Thank you so much, Lord Ricketts, for your kind introduction.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is, if I may be allowed to say, a great pleasure to be back in London.
As, maybe, some of you know, I was a post-graduate student here. It is the one city in the world, except for Athens, that I feel quite at home.
And, of course, it is a great honour to address such a distinguished audience at a prestigious think tank.
Earlier today I met with my counterpart Liz Truss and I had the opportunity to underline the huge importance we attach to our bilateral relation. And, of course, we discussed all the regional issues. As you were kind enough to remind us, Lord Ricketts, there is a very big number of those.
Also, we were able to touch upon the many things that tie us together through history. We share the same values. We are maritime nations; we attach particular importance to respect for International Law, particular importance to International Law of the Sea.
Many Britons visit us every year, many Britons live in Greece, but also, there is a huge Greek and Greek-Cypriot Community here in the United Kingdom.
We have fought in two World Wars together and also, I have to say, historically our leaders have been many times close to one another. I may mention the example of Eleftherios Venizelos and David Lloyd George.
But I hope my visit is not to speak about the past here in the UK, but to speak about the future, and hopefully a common future. Building a relation for the post-Brexit era.
Today, we were able to make a small step towards that. We signed a framework Agreement between Greece and the United Kingdom. It provides the context within which bilateral cooperation can further flourish. In many fields, foreign policy, defence, trade, tourism, maritime affairs, culture, not to forget it. It constitutes an important pillar of Greece’s foreign policy.
Our objectives are pretty straightforward. Promote peace, stability, create prosperity.
Greece lies at the intersection of two regions that have seen the bloodiest and most brutal conflicts in the last 100 years: the Balkans, “Europe’s powder keg” and the Middle East.
Our aim is to ensure that the ghosts of the past will not return in these fragile regions. Call them Balkan ghosts, call them neo-Ottoman ghosts, call them Islamist ghosts, they are ghosts and still haunt us. And this is part of the world that can very very easily get entrapped by its own history.
Unfortunately also, there are regional spoilers that attempt to revive those ghosts we were speaking about. One of them, for instance, threatens Greece with war if it exercises her sovereign rights. You all know that Turkey has issued since the late 90s a casus belli against Greece. By denying the inherent right of islands to have territorial waters beyond 6 miles, Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf.
We, Greece, have chosen a quite different route. We try to build partnerships, we build understandings in accordance with International Law. We have signed delimitation Agreements with Italy, with Egypt. We have arrived to a common understanding with Albania to defer this difference to the International Court of Justice.
And, we also have arrangements. With France, as you were kind enough to mention.
But also I have to say with the UAE, which was really a little less noticed than the agreement with France. Also, most recently we have deployed defensive missiles in Saudi Arabia, after an agreement in order to protect all installations.
Well, we believe that these agreements reinforce the Atlantic Alliance, by enhancing European capabilities, as well as contributing to a fairer burden-sharing across the Atlantic. As you know, we are one the few countries that spend more than 2% of [GDP on] our defence. Right now, we are getting close to 2,8%, if I remember the figure well.
And also, apart from that a few days ago, I had the opportunity to sign what we consider a landmark Agreement with the United States. Because we are fully committed in strengthening the transatlantic bond.
Over the past couple of years, the government of my Prime Minister, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has signed more agreements than any of the previous Greek governments in the last four decades.
On the same basis, we have enhanced relations with countries around the world. Focusing around five mutually reinforcing concentric circles, which, let me underline, are all very important for us.
First, is Europe. Europe, of course for us means Great Britain as well. But, there is a popular saying “fog in the Channel, Continent cut off”. We believe that the sun shines always and that there should be no fog in the Channel. Our aim is to enhance our relations with the United Kingdom, we believe that were a little neglected.
Also, of course, we very much care to enhance our relations on a bilateral level with our European Union partners, as well as Europe’s Eastern neighbours.
Our second circle is the Middle East and North Africa. In the space of a couple of weeks I have met my counterparts from Israel, the Emirates, Oman, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia, and I am going to receive the Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Athens after seeing him a few weeks ago. He is coming on Friday. We are enhancing our relations with all those countries. Older relations such as with Egypt, Jordan and newer relations, Tunisia, Algeria, and Iraq. Bilaterally, or through multilateral schemes alongside the Republic of Cyprus, our brother nation. The reason is quite simple: stability around those countries means stability for the region, stability for us. May I take an example, Libya, in the Greek political system in 2010s, seemed a country very far-away. That was unfortunately a very short-sighted approach and geographically wrong. Libya is only a twenty minutes flight time from Crete. So, trouble in the region came back to haunt us.
The third circle for us is the Western Balkans. We want a European perspective for the Western Balkans. And we say clearly to all actors that they have to step up their efforts. Europeans have to offer to the Western Balkan countries a clear accession perspective. Allow me to explain. I am not speaking of them joining the European Union tomorrow. But I am speaking about a very clear perspective that would act as an incentive to those countries. They have to increase the pace of reforms; they have to respect their international commitments, because the alternative is bleak. Without such a perspective from Europe, others that want to turn the clock backwards will be filling, if not already filling the vacuum.
Fourth, certainly we believe to a strong transatlantic partnership. Our relationship, Greece’s relation with the US has reached an unprecedented level. We remain Allies dedicated to the cohesion of NATO and we are working towards preserving it.
And our fifth circle is the broader world. We understand that we do not punch above our weight. But, we believe that challenges, such as climate change, migration, cyber crime, the freedom of navigation have to be addressed globally. So, we are making new inroads with countries, with which we share the same values, principles and understandings. Many of these countries by the way are members of the Commonwealth; Australia, Ghana, Rwanda, which I am going to visit next week. I think I will be the first Greek Minister ever to visit Rwanda. And I have to say, we gain huge interest in the largest democracy in the world, India. We believe that relations with India should be looked into and enhanced. And we also maintain ties with countries with which the West is facing emerging challenges. Because, we believe that even if we have differences, we have to maintain open lines of communication. With Russia, we have long-standing historical ties of many kinds. And also with China, Foreign Minister Wang, will be coming to Athens on Wednesday.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As I told you before, we do not try to punch above our weight. But, facing challenges in the region, and facing challenges internationally, we cannot remain idle. We have to reach out and embrace those who share our worldview and that is the reason why I am here today in London.
Thank you very much for your kind attention.