Welcome Pedro. It is a great joy to welcome a friend, the Prime Minister of Spain, to Athens. Together we reviewed the entire spectrum of our bilateral relations, as well as the challenges that we both face as European partners and allies in NATO.
Over the course of centuries, our two countries have shared many connections: they are bound through History, culture, the Mediterranean sea, faith in international law and in a modern, open democracy. And, of course, through faith in a Europe of growth, solidarity and progress.
Naturally enough, we mainly focused on the day after the pandemic, although we need to remain vigilant. It is very important that the European Digital Green Certificate is now moving forward for people who have been vaccinated or have a negative Covid-19 test, which proves that they are healthy when they travel.
I suggested this option several months ago. My proposal immediately received support from Spain.I think it is in our common interest to promote this initiative, as it serves as a passport for increased freedom of movement and is a crucial element for tourism, which matters greatly to both our economies.
The health crisis has highlighted, more than anything, the need for joint action in order to deal with such threats. With my friend Pedro we recognize the many good points in the European response, and a few bad ones. We agree that the good aspects now need to be geared towards vaccinations in third countries that are being swept by the pandemic.
This was, after all, the conclusion we reached during the summit in Porto. Lifting intellectual property protections and patents for the vaccines may be just part of the solution against an exceptionally complicated problem, but it is a very important dimension of this problem.
The main question today, like I said, is how we will enable the production of more vaccines by using all the tools in our disposal; and how we will make sure that these vaccines will be exported unimpededly to the countries that face the most pressing need.
As far as Greco-Spanish relations are concerned we agreed that there is sizable room for growth in areas of common interest, such as tourism, commerce, construction, energy -mostly regarding renewable sources- education, culture. Besides, all of these fields will soon enjoy the favorable prospects (generated) by the European Recovery Fund.
Let me remind you that Prime Minister Sanchez and I were among the first leaders that suggested this bold step, some 15 months ago. Today, our two countries stand among the first to have submitted their national plans, which we anticipate will be some of the first to be approved by the European Commission, in June, and then to start getting implemented.
There is a convergence between the targets set by Greece and Spain in all the chapters of these programs. In fact, our country is already taking the first, bold steps: Green growth is moving forward, we are closing the first major, polluting, lignite-fired power stations; the digital transition -we had the opportunity to discuss this in detail- can produce impressive results, as evidenced by the impeccably organized vaccination campaign here in Greece.
We are jointly interested in the social pillar, which is supported by common actions in both our plans, from the modernization of our hospitals to protections for workers in a modern and functional framework.
However, prosperity requires security. Therefore, we had the chance to discuss in detail Turkey’s behaviour in the Eastern Mediterranean. As a mediterranean country Spain, like Greece, is particularly interested in Libya, in the withdrawal of foreign troops and foreign influences.
Of course Spain, just like Greece, is interested in legality in our common sea. As a european partner, Spain has its own voice when a candidate country violates the rights of other member states, like Greece and Cyprus. As a NATO ally, it dismisses provocations like the ones caused by Ankara in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek position is absolutely clear and comprehensible. Any tension ends when the behaviour causing it ceases. And we agreed that there is only one way ro resolve differences: through talks. And any discussion must be conducted within the framework of international law, treaties and, of course, the EU acquis. Because, I want to point this out, these are not bilateral matters. Rather, they are European issues. Hence, it is up to our neighbors to align themselves with the times, with legality and the mentality of the 21st century.
Οur discussion on migration was conducted in the same spirit. Both Athens and Madrid are concerned about certain aspects of the new European Pact on Migration and Asylum. This is why we share the same arguments, especially when it comes to states of first entry, such as Greece and Spain, which are situated at the external borders of Europe.
Turkey must control illegal flows, whereas Europe has the opportunity to show that this problem, which concerns every member of the European family, requires fair burden-sharing amongst us all.
Lastly, let me point out it is well-known that Pedro and I come from different political families. But this won’t keep us from coming together at the point where realism and social care intersect.
Both of us, after all, keep a clear distance from any type of populism, daring to implement reforms that bear results. I would say that this is the path of the centre, modernization and true progress.
This is exactly why we both are optimistic about the exciting path that all European peoples will follow. This prospect sits at the heart of the Conference on the future of Europe, which started yesterday. We will have the opportunity to discuss certain aspects of the Conference later on, at the Delphi Forum, and within the context of the 40-year-anniversary since Greece joined the European family.
Of course, these events happen to coincide with the bicentennial of Greek liberty. So, this is an ideal confluence of events for us to reflect on the past and on building our future together.
In this arc, dear Prime Minister, our countries have been guided by many bright lights. The boldness of ancient Greeks who reached the shores of Valencia and Catalonia, the sensitivity and depth of the work of El Greco, the ingenuity of Sephardi Jews who enriched our cultures and -let me close with this- the courage of Cervantes in the Battle of Lepanto, and the message he conveyed to us through its immortal hero who used to say “let’s love more than who we are, what we become”.
My friend Pedro, once again thank you for this productive cooperation and welcome to Athens.