Greek Foreign Minister Speaks on Thorny Balkans Issues

Greek foreign minister Dora Bakoyannis, in a speech to the influential Brookings Institution in Washington, has outlined Athens' concern about developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Turkey.

Speaking on February 23 2009 on the theme "Collective Security in the 21st century; Building new bridges", Bakoyannis said: "Let me be as clear as I can: For us there is no doubt that the only way forward is full membership in the EU and Nato for the whole of South East Europe".

Bakoyannis said that Greece, as the oldest EU and Nato member in the region, felt a heightened responsibility to assist its neighbours on their road to progress through the necessary change and reform.

Foreign Greek Minister Dora Bakoyannis

"Although we have come a long way since the 1990s, the region still remains a work in progress. We, in Athens, are quite concerned about developments in three areas."

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, 14 years after the Dayton Accords, much remained to be done, especially when it came to streamlining decision-making.

"A change in the mindset, the active participation of all its citizens and a certain degree of political consensus is needed. After some slow progress in 2008, 2009 is a crucial year in the European integration of the country in order to match this of its neighbours."

It was significant that "countless prophecies of doom" had not come true, she said.

"As it is equally significant that the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina, irrespective of religious and ethnic background, are looking forward towards a Euro-Atlantic future for their region. Yet, the state remains extremely fragile and the international community must re-engage," Bakoyannis said.

On Macedonia, which Greece declines to recognise under that name, she said that in the past couple of years a number of worrying signals had been coming from Skopje.

The government headed by prime minister Nikola Gruevski "appears to have chosen the road of nationalism, awakening Balkan ghosts," Bakoyannis said.

The forthcoming presidential elections in March 2009 would be another key test, she said, especially because the June 2008 were "mired with violence and voting irregularities".

On the prolonged and unresolved dispute between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia, Bakoyannis said that "despite our good will and our sincere efforts, these negotiations have not been successful so far.

"We hope that the government of Skopje will meet us half-way and agree on a win-win solution," she said.

On Turkey, Bakoyannis said: "I think many of us agree that Turkey's accession to the European Union is key. Greece is very much in support, and has proved it over the years".

Greece's support for Turkey was "naturally offered under the same rules and principles which apply to each and every EU candidate".

"This is the same process for everyone - the one for example that Greece had to go through. Hence, our support cannot be unconditional. It relies upon Turkey honouring her commitments and promises."

Bakoyannis said that Turkey had taken certain steps forward, in the reform process.

"Much remains to be done, however. Overall progress is assessed by the EU as quite modest. A number of outstanding issues remain to be addressed."

These issues included the consolidation of the democratic system, as well as respect for minority rights, freedom of religion and freedom of expression.

In the same spirit, good neighbourly relations and adherence to international law were also of capital importance.

"No doubt Turkey has a long and winding road ahead. Nevertheless, it is clear that it is a road well worth travelling because it would benefit both Turkey and Europe," Bakoyannis said.

Linked with Turkey's prospects for accession to the EU was the continued occupation of Cyprus, she said.

"A just, lasting, and functional solution for the reunification of the island after 35 years of Turkish occupation is long overdue.

"In 2008 we welcomed the beginning of a new effort, within the UN framework, with direct talks between the two sides. We hope that this new effort will achieve an agreed settlement, which will at last reunify the island and allow the two communities to live side by side and prosper," Bakoyannis said.

(Posting date 22 May 2009)

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