ministerial meetings, should be held at least at the level of directors and of experts and specialists.
The Ministers said that this cooperation aims at having common principles, based on humanitarian principles, humanism, appreciating the different and the new, safeguarding the security and safety of citizens and on the stabilisation of South Eastern Europe.
Deciding to develop solidarity amongst themselves and mutual understanding as well, they also promoted the need for further communication and frequent clarifications, utilising all potential media and means that they have for this communication. For example, video conferencing and teleconferencing, in order to promote good neighbourliness, the creation of joint centres, such as the centre of Tripartite Cooperation among Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey.
They also said that they should contribute to the reform of the provisions in the Dublin Treaty and that they should use NGOs in an organised way, making a list of these NGOs in order to have a more coordinated evaluation.
The Ministers further called for special measures to support special social categories and groups, especially unescorted children. They also highlighted the need to distinguish, institutionally, between refugees and economic migrants, whose rights – and the manner in which they are dealt with – are not always the same.
In the meeting with the Interior Ministers meeting, they underlined the need for further cooperation among the intelligence services of the four countries and exchange information pertaining to the fight against organised crime and human trafficking.
They also looked into the agreement between the EU and Turkey from a particular point of view, concluding that at this time Turkey has been implementing this agreement successfully. As a result, the people moving from Turkey to the Greek islands have fallen in numbers. It was noted that there might be some gaps in the implementation of this decision and a plan B is needed for emergency situations that might arise.
It was also agreed that that security and safety issues might be the main topic for their next meeting. Finally, they underscored that the refugee issue is not related with terrorism; terrorism has to do with illegal networks and other factors that generate it and reproduce it they said.
Pictured above: Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias meets individually with his counterparts from: Albania, Ditmir Bushati; Bulgaria, Daniel Mitov; and FYROM, Nikola Poposki; Minister Kotzias with MoFA Secretary General Ambassador Dimitris Paraskevopoulos,
Deputy Minister of Public Order Nikos Toskas, the visiting Foreign Ministers and
Diplomatic Director to the Greek Foreign Minister Tasia Athanasiou.