Talks focus on bilateral, regional and European issues, with emphasis on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the migration issue
Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias travelled to the Republic of Slovenia and the Czech Republic on September 18th for a series of meetings with top officials both capital cities. Most notably, in Ljubljana, he held talks with the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, Anže Logar, later addressing a Joint Session of the Slovenian Parliament’s Foreign and European Affairs Committees. Completing his trip to the country, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was received by the President of the Republic, Borut Pahor and Prime Minister Janez Janša.
On the same day, Minister Dendias travelled to the Czech Republic, where he met with Foreign Minister Tomáš Petříček. Their talks focused on bilateral, regional and European issues, with emphasis on developments in the Eastern Mediterranean and the migration issue.
During their meeting, the Slovenian Foreign Minister, Anže Logar, and Minister Dendias agreed to work more closely during preparations for Slovenia’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the second half of 2021. The Greek Foreign Minister thanked Slovenia for its solidarity, which it showed once again by sending material aid after the fire on the island of Lesbos. This was the first official meeting between the Slovenian and Greek Foreign Ministers in the last ten years.
The heads of diplomacy assessed that the Official Visit of Minister Dendias to Slovenia significantly strengthened the bilateral relations between the two countries, which are primarily friendly and allied. They called for close cooperation during Slovenia’s preparations for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, agreeing that Slovenia and Greece, as two Mediterranean Members of the Union and NATO allies, share similar views on a number of European, regional and global issues.
Much of the Ministers’ talks focused on developments in the eastern Mediterranean, with the Slovenian side expressing concern over the deteriorating situation in the region and expectations of a peaceful resolution. They stressed the desire and need for closer cooperation in the Mediterranean, dedicating a significant part of the talks to this subject, as both countries see it as a common advantage and responsibility at the same time. Minister Dendias expressed satisfaction with Slovenia’s request to join the unofficial group of Mediterranean countries Med 7, expressing Greece’s support for this Slovenian intention.
According to a statement from the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Minister Dendias said that the situation in the eastern Mediterranean, moves and Turkish policies that undermine regional stability were discussed both at sea in the eastern Mediterranean and in Libya, Syria and Iraq. “As you know, Turkey has withdrawn its research ship and warships from the Greek mainland. Greece, we have said many times, is always ready for dialogue, but not under a regime of pressure and blackmail. For dialogue within International Law, International Maritime Law, on the issues around which we have differences and those are the Exclusive Economic Zone and the continental shelf.
“Turkish provocations will be the topic of talks at the European level, where it is necessary to show European solidarity. The EU has compiled a list of sanctions that the Council will draw attention to, and whether those sanctions will be applied depends on Turkey’s behaviour. I always hope we won’t have to get to this point,” the Greek Minister said.
Dealing with migration issues, especially the situation on the island of Lesbos, the two Ministers emphasised the importance of solidarity and assistance between Member States. Slovenia responded to Greece’s request and delivered material assistance in the amount of 130,000 euros, and it will also receive four unaccompanied refugee minors under the age of 10 from Greece. They agreed that, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as many other challenges, we need greater dialogue and coordination of actions at the bilateral and European level.
The Greek Foreign Minister also met with Prime Minister Janez Janša, President Borut Pahor and other high-ranking state officials. President Pahor expressed satisfaction with the intensive contacts between the two countries and expressed readiness to host the President of the Hellenic Republic, Ekaterina Sakellaropoulou. The President of Slovenia paid a State Visit to Greece in December 2018, and in October last year, attended the meeting of the Presidents of the Arraiolos Group held in Athens.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, Tomáš Petříček, received the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic, Nikos Dendias, at the Černín Palace in Prague. The meeting focused mainly on the current situation in the Eastern Mediterranean in the run-up to the next European Council.
Other important topics were bilateral relations, migration and measures taken to mitigate the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Ministers also discussed Belarus, the Western Balkans, China and other foreign policy issues, as well as security, defence policy and Visegrad cooperation. Minister Petříček said: “I am very concerned about the continuing tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. I express my full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus. Everything must be done to solve the problem.”
Both sides looked at the level of bilateral relations, which they said are excellent, but which can also be improved upon. They discussed the potential for further cooperation in the economic sector, on investments – a further increase in trade. Transactions reached $750 million and they stressed that there is much they can do in the trade sector and in the sector of mutual investment and transfer of know-how from one side to the other.
Both Ministers also talked about Belarus. For Greece, the Belarus issue is one of Democracy – implementation of the Rule of Law and a matter of human rights. Greece is not close to the region, but it sees this issue as a matter of principle. It is determined to follow the example and the leadership of the countries of the European Union that are closest to Belarus and have a better knowledge of the situation. The Czech Republic is one of these countries, and this is why both officials discussed in detail what they can do to help the situation in Belarus. To show their commitment to human rights and to the rule of law, while at the same time not create undesirable side-effects. Greece will follow the example of the countries much closer to Belarus with regard to this unacceptable situation.
Regarding the migration crisis, the Czech Foreign Minister expressed his solidarity with Greece and recalled that immediately after the fire at the Moria hotspot, he contacted his Greek counterpart and “decided to release the amount of 100,000 euros to help with the situation there,” adding that the Czech Republic wants to support Greece in resolving the issue of migration.
Of course, they had the opportunity for an in-depth discussion of the migration issue. First of all, with regard to the causes of the phenomenon, to the ways of responding, protecting societies, but also the human rights and rights to asylum, as well as with regard to the creation of a programme for the return of those who are not eligible to remain in the European Union to their countries of origin. With regard to the return of those not eligible for asylum to their countries of origin, they further discussed the creation of a programme for cooperation with countries of origin so that they can take back their citizens, and they discussed how they might use the funds available as development assistance for the countries of origin, in order to respond to the problem at its root.
The Ministers also talked about protection of the EU’s borders. “As you know, Greece is a country that defends the borders of the EU and I thanked Tomas for the assistance with which the Czech Republic made its presence felt, not only with regard to the developments in Moria, but also during the crisis in Evros this past February and March,” Minister Dendias said. “We all remember Turkey’s attempt to instrumentalise the migration crisis at that time in order to exert pressure on the EU and Greece. However, we proved that we can defend Europe’s borders in a serious and responsible manner,” the Greek Foreign Minister added.
(Photographs: H.Akriviadis/Hellenic MoFA.)