Dear Mr. President, dear Aleksandar, every time I am in Belgrade – to borrow a phrase you used – I also feel right at home. I want to thank you again for the wonderful hospitality last night, but also for the very meaningful discussions we had this morning.
I feel good, my colleagues and I feel good, because I think we are seeing progress in our relations. These are relations that have been forged over time, as our states are not only close geographically, but also meet and keep pace in all the major historical choices.
This bilateral common journey also acquired a strategic character with the joint Declaration that we signed in Athens, a few months after I became Prime Minister, in December 2019, at the 3rd High-Level Cooperation Council.
And, as you said, we look forward, within the year, to the convening of the 4th Cooperation Council, always aspiring to a future of peace, development, social prosperity, in Greece, in Serbia, in the Balkans, in Europe.
We had the opportunity to reaffirm today this decision to work together in all fields. It is no coincidence that I am in Belgrade accompanied by four ministers and a broad business delegation – as you said, we could have brought many more businessmen with us today – because we want to further promote our economic – investment relations in specific sectors and in specific projects.
We, but also our Ministers have had – I believe – very useful bilateral contacts. We are particularly interested, as you said, in the interconnection of our countries in the fields of energy and transport. You spoke about the great importance that we both attach to the modernisation of the Thessaloniki-Belgrade line. As well as the completion of a very broad axis from Piraeus to Budapest. It is a project of strategic importance for our countries, but also – I dare say – of strategic importance for the whole of south-eastern Europe. For this purpose, European resources intended for the Western Balkans should also be utilised.
After all, my country has always actively encouraged the EU’s participation in the development of the infrastructure of Serbia and the neighbouring countries of the peninsula. This is ultimately because this regional interconnectivity, the speed with which citizens of the Western Balkans and goods can travel, is ultimately one of the most important roads leading to European integration.
Of course, the cooperation between Greece and Serbia extends to energy and supply chain security, as well as the diversification of supply sources. We very much support the vertical gas corridor from the south to the north and vice versa. We are joined by the Chief Executive Officer of Public Gas Corporation of Greece (DEPA) to discuss more partnerships with your companies. We could transport gas to the Serbian market through the Terminal of Revithoussa and other floating stations, and you in turn could provide us with large storage facilities.
This is just one example of the cooperation we can develop in the energy sector, which can of course be extended to Renewable Energy Sources. As you mentioned, we have valuable expertise in this area. We produce almost 50% of our electricity from Renewable Energy Sources. And we also aspire to become a hub for exporting green energy to the north. And we want to help Serbia in its own green transition, as there will be a gradual decoupling from more polluting sources of energy production towards green energy, transferring both know-how and investment capital.
And of course, I want to wish my friend Aleksandar, President Vučić, good luck with regard to Specialized EXPO 2027, which will be held for the first time here in Belgrade. Athens has wholeheartedly supported this candidacy and we are ready to help in every way for its good organisation.
We will have the opportunity to talk in more detail about other areas of economic cooperation. But I would like to say what President Vučić noted: that the Serbian economy has shown impressive growth rates in recent years. It is by far the largest economy in the Western Balkans. And as Greece is also emerging from the economic crisis, I believe that our two economies are tuned to high growth rates. Therefore their interconnection can only benefit both countries.
And of course, speaking of Europe, Greece has been perhaps the most stable ally, my dear Aleksandar. We stand by your side in support of your European perspective. And I must say that discussions in Brussels in general on the issues of European enlargement have gained new momentum. The decisions taken by the European Union last year on Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are historic and I firmly believe that Belgrade should also use this positive momentum for the benefit of the accession process.
And I am very happy to hear President Vučić speak very clearly about Serbia’s European perspective. I have said it many times, and I want to repeat it here: there can be no future, a European future, for the Western Balkans without a European future for Serbia, the largest country in the Western Balkans.
And for us, the integration of all countries of the Western Balkans into Europe is our strategic goal – it has been a strategic goal since the Thessaloniki Declaration 21 years ago – and by accelerating the reforms within the country, you too will come closer to Europe.
I believe, dear Aleksandar, that we can make 2024 a year of significant progress for Serbia, and we will stand by you in this effort.
The President also briefed me on developments in the dialogue with Pristina. As you know, our position on Kosovo remains firm. And we believe that European mediation and dialogue is a one-way street for normalising relations between the two sides. And that would ultimately also signal stability in the whole region, which is the ultimate goal of all of us.
We too have been following with concern the tensions of the last few months. We must not return to the dangerous situations of the past, and I know that this is what President Vučić wants.
Finally, we also discussed all the international and regional developments in the Middle East, in the Red Sea, in Ukraine. Our positions are common, always based on International Law.
And I conclude by saying that this cordial and fruitful discussion has further enriched the scope of our strategic cooperation and that we have taken another big step in our common journey. I think it is up to us and our partners to add a lot of content and substance to the strategic directions we have given through this very substantial bilateral discussion.
Dear Aleksandar, thank you once again warmly for the wonderful hospitality.