Remarks by Greek Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Miltiades Varvitsiotis

Woodrow Wilson Center
Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009, 11 am

I'd like to thank you for your kind invitation and generous introduction. It gives me great joy and satisfaction to be with you here this morning, and have a chance to share some thoughts on a topic of great value at this critical moment in time.

Today, we are faced with a global economic downturn that is proven unprecedented in its reach and severity, while other older challenges such as ethnic conflict, religious extremism, global terrorism and the proliferation of WMD, to name just a few, remain unmet.

Nevertheless, we should be encouraged by the successful visit of the new American president, Barack Obama, to Europe recently, as it heralds the renewal of the transatlantic relationship and a spirit of global cooperation.

Dear friends,
I happen to be among those who strongly believe that no other relationship matters for world stability and prosperity more than the one between Europe and the United States. Together we form an Atlantic community of free and democratic nations. This community is institutionalized through NATO, the most successful military alliance in history, which has recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

In commemoration of this important anniversary, the Greek government, through the Ministry of National Defense, in cooperation with American and Greek foundations and NATO itself, has convened a high-level international conference that, takes place tomorrow, in the wing next door. The purpose of the meeting, where you are all invited, and which provided an additional reason for me to be in Washington these days, is to enhance the dialogue between our nations, as we are confronting common security challenges.

The United States and Greece share a strong commonality of values and interests. As the "strongest" and the "oldest" democracy in the world, we are freedom-loving, independent-minded, entrepreneurial and mercantile peoples. Our two nations have fought side by side in all major conflicts that have shook and shaped the 20th century, including the First and Second World War, the Korean War, the Cold War and, today, our forces work together in fronts as far apart as those in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The US support was essential for the reconstruction of Greece following the Second World War and for anchoring my country firmly to the West. Indeed, the United States provided both the security and the much needed financial and technological resources for Greece's postwar spectacular development through the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Subsequently, Greece grew into a historical success story for US engagement abroad, since, today, it stands as one of the richest and freest societies in the world.

Nevertheless, it's important to admit that our relationship was disturbed in the past when Greece wanted the help of US when Turkey invaded Cyprus and Greeks of Istanbul suffered extreme aggression. Turkish revisionism has negatively affected the development of postwar Greece, and containing its diffusion remains Athens' top priority. In this direction we seek and ask Washington's positive and active involvement. In that regard it is important to underline that both countries support Turkey's accession into EU. Through this process we believe that we shall finally resolve all the remaining issues that cause tensions over the Aegean Sea. My country's engagement in favour of Turkey's EU membership is of paramount importance: if Greece can welcome Turkey, anybody could.

Besides, Greece and the United States have a common interest and work together in bringing the Serbs and the Albanians to an understanding over Kosovo and more broadly, in helping integrating the whole of Southeastern Europe within the Euro-Atlantic security and political structures.

Our common interest and joint action extend to combating piracy in the high seas off the coast of Somalia which recently has acquired an unprecedented urgency, in consolidating the rule of law in Afghanistan with the help of Greek troops as well, in reforming NATO to meet the new challenges of our times. Greece actively participates in the planning for bringing Caspian energy sources to the market. The Greece-Turkey pipeline, which will be extended to Italy, is the sole pipeline to bring Azeri gas into Europe. Greece is also turning into a significant energy and investment hub, attracting FDI from East and West, including China and the Arab world.

Dear friends,
We live in challenging times. If the 1990s were years of social dislocation, political crises and violence in Southeastern Europe, our current decade has been marked by considerable progress and many achievements. Today, the Balkans are in much better shape than in 2000. Governments are decided by the ballot box, the press is free and, often, vibrant, human rights are quite respected and the region is fairly well integrated within a globalizing world.

Moreover, first, Slovenia in 2004 and then, Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, joined the European Union, while they, together with Albania and Croatia, became members of NATO as well.

Greece due to its geographic position and thanks to its history, Western orientation and liberal predisposition was at the forefront of this progress, contributed greatly to these achievements and has taken the lead for the Europeanization of the Balkans.

We in Greece have not only strongly supported the international efforts to bring peace and promote cooperation, but we have invested heavily in the region. Greek business has spent more than 15 billion euros so far, opened more than 10,000 business establishments, created 200,000 jobs, and operated around 3,200 bank branches, capturing some 20% of the local market. Thus, we Greeks have emerged as the top foreign investors in Albania, Serbia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the third largest investor in Bulgaria and Romania. Meanwhile, significant investments were done in Turkey, Ukraine and the rest of the countries of the wider region. Trade in goods and services, including tourism, has boomed and is further energized by an upgraded network of border crossings and a much improved infrastructure.

Furthermore, since 1991, we have welcomed some 700,000 economic immigrants from the region, mainly from Albania, helping to relieve much of the social pressures created by unemployment while providing valuable remittances back home.

In addition, we have planned and are implementing a pioneering program of foreign aid to address the specific developmental needs of the region, which is worth more than 1 billion dollars until 2011 that includes building roads, hospitals and schools across Southeastern Europe.

Finally, as the oldest member of NATO and the EU in the region, we have taken the lead in support of Euro-Atlantic enlargement and the speedy accession of the region to the Euro-Atlantic institutions. In that regard, the Greek Presidency of 2003 was a turning point since the Thessaloniki Summit committed the EU to the full accession of all the Western Balkans.

Greece, more than these concrete contributions, has provided a role model for free, democratic and prosperous society for the Balkan neighborhood. Moreover the traditionally good relations with Russia and the Middle Eastern countries transform Greece into a reliable partner and mediator in tackling the East-West relation.

Nevertheless, we are faced today with an emergency due to the turbulence created by the global economic downturn. At the same time, there are still many political questions remaining open and the old demons of nationalism and extremism, while down, are not out for good. The old political problems coupled with the new economic ones make for a potentially explosive combination.

The current economic crisis threatens to unravel much of the progress achieved so far and demands our attention. What the crisis proves beyond any doubt is that we live in a world where given the fact that problems are global, solutions cannot be national or, only, national. Together with the euro, enlargement has been Europe's most successful project. It shouldn't be abandoned.

My thesis is that we promote the Europeanization of the Balkans. While acknowledging and respecting the character of each national community, Europeanization entails a political process that leaves extreme nationalism and ethnic conflict behind, together with authoritarianism, isolation and underdevelopment.

This is why we have supported a mutually accepted compromise with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia that will shut the door, once and for all, to revisionism and irredentism. The choice should be clear: 19th century romantic nationalism is not the answer for our societies that demand clean and effective governance and a forward-looking vision of development.

The situation is serious and should not be underestimated. But I am convinced we can be optimistic. The Kosovo campaign ended back in 1999, that is 10 years ago, which seem like an eternity if we take into account what happened in the ensuing years. US attention has shifted away from the Balkans, not always as a result of a policy choice of the administration. New threats emerged, challenging our security and stability. Now we are engaged in a series of theatres, while our attention is being focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, or even the Caucasus. This does not mean that we should forget about the Balkans. On the contrary, we need to devise a comprehensive strategy on how to further integrate them both economically and politically.

The greatest world challenge today is the efficient management of globalization. All major problems we are confronted with demand international cooperation. In that regard, America remains indispensable. But, as recent experience has shown, America can only be successful at the helm of a wider alliance. Greece has been a long-term and trusted partner in this regard.

My country will continue to produce, rather than consume, stability and prosperity regionally while working closely with our partners and allies in Brussels and in Washington to realize our old dream of one Europe, free and whole, united in freedom, democracy and peace. We will continue to work together in spreading our common humanistic values of freedom and democracy as the best way for safeguarding our common interests. In this effort, we welcome America's re-engagement, after the election of the very promising new administration led by President Barack Obama.

Thank you.