Statements of Foreign Minister Avramopoulos and his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle following their meeting (Berlin)

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20 Aug 2012

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Συνάντηση με ΥΠΕΞ Γερμανίας G. Westerwelle (20/8/12)

G. WESTERWELLE: Ladies and gentlemen, my dear Dimitris, I welcome you with great pleasure. I welcome from Greece Mr. Avramopoulos, who, before being appointed Foreign Minister, served as Minister in many capacities and was also the Mayor of Athens. We were in contact by telephone immediately after he took up his duties, so this isn’t our first contact, but it is my Greek counterparts first official meeting here in Berlin.

Particularly in our day, it is very important for there to be a spirit of trust and a close dialogue between us. We are both of the view that we must stop the anti-European demagoguery in Europe. It is our duty to confront this demagoguery and populism, if you will, here in Europe, as well as everywhere else. Europe is a community linked by a common fate and common destiny. We want a Europe that is comprised of homelands, where each respects the other and where the people of Europe do not see each other through stereotypes and prejudice. That is why we are announcing that in our countries, and in the whole of Europe, words that are spoken carry great responsibility. And we want each of us here in Europe – and in Germany and Greece – to take this responsibility in the debate when we speak, and to correspondingly choose our words and be aware of their impact, because we are friendly countries – there is absolutely no reason for one to talk about the other without respect.

What is said must be constructive under the prism and in the spirit of friendship. So, there will be an exchange amongst us. Greece is the birthplace of democracy, the source of our European culture. That is why it is important for us to always keep in mind this mutual respect.

So, I would like to stress my appreciation for Greece’s efforts to find a path out of this very difficult crisis. We see and respect Greece’s efforts, and I want to send an express message of solidarity to the Greek people. We are well aware of what you are currently shouldering. We know what the Greek man or woman on the street is going through. We know what this means. We know what it means for young people who are looking for work; what it means for older people when they see their salaries cut. And we know what it means for pensioners, for senior citizens who fear what the future might hold. It is important for us to give this message to Greece, a message of solidarity, and to make in clear that we acknowledge their efforts and the weight the people of Greece are shouldering at the current time, on the path of such difficult, but absolutely necessary, reforms.

The Federal Government wants all of us to stay unified in the eurozone. We are working in the direction of Greece’s remaining a member of the eurozone, and the Federal Government is thus standing by Greece in solidarity. We have a lot of support here across parties and in the Bundestag.

It is also equally clear that the key to success lies in Athens. The agreed-upon reforms and the necessary modernization programmes must be implemented conscientiously, and I welcome what my Greek colleague presented to me in our talks and the way his government is working in Greece. We talked about the meeting we will have and the visit from the Greek Prime Minister to Berlin on Friday. We prepared for that meeting.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are aware of the necessity of the reforms if Greece is to be able to regain competitiveness, and we are convinced that the implementation of these reforms in a conscientious manner will bear fruit. We are awaiting the troika’s findings. In order to take decisions, we must know the troika’s findings.

I was trained in the law, I worked as a court lawyer, and I learned one thing: that one takes decisions when one knows the facts. And before we have the troika’s findings at our disposal, no one can take quick decisions that essentially only add to and concern only the intra-German debate here. They do not take away the problems, because the situation in Europe is too important for someone to play with fire and start fires here and there. It is very important for us, too, here in Germany, to wait for the troika’s report.

After all, don’t forget that we wanted and proposed the setting up of the troika, and we participated in setting it up. That is why it is very important for us to know the results of the report. Our stance is clear and we convey it to the Greek side. While I am of the opinion that a relaxation of the measures agreed to is not possible on the part of the Federal Republic of Germany, it is also important that we wait for and have in front of us the findings before we decide – that there be no rumors, if you will; that we don’t start a rumor mill regarding what this report might contain. What counts is the report itself – data and facts – and after that, in a discerning manner, we will take our decisions.

So, our discussion was carried out in the spirit of a particularly European climate, and it is a shame that I need to underscore that we are here among Europeans, which is essentially obvious. Thus, I cannot but ask all of you in Germany, in Greece and in the other countries of Europe not to confront one another with clichés, with stereotypes – with prejudice – but based on friendship; based on the respect and appreciation of the European common spirit.

Also, ladies and gentlemen – and I would like to close with this – we talked about the very difficult situation in Syria. We exchanged views on the more general issues. Essentially, we prepared for the informal Meeting of Foreign Ministers that will take place in Cyprus in the coming days. So, I would like at this point to mention that we are very concerned at the news reaching us, according to which Syrian Army missiles hit Jordanian territory, injuring people there. And we make a clear call to the Syrian Army to desist from all hostile acts toward neighboring countries and to stop any such actions. The spread of the Syrian conflict to neighboring countries would be very dangerous, and the spreading of the conflict in the region must be avoided at all costs.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Ladies and gentlemen, it is a particular pleasure to be meeting today with my counterpart and good friend Guido Westerwelle, and we had very useful and constructive talks. Everything was friendly, warm – including the actual temperature – here in Berlin. So much so that for these few hours I did not miss the warmth of my homeland, as I found it in the warmth of our talks here.

I will start by saying that today’s visit, in this difficult state of affairs for our great common homeland of Europe, is formulating and inaugurating a new framework of relations between the two countries. We are changing the climate and looking ahead.

I will agree with Mr. Westerwelle that the major threat to Europe in these so critical hours we are going through is populism. We all need to do everything possible – and allow me to say here that a share of the responsibility falls on the news media, which to a large extent echo and reflect the views of peoples – to shape an environment that will produce policies of European vision.

Our peoples chose to be together in Europe. We cannot and we must not turn back time. Our common European course unites and binds everyone. European integration is not judged only in economic terms and transactions. It is above all the policy itself. The essence is that Greece has the will to move ahead.

Beyond the traditional subjects of diplomacy and regional developments in the Middle East and the Balkans, our meeting focused on the economic crisis as it is affecting Greece, other eurozone partners, and the European Union as a whole.

I had the opportunity to brief Mr. Westerwelle on the progress we are making in Greece with the implementation of the economic adjustment programme, underscoring the resolve of Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his new government to push through and fully implement the necessary reforms.

As you know, the Prime Minister will be coming to Berlin in a few days to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel. In a few of weeks, Mr. Samaras will announce a new 11.5-billion-euro package of additional spending cuts, which will clearly confirm our determination to achieve our goals. With special care for the most vulnerable social classes in my country, which, as Guido said early, are caught in the throes of a social crisis, due to the financial crisis, which should concern all the peoples of Europe, bringing the necessary solidarity, even on the level of statements and opinions.

That is why I will agree with him and underscore that we must all be very careful about how we express our political views. Because – and you will agree with me on this – social instability, if it should come, knows no borders.

I also underscored to my friend Guido Greece’s position that austerity on its own is not enough: that austerity without incentives and actions facilitating growth, austerity without investment, without liquidity in the market, will not lead to recovery, but to even lower productivity and higher unemployment.

So, we also need policy that engenders growth and creates jobs if we really want to stabilize the European economy in a sustainable, stable and ongoing manner.

But beyond policies we implement, there is the critical problem of perception, of public opinion, regarding these policies. Securing popular support for these drastic reforms we are carrying out is vital to their implementation.

So, we agreed today on the imperative need to deal directly with this aspect of the crisis. We need to do three things.

First of all comes a basic principle: responsibility. We need to put an immediate end to the speculation on Greece’s future in the eurozone. There can be no such dilemma. Greece is shouldering its burden. Greece is acting responsibly toward its people and its partners. We need to see equally responsible conduct from pundits and politicians who, for various reasons, are undermining the endeavors of the eurozone countries to regain the confidence of the markets.

The second basic principle is solidarity. Each of us having accepted and shouldered our responsibilities, we need to act on the principle of solidarity that underpins and is intrinsic to our European architecture. We aren’t casual, fair-weather partners. We are members of the European family, the greatest peace project in the history of humankind. And if we stand by one another, we will emerge from this crisis as an even stronger Union.

In the coming months we will determine the future of our common currency and the future of the European endeavor itself. The decisions we make will be of historic importance, because they will shape the structure and policies of Europe in the coming decades. What is needed from all of us is clear commitments supported by targeted actions. Commitments that will hold the eurozone together and ensure that Europe confronts global challenges united and stronger.

And third, we have to deal with stereotypes. We have to move past the divisive and offensive stereotypes that are poisoning European public opinion. Greece and the Greek people are shouldering their burden. Anyone who has visited us lately knows this to be true. The same can be said of the other partners, the other European peoples who have been hardest hit by the crisis. We acknowledge and respect the solidarity our partners have shown us.

But to gain the confidence of the markets, we must first have confidence in ourselves and our own ability to face the crisis. No one doubts that Europe is capable of dealing with the crisis. What is being questioned is the political will of the European governments to take the necessary decisions. No bank, no foreign government will trust us if we do not first trust one another on our common European course.

Specifically, now, with regard to Greek-German relations, many have tried of late to provoke a counterfeit and mostly ‘virtual’ controversy between our two peoples. We are here to declare that they will not achieve their goals. There is a great deal that links the Greek and German peoples. The mutual respect and trust they have cultivated during the long post-war relationship of our peoples, and particularly within the European family, will not yield to stereotypes, but will be strengthened even more as we struggle together for the political and economic survival of Europe.

My dear friend Guido, you are a real friend to Greece and a genuine supporter of the European endeavor. I know that you have fought hard to bring reason to a public dialogue rife with hyperbole and to break the vicious cycle of stereotypes that are poisoning the traditional ties between the Greek and German peoples.

Together, we will work to give fresh momentum to this relationship, to create new opportunities, and to bring a stronger and more unified Europe out of the crisis.

That is our primary role as our countries’ foreign policy heads and as we shape our national and European image in the international news media and European and global public opinion.

Once again I would like to thank Guido Westerwelle for this meeting, for the warm hospitality. And I invite him publicly to visit Greece soon and see for himself the hospitality and solidarity experienced by millions of German visitors to Greece this year. And I also want to assure him that what we agreed upon earlier, in the name of our common perspective within the European family, will be carried out, and I am glad that we are partners in this effort.

JOURNALIST: Pappas, from Greek television. A question for the German Minister. You said that there will be no relaxation, if you will, as regards the measures agreed upon. Does this mean that the Federal Government is willing to change, to discuss, if you will, substantial parameters of the programme? And is the time horizon one such parameter?

And a question for the Greek Minister. The domestic political debate in Germany on the issue of Greece’s remaining in the eurozone or not has intensified recently, even for German analysts and commentators. There is a pre-election tinge to these types of statements, even if elections in Germany are still a year off. Do you think that these statements impact Germany’s stance on Greece?

G. WESTERWELLE: Even though the second question wasn’t addressed to me, I would like to respond to the second question. There are always controversies in democracies. In the run-up to the Greek elections, things were similar. But it seems that the path of prudence is prevailing, and that is what it’s about. It is very easy to be critical, to take a hammer and try to chip away at the European architecture, and it is very difficult to rebuild that structure, and this is the responsibility we have, and we are well aware of it. I was clear on the Federal Government’s stance. It’s nothing new. It has been stated in many ways, but I stressed mainly that we are awaiting the troika’s findings before we take final decisions. And because we Germans see the importance of the troika, it would be unwise for us to move ahead to final decisions before we have the specific results.

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Regarding your question, I would like to note that far be it from me to have any desire to interfere in Germany’s domestic politics. But since you asked, I will say that you should ask the more than two million German citizens who visited Greece this year, who didn’t listen to those who might have tried to discourage them and – as two million German citizens are a strong lobby here in Germany – who chose and voted to spend their vacations in Greece this year.

JOURNALIST: Weiland, for Spiegel On Line. For the Greek Minister. Mr. Minister, your country needs more time. A lot has been said about this – the timeframe. So, is there a need for more time to implement the programme, and did you talk about this today with the German Foreign Minister?

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: No, we didn’t discuss that issue with Mr. Westerwelle. After all, as he himself said earlier, we are waiting for the troika report to evaluate certain things. Beyond that, the Greek Foreign Minister’s visit to Germany is coming up in four days, and a lot will be discussed them, though the agenda for the meeting has not yet been finalized.

Regarding your first question, I will give you my personal view. History is not judged in terms of time, but in terms of actions.

JOURNALIST: A question for the Greek Foreign Minister. Mr. Minister, over the weekend there were reports that in parallel with the €11.5-billion austerity package, there is a need for €2.5 billion in additional funding. What can you say about this additional shortfall? Can you confirm that?

D. AVRAMOPOULOS: Repeating what I said before, that policies are being implemented in Greece that will gradually cover this gap, with regard to the specific amount you mentioned, I would like to ask you, given that the Economy Minister will be here in four days, to ask him, because I cannon confirm it.

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