Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis and the Minister for the EU and Constitution of Austria, Karoline Edtstadler, who is visiting our country, discussed all the issues currently on the European agenda, particularly the security of the external borders of the EU, the developments in the South-Eastern Mediterranean, the EU enlargement in the Western Balkans, migration, and the Future of Europe.
In their joint statements, immediately after the meeting, the excellent climate was confirmed, as well as the common approach of the two countries towards the great challenges Europe faces.
In particular, regarding the issue of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans, the Alternate Minister stressed that “European integration cannot be achieved without the swift opening of accession negotiations with Albania and Northern Macedonia and without advancing the accession process of Serbia and Montenegro”.
As for migration, Mr. Varvitsiotis stressed the need “for the consolidation and the development of a common migration and asylum policy within the European Union”, setting three priorities: the protection of the Union’s external borders, the preservation of its humanitarian character, and the fair sharing of the burden of migratory flows.
Answering a journalist’s question about the security of the EU’s external borders, Mr. Varvitsiotis underscored that “this issue is the number one priority of both our domestic and European policy. Europe must, of course, show due respect for human rights and those entitled to asylum. But, on the other hand, under no circumstances can Europe be turned into a mere transit area for illegal immigrants”. “The policy pursued by the Mitsotakis government shows how seriously we take into account this dimension of external border security, which we effectively safeguard with the contribution of European agencies and especially Frontex”, he pointed out.
Asked about a possible migration wave from Afghanistan, the Alternate Minister made clear that Greece “is not going to become a transit country” and that it supports the European policy, as outlined in the recent Justice and Home Affairs Council. According to this policy, we should support Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries to host those who flee the country. “One thing is clear,” Mr. Varvitsiotis noted, “that we won’t tolerate the instrumentalization of refugees and migrants and the division of the EU, as it happened in the past in Evros and as it happens now in Lithuania and the Polish border with Belarus. I think it is important that we remain united and send the message that we will not accept any instrumentalization of refugees and migrants for political purposes.”
Regarding the Conference on the Future of Europe, he called on all citizens to join the pan-European dialogue through the relevant platform, so that “the message is not a message coming from Brussels toward our capitals but from the citizens toward Brussels regarding what kind of Europe we want”.
Mr. Varvitsiotis even thanked Austria for its assistance to our country in all crises, such as last year in Evros and this year in dealing with fires. He said that such actions go beyond European solidarity and show Austria’s special interest in our country.
Ms Edtstadler, for her part, also raised the issue of the instrumentalization of migration.
“We have external borders. We must protect them. We must develop relevant policies”, she stressed. She added that “we believe that Greece is a guarantor of the borders and I say this with regard to Turkey. Turkey should realize that we consider Greece as our partner in the European Union and a guarantor of this policy. In this context, Austria will always support the initiatives taken by Greece “. She also agreed with the Alternate Minister on the importance of EU enlargement to the Western Balkans and made special reference to the issue of anti-Semitism, stressing that Austria has developed a specific policy on the issue. She welcomed the fact that the Greek Minister took notice of it and shared his own initiatives. Finally, concerning the Conference on the Future of Europe, the Austrian Minister emphasized that “this is the most serious thing we have to do right now, especially if we want to discuss with the citizens all the issues that we are also discussing bilaterally, but they need to be put into a broad joint consultation”.