Dear Mr. President of the Republic of Türkiye, dear Tayyip, dear Ministers,
I welcome you to Athens and today is indeed a special day, as after seven years the High-Level Cooperation Council between Greece and Türkiye is convening. An event which I believe by itself signals the intention of our two countries to seek new creative paths in their relations.
It is true that in the intervening period we have faced unprecedented challenges, challenges that know no borders. A three-year pandemic, a war in the heart of Europe that caused an energy, inflation and food crisis, but also major natural disasters caused by the climate crisis, which we both experienced. At the same time, however, we have also experienced and are experiencing regional conflicts, which raise serious concern, even more so when they are taking place in our wider region.
But our bilateral relations have also seen fluctuations, which at times have threatened them in a dangerous way and with them the security and peace in the Eastern Mediterranean. That is why it is extremely important that in recent months the two countries have been on a calmer path.
Greece and Türkiye, Türkiye and Greece, ought to live in peace, ought to express their differences, which are well known, they must discuss them honestly and must continue to seek solutions. And if those differences cannot be bridged, they should not automatically produce tensions and crises.
In this direction, Mr. President, last July in Vilnius, we agreed to pick up the thread of our contacts again, with the aim of seeking ways of cooperation. And we instructed the two Foreign Ministers to lead this process.
The roadmap we endorsed included three levels: political dialogue, the positive agenda and Confidence Building Measures. And then the talks between the two delegations took place, I must say, in a very productive climate.
We ourselves, my dear President, are meeting for the third time in the last six months. In the first two meetings we organised the next steps and assessed the progress of what we agreed. And today, at the High-Level Cooperation Council, we are making another assessment of these joint efforts.
Efforts that have led to new or upgraded earlier agreements on many levels: in electricity, in trade, especially of small and medium-sized enterprises, in education, in sport, in technology, in tourism, in the strengthening of our economic relations. Our bilateral trade is currently over 5 billion euros; it is a realistic goal to reach 10 billion euros within five years.
We have also agreed to promote common understanding and exchange of best practices in the agricultural sector, research and innovation, which promote the cooperation of young scientists and strengthen the export and investment environment in both our countries.
On migration, we have seen a significant reduction in flows recently, as a result of the systematic guarding of our land and sea borders, but I would add also because of the much better cooperation between the Police and the Coast Guard of both countries. This cooperation can be enhanced and must be enhanced even more.
With regard to Greece’s firm support for Türkiye’s EU accession process, our country supports the facilitation of the granting of visas, always within the framework of the European acquis, so that Türkiye’s young generation, scientists, businessmen, students can develop closer relations with Europe.
Furthermore, Greece has requested and secured the approval of the European Commission to activate the possibility for Turkish citizens and their families to visit ten of our islands, which either have refugee structures or direct ferry connections with Türkiye, for seven days throughout the year.
It is an initiative with a strong message, which also states a great truth: that the Greek islands are a bridge of communication and friendship between the two peoples.
Such as the minorities of the two countries are also bridges of cooperation and friendship, because the equality and prosperity that each state secures for its minorities helps mutual understanding and mutual respect.
We also discussed with President Erdoğan all the developments in the region and in the world. Developments that concern us, in the Middle East, in Ukraine, in the Caucasus.
We must always, as I said, converge on the need to respect international legality. In other words, the condemnation of all forms of aggression, extremism and terrorism, whatever form they take.
Absolute respect for the territorial integrity of states and the protection of humanitarian values, with particular emphasis on the protection of civilians.
We also disagree on the Cyprus issue. For us, I say it clearly, there is no other solution than the decisions of the United Nations Security Council. We need to restart the dialogue from where it was interrupted in 2017. Only through this dialogue can there be meaningful progress.
Mr. President, dear Tayyip, in October 1930 the Treaty of Friendship, Neutrality, Reconciliation and Arbitration between our countries was signed in Ankara.
At that time İsmet İnönü had stated that “no difference can divide the two nations any longer through the approach to play a great role”. While on his part, Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister of Greece, had said: “we come to sincerely shake hands and declare that the long-standing antagonism has finally ended”.
Unfortunately, events and historical passions prevented the will of the two leaders from becoming a reality. Their legacy, however, remains active today. It remains, I would argue, more relevant than ever because of the common challenges we face, so that today, 100 years after the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, a Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighbourliness is being concluded.
It is a declaration envisioned by Constantine Mitsotakis when he received the great Abdi İpekçi Peace and Friendship Prize in 1997 as a means of good faith dialogue between the two countries within the framework of International Law.
The Declaration that we signed a short while ago, in full respect of the rights deriving from the sovereignty of each country, confirms the relationship of friendship between us, defines the principles and milestones of our dialogue and highlights our potential for cooperation both on a regional and international level.
And based on these assumptions we will gradually move on to the next steps. Through meetings between the two delegations we will broaden our positive agenda, intensify our economic cooperation, expand our Confidence Building Measures.
And the next phase of political dialogue, when conditions mature, may be the approach on the delimitation of the continental shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, which, according to Greece, constitutes the only dispute that could be brought before international jurisdiction, always guided by International Law and especially the Law of the Sea, which is the safest guide in the settlement of international disputes.
And of course, we agreed to continue our own contacts as well. I have the intention, Mr. President, to visit Ankara in the spring, before I meet you next July at the NATO Summit in Washington.
And I conclude with the thought that geography and history have destined us to live in the same neighbourhood. Circumstances have often brought us against one another and I know that there are voices – I am sure in Greece and Turkey – that do not agree with this approach.
However, I feel a duty, a historical duty, to seize the opportunity to bring the two states side by side, just as our borders are.
So far we have managed to bring our relations back to calm waters. Today, in the name of the next generations, we both have to build a tomorrow in which a favourable wind will blow in these calm waters. A tomorrow of peace, progress and cooperation. With responsibility and realism, I want to look to the future today.
Again, welcome to Athens.
Following the statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted:
Before I express once again my satisfaction at the signing of this important Treaty of Friendly Relations and Cooperation, allow me to make only one comment on the issues of minorities.
You know, for us and for me personally, Thrace is an example of harmonious coexistence between Christians and Muslims, and our Muslim fellow citizens have and we are always striving to ensure in practice equal opportunities, and it is in this direction that we are striving.
The definition of minority status as Muslim is determined by the Treaty of Lausanne itself. It is our duty to safeguard and strengthen this climate of harmonious coexistence, and it is the duty of the Greek legal order to safeguard and strengthen it.
And I want to assure you and assure all our fellow Muslim citizens that the Greek Government will continue to work day and night in this direction.