FM Kotzias’ statements after meeting with FYROM’s counterpart

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, in statements during the joint media briefing with the Deputy Prime Minister/Foreign Minister of FYROM, Nikola Poposki, following their meeting said:

“I thank my colleague Nikola Poposki very much. It is a great honor to be invited to address the diplomats of this friendly northern country. When I came to Skopje from Luxembourg last year, my colleagues in the EU Council of Foreign Ministers didn’t believe me and asked, nonplussed, “You are going to Skopje, you are going to talk with Nikola Poposki?” It seemed totally strange and curious to them. Today it is seen as something normal. When I first talked about confidence-building measures (CBMs), many saw it as something exotic, something that would never happen. And it seemed even more exotic to my colleagues at the EU Council of Foreign Ministers when I vetoed the proposals for sanctions on the country that is hosting me today. What I want to say is that, in just over a year, since I first came, and in the intervening time, during which my colleague and I have held many meetings, the relations between Greece and this friendly northern country have changed. Relations have opened up between our Ministries; between other Ministries; our societies; our economic relations are developing, we have agreed on confidence-building measures, contacts between universities, including the University of Piraeus, where I taught. We have effective cooperation – despite the initial problems – on dealing with the refugee problem.

We help each other as much as possible, as was the case with the recent disasters here. I want to express, once again, my profound sadness at the pain experienced by your country, and I want to express my solidarity with the Italian people, who lost over 250 souls in yesterday’s earthquake.

Our cooperation has proceeded to new sectors. I think that the cooperation of the four Balkan countries is very important; cooperation begun by our two countries, together with Bulgaria and Albania. This cooperation, between two EU countries and two countries that are candidates for EU membership, will continue in late October, in Thessaloniki, while our plans include a joint visit to Mount Athos, an important spiritual cradle of one of the major religions in our region.

In parallel, we agreed to construct an interconnector pipeline for carrying oil and, in the future, natural gas. This pipeline will run from the port of Thessaloniki to your country. Also of paramount importance is the upgrading of the rail line linking Florina and Monastiri.

More generally, the interconnectors between our two countries and the infrastructure are under development. My colleague and friend Nikola and I agreed to make our cooperation in the sectors of finance and funding systematic, while we are considering the joint undertaking of projects co-funded by the European Union. To this end, and to optimize the relevant coordination of our actions, our Alternate Ministers will meet in the near future.

Our colleagues who are responsible for interior civil order and the Police have developed very stable cooperation; this is also the case in the sector of civil protection. Moreover, the sectors and directorates that deal with European issues, our Diplomatic Academies at our Ministry have begun to develop cooperation – and the sector of cultural cooperation is also very, very important to me.

In any case, despite the problems that exist from the past, I think that what characterizes our relationship is cooperation and the effort toward mutual understanding of the manner in which each side thinks and of each side’s needs. And we include this in the wider framework of Southeast Europe. I believe that the cooperation of the four states, which I mentioned earlier, shows that your country, dear Nikola, our country, the two bordering countries of Albania and Bulgaria are a factor for stability in the region – and this stability also impacts the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Within a triangle of instability, which I described during my first visit, running from Syria to Libya and Ukraine, our countries – despite any problems we have in given sectors, domestically – constitute a beacon of stability, and our cooperation contributes to this stability’s becoming a dynamo.

I want to express my gratitude once again for the kind invitation that honors me today. I am pleased that the weather is beautiful – and I therefore take credit for bringing it with me from Athens – and I hope that we further deepen our relations, to the benefit of our citizens, the citizens of the whole region, the stability and security of Europe. I think the conversation the two of us had about the future of Europe – and this will also be the subject of the discussion I will have with your diplomats – shows the need for our region to be more active, more coordinated, better organized for the issues that are to be raised in the future.”