Good evening. The weather today may have its own rules, but for the Balkans and South East Europe, today was -I believe- a spring day. Because in the Summit, where I had the honor to preside, it was proven that there is indeed momentum for cooperation between all sides in the region.
At the same time, this Summit has forged a roadmap of common objectives and principles, which can only take us forward, as I believe. And in a city, in the city of Thessaloniki, which has been a crossroads of people and cultures throughout the years. It is not an exaggeration to state that this Cooperation is coming home, since – let me remind you – Athens was in the forefront regarding the establishment, formation and function of this really useful scheme of regional dialogue and coordination. This is essentially the only scheme that accumulates all parts of our wider region. This is why the first Summit of Southeastern Europe – in the distant 1997 – was held in my special homeplace, in Crete. 25 years later, the Presidency of the Procedure returns to Greece, to the capital of the North, which I particularly love and consider to be my second hometown. By the end of this month, the Presidency will be passed over to Montenegro. And I am very happy that President Dukanović is with us and will thus receive the torch of the institution and he will welcome us – on his part – in Podgorica in a year from now, where we will continue what we have agreed upon here.
Milo Dukanović is not the only leader that honors us with his presence. Eleven out of twelve members of the procedure responded to our invitation and their countries are represented at a higher level, apart from the host of course. Six Presidents, four Prime Ministers and a Deputy Prime Minister. This acknowledges and proves – I believe- the significance of the procedure for all sides, but it also acknowledges Greece’s upgraded role as a pillar of stability and reliability in the wider region.
The presence of the President of the European Council is also outstanding. Our friend Charles Michel, with his presence here, sends a clear message regarding the enlargement perspective of the EU with steps that we need to take together.
While the participation of the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, in the dinner of the 12 leaders, which will follow right after – I believe – also magnifies the scope of the initiative. The fact that the Chancellor replied directly to my personal invitation, as he was in the wider region and he will arrive shortly from Serbia, despite his busy schedule, proves his special interest in Southeastern Europe and rightly so – I would say – because this sensitive region on the global map, from a zone of intense and complex contrasts, must turn into a field of creative compositions and from times and eras of rivalries should pass to a new era of joint efforts. Especially now, especially in a period of war and international turbulence, it is urged to showcase in its own way the path of peace and international legality, common security and prosperity.
These are the axes on which the Declaration of Thessaloniki is based, that has been adopted with consensus and which does justice – I believe – to the Greek Presidency. And I would like to thank everyone who has worked for the composition of this document. Above all, it is an official document of the constant commitment of its parts to the principles of Democracy, the Rule of Law and the founding principles of mutual respect and solidarity with the main priority now being the European perspective for the entire region, following the demand for the integration of the Republic of Moldova to the European Union.
Our common pursuit – an issue that has been intensely highlighted in our discussion- is energy security through the diversification of sources and energy transfer routes. And of course the relief, especially, of the most vulnerable citizens of the whole region from price increases.
The cooperation against the consequences of the climate crisis by turning jointly to renewable energy sources and of course the mobilization of all sides so that the fires from the war in Ukraine will not spread and will extinguish quickly, always in accordance with International Law.
The central idea of our presidency has been to strengthen the European perspective for the members of the cooperation process. And I would like to make a distinct reference to the countries of the Western Balkans that have already come a long way towards the European family, almost 20 years since the road opened, again in Thessaloniki, during the Greek Presidency in 2003.
Therefore, I believe that today, the time has come to take more decisive steps in integrating the Western Balkans into the European family. Recognizing, of course, that important steps need to be taken in order for them to abide by European standards. Only then, will their integration be substantial.
However, we need something more: The real commitment by the European leadership and the Member States to speed up the relevant procedures. That is why in an article I published today on the website “Politico”, I propose 2033 as a milestone for the accession of all countries to the European Union. It is an ambitious goal for the Western Balkans, but I believe it can also be feasible, if the idea of enlargement returns to the core of values of the European Union. Above all, however, it is a goal with a high historical significance, because 30 years ago the West welcomed all the states that had been cut off from it after the Second World War, without actually answering the existential question about their future.
And I believe that this incomplete cycle can now be concluded, transforming, institutionally, an area that we called the “powder keg of Europe” into a zone of peace and prosperity.
The tectonic changes brought about by the Russian invasion in the heart of our continent underscore the need to complete the puzzle of stability that the European Union offers to its members, by integrating the Western Balkans. And I am confident that our region will meet the double challenge of the times. Both in the field of energy autonomy, as well as that of sovereignty, through the inviolability of borders and through cooperation with neighboring countries.
The answer to the first is the warmth with which our partners respond to the challenge of a common energy security policy. The independent gas system that we visited a few weeks ago with my counterparts from Sofia, Belgrade, Skopje – a few weeks ago we were in Alexandroupolis, where the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was again present. This proves that this new hub can bring our neighborhood at the center of the strategic energy supply of the Balkans and the whole of Eastern Europe.
While regarding the second field, the data is clear. After the blatant Russian invasion of Ukraine we must send a clear message: that no one, in the third decade of the 21st century, can accept the despotic revisionism that threatens not only the international geopolitical balance, but also the commonly accepted borders on which the modern world was built. History cannot be rewritten because someone draws it irrationally in his mind.
Finally, I would like to stress that the last day of the South East European Cooperation Process Summit finds me more optimistic than its beginning. I am glad because the Greek Presidency has fulfilled its task. I want to congratulate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all its functions for the organization of this Summit and as a founding member and at the same time as a stable partner of the European and Atlantic family, I aspire that this course will continue to bear fruit.
The guarantee for this is the Declaration of Thessaloniki, the Declaration of the city that hosted us, a place that belongs to Greece, to the Balkans, to the Mediterranean, to Europe, with a history that reflects the national dignity next to extroversion and cosmopolitanism and with a civilization that derives from past centuries and travels us to the future, just as we want our cooperation to travel.
Thank you very much.